Catching big air

Jorden Wakeley, right, edges out Jeff Hall, left, Ronald Catlin, back right, and Tom Burke, back center, at the Lakeview Arena finish line to claim the men’s title in the 48-mile Hard Rock race in the 2016 Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic last August in Marquette. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Every August, thousands of cyclists from all over the Upper Peninsula, the Midwest, the country and even the world descend upon Marquette County for the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic.

Touted as the Midwest’s largest mass-start, point-to-point race, 2016’s event drew 1,888 determined individuals. For Saturday’s 18th annual event, the numbers should be no different with 1,766 riders entered as of mid-week and more expected to come.

Asked what makes this event so special, race director Scott Tuma said it’s the people and terrain.

“It’s a point-to-point race, which is really hard to do,” Tuma said. “Not many places in the country can do it; we have land owners willing to let the trail go through their land, only in the U.P. that can happen.

“We have great rolling terrain, rock, mud, sand and water among other things,” Tuma said. “It’s a unique course that challenges the best riders but allows the average rider to do it as well.”

Tuma said the course looks great for race day as he expects everything should go smoothly.

“It’s going to be fast,” he said. “The course is firm and packed. There’s some water and mud out there, but we built a couple of bridges here and there and there’s no dust; sand spots are packed down well. The course looks really good.”

Jorden Wakeley, 26, of Grayling won the 48-mile Hard Rock race last year in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 51 seconds. Mindy McCutcheon of Salt Lake City was first in the female division in 2:36:38.

The Hard Rock starts in downtown Negaunee and heads west through Ishpeming before veering north toward the Dead River Basin and Lake Superior. The 28-mile Soft Rock starts in the same general vicinity but takes a more direct route north and east.

Both take riders through challenging terrain, rolling hills and scenic trails all the way to the finish line at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

This year’s prize purse is estimated at about $13,000 with a top prize of $1,600 going to the female and male winners of the 48-mile race. Cash prizes will be awarded through 20th place in the Hard Rock and the top five spots in the Soft Rock along with the Fastest Family Challenge, an award given to families who enter three or more immediate family members in any of the four races and has the fastest average speed among the families.

Along with the 48- and 28-mile races are several shorter-distance races, the 10-mile Shore Rock, four-mile Junior Rock, one-mile Little Rock and half-mile Littlest Rock, all starting and ending at Lakeview Arena. These races are geared for more inexperienced riders and for children.

Trevor Flinton of Hartland, Wisconsin, won the 10-mile race last year in 46:26, while Marquette’s Colin VanderSchaaf won the four-mile in 14:24.

The kids’ events — Junior Rock, Little Rock and Littlest Rock — all start between 4 and 5:15 p.m. Saturday, with registration from 1:30 to 3:30 that afternoon at Lakeview.

Tuma said he encourages parents to bring their kids out because the children’s events are unique to a big race like this.

“We really want to emphasize the kids’ races,” Tuma said. “It’s low-cost for children, they get to have the big start line, snacks afterwards, T-shirts and completion medals; we’ll have anywhere from 300 to 400 kids racing; you just don’t see that anywhere else.”

The annual event is also an economic boon to Marquette County.

“There’s multiple factors to the economics of the race,” Tuma said. “People come to town, they stay at the hotels and purchase gas and go to the local grocery stores. At least $1 million goes into the city from this event every year.”

Along with putting money into the local economy, the race also brings the community together, something that also makes the event so successful.

“It’s a community event,” Tuma said. “You go out on the course and there’s people lining it all over the place, standing and cheering the racers on; you can feel the community behind it and it’s a more fun event to witness when people are out watching.

“The energy is very good. I think the racers notice it and they have a lot more fun because of it. It’s just one of those things that everybody is having fun; spectators, racers, everybody is in it together.”

Of course, no event is successful without volunteers. Tuma said the event draws more than 400 volunteers each year.

“This is totally volunteer-driven,” Tuma said. “This isn’t a race owned by a corporation or people who own it to pay their bills. This is a community and volunteer event.”

To help watch the race at any point, trail maps are available online at www.oretoshore.com. In Negaunee, the Soft Rock kicks off at 9 a.m. at Lakeview Elementary School, while the Hard Rock starts at 10 a.m. at the corner of Silver and Iron streets. The Shore Rock begins first at 8 a.m. at Lakeview.

Riders and spectators are asked to park at Northern Michigan University’s Berry Events Center parking lot with limited parking at Lakeview Arena.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.