19th staging Saturday: Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic draws thousands for multiple events

Brian Matter, winner of the 2017 Ore to Shore 48-mile Hard Rock race, crosses the finish line last August. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — One of the Midwest’s premier mountain bike races takes place on Saturday right here in Marquette County.

The 19th annual Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic will again draw thousands of cyclists from around the world.

Sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s are in the forecast as more than 2,000 riders will compete in the 48-mile Hard Rock, 28-mile Soft Rock and 10-mile Shore Rock races.

Race director Scott Tuma, who’s been directing the race for all 19 of its years, said the number of registrants is up from last year due to the local economic boom and more people getting out and riding.

“This promises to be a big year,” he said. “I think there’s a few things going on. Gas prices holding, the economy being hot, more people are mountain biking and this race is in its 19th year, so it’s on people’s calendars.”

The Hard Rock is touted as the Midwest’s largest mass-start, point-to-point race, stretching from downtown Negaunee to a finish at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

Tuma said the course looks good after marking and inspecting the trails this week.

“It’s in really good shape,” he said. “There’s been enough rain to where it’s tamped down well enough. It’s firm but not so much that there’s standing water out there. It’s going to roll really nice.”

Last year’s Hard Rock champion Brian Matter of Prescott, Arizona, looks for his fifth Ore to Shore victory. Matter also won in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2011. Kyia Anderson of St. Cloud, Minnesota, took the women’s title last year, coming across the line 54th overall.

Joining Matter are the return of all top-10 finishers from last year.

Tuma said top riders and casual riders return each year because of the race’s unique point-to-point format. This set-up wouldn’t be possible without the help of the community, though.

“The reason it’s such a premier race is that it has to do with the community and landowners,” he said. “It’s a very rare thing in this world to be able to start one place and end in another. We have 35 landowners that are all gracious enough to let us go through.”

Not only does the point-to-point format draw riders in, but there’s also different challenges for every rider on the trail.

“We can put together a course that gives a little bit to everybody,” Tuma said. “Some of it is a little more technical, some of it rolls really fast. So it plays to the pros, and it plays to the people who just like to ride and work hard at it and it’s fun to do.”

For those who may think the 48-miler is above their ability, the 28-mile Soft Rock or 10-mile Shore Rock are good alternatives.

“The 28-mile is designed to roll,” Tuma said. “It’s a fast race and it’s one you can do if your training hasn’t been as much as you wanted, or for an adult or kid when it’s time to move up. You can get out and do this race because you’ve done the four-mile or you’ve done the 10-mile. That’s what it’s designed for. It’s a nice course that goes through the woods.”

Garrett Jenema of Traverse City took the overall crown in the 28-mile race last year while Nick Frank of Grand Rapids won the men’s 10-mile.

Shorter races geared for kids will also take place, including the four-mile Junior Rock, one-mile Little Rock and half-mile Littlest Rock.

Tuma said the kids events are his favorite because it brings a family-friendly feel to the event.

“Those are actually my favorite because the families come out,” he said. “Mom or dad have ridden a race during the day, and we purposely plan the kids races in the afternoon so mom or dad can finish the race, get their kids ready to go and then the kids can roll and they have fun. It’s a family event and that’s what the whole purpose is.”

The event also brings a large economic boost to Marquette County. While there’s no official numbers, the more than 2,000 registrants and their families and friends are likely to give local businesses a weekend spike.

“We all work at it together,” Tuma said. “We get so much support from the community and we like the fact that it brings people to town. The stores, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are all busy. It’s all good and that’s what it’s all about. In turn, these businesses reciprocate. They support the race so it all works together.

“The racers will tell you they don’t ever see community support for a race like this. That’s what makes it fun. Everyone is out there working at it and making it good.”

The 2018 Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic kicks off at 8 a.m. Saturday with the start of the 10-mile Shore Rock at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. That will be followed at 9 a.m. by the 28-mile Soft Rock kicking off from Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee. The 48-mile Hard Rock starts at 10 a.m. in downtown Negaunee at the Silver and Iron streets intersection.

Kids events take place in the afternoon, with the four-mile Junior Rock at 4 p.m., half-mile Littlest Rock at 5 p.m. and one-mile Little Rock at 5:15 p.m., each starting at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

For spectators wanting to view the starts of the 48- or 28-mile races, park legally in city lots or on the streets in downtown Negaunee for the Hard Rock or at Lakeview Elementary School or nearby streets for the Soft Rock.

For spectators wanting to view the finish in Marquette, people are asked to park in the east parking lot of the Berry Events Center as there will be very limited parking at Lakeview Arena.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.