Telluride 100

Keegan Swenson, Santa Cruz Bicycles athlete and last year's Telluride 100 champion, traversing the race’s muddy, single-track terrain. (Photo courtesy of Eddie Clark)

While many people around the globe are watching this year’s Olympic games, the 200 athletes competing in Saturday’s Telluride 100 mountain bike race are also the top athletes in their field.

Eight years old and still growing, the Telluride 100 has been sanctioned as a Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) event this year. UCI is the global governing body for all things cycling, including international competitive cycling events. As the only “marathon mountain bike style of race that is inscribed by the UCI,” the Telluride 100 is the highest-level event of its kind in the United States, according to mountain bike racer and Telluride 100 founder Tobin Behling.

For decades, Behling has been involved with three aspects of biking –– officiating and promoting races, and racing himself. His “enormous passion for the sport” led him to be assigned officiator for the 2019 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Final in Snowshow, West Virginia, and he’s engineered many professional bike races, Behling explained.

The recent Telluride 100 UCI endorsement, coupled with Behling’s credibility as a bike race designer, has drawn racers from all over the United States. He added that international travel was still extremely difficult due to the pandemic.

“An event like this goes far beyond just the event day,” Behling said. ”An athlete will spend hundreds and hundreds of hours preparing, riding their bike, dialing in what nutrition they're going to be utilizing on race day. It's a big journey that spans well beyond the race day.”

Behling is looking forward to seeing all of his planning come together on Saturday, as bikers convene and then embark on a seemingly unconquerable 100-mile feat.

This year’s course incorporates 12,000 feet of vertical climbing. The race will start at the Oak Street gondola place with a westbound traverse towards Deep Creek, then back east along Penelope's Trail, up the Telluride Trail, over to Prospect, along Sunshine Trail, which will bring racers to Ilium Road. From Ilium Road, bikers jaunt up the Galloping Goose Trail above Ames and travel back to the gondola station.

Over the years, Behling has cultivated relationships with the United States Forest Service, San Miguel County Parks & Open Space, San Miguel County Road & Bridge, Telluride Parks & Recreation, and Telski, all of which provide permits and allow the race to traverse through the different locales. He added that bikers aren’t typically allowed on the Telluride Trail, but the U.S. National Forest granted an exception to the Telluride 100 three years ago. Behling noted that “it took us a long time to build up enough trust with them.”

Behling has also built relationships with local businesses, including Stronghouse, Bootdoctors, Bart’s Bicycles, Telski, Telluride Fuel and Oak Fat Alley BBQ, which have been supportive of the Telluride 100, Behling said.

“It’s predominantly just my wife and I in terms of the year-round planning,” Behling said. “We'll have 70 marshals out on the course on race day that are manning various intersections and feat zones. We couldn’t put on this race without the huge team on race day. It requires a lot of hands.”

The Telluride 100 route also has been reconfigured since 2019, a year remembered for its record snow and unpassable trails deep into the summer. The race no longer climbs up and over Black Bear Pass, passing Bridal Veil Falls by quite a distance. Participants seem to prefer the race’s current iteration as it is ‘more ridable,’” Behling said.’

Santa Cruz Bicycles athlete Keegan Swenson, who won the race last year and recently won USA Cycling’s Mountain Bike National Championship, explained that he found the Telluride 100 last year since it was one of the first races back on the calendar during the pandemic. Swenson explained that he was “chomping at the bit to race again” and figured “I give it a go.”

Many COVID precautions were enacted at last year’s race, including minimizing group gatherings, requiring personal protective equipment whenever individuals were within 10 feet of one another, and converting the typical award ceremony into an award pickup only, according to Behling.

“I'm really looking forward to racing the second half of the course. Last year it rained a ton and they just had us do two laps of the first half. So hopefully the weather holds out for us this year,” Swenson said. “I just love competing and pushing myself to the absolute limit. I think that is why I love ultra marathon races like Telluride100. They are just so difficult. I also just love riding my bike and seeing new places while doing it. Good luck to everyone else participating. Just finishing this beast is an accomplishment in its own.”