Mettle-testing GRIND

A competitor takes part in a previous Giants Ridge Iron N Dirt cross country mountain bike race. This year’s event is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. For event info, COVID-19 considerations and online registration visit: https://www.giantsridge.com/summer-activities/biking/mountain-biking-2/

BIWABIK — For those that want to test their mountain bike riding skills, Giants Ridge is the place to be this Saturday.

The 5th Annual Giants Ridge Iron N Dirt cross country mountain bike race will challenge riders at different levels, with the 35-plus mile Long Grind and the 18-mile Short Grind. Social distancing will be in place throughout the event to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The races feature from 1,400 to 4,500 feet of climbing to test the mettle of all the competitors.

“You kind of have to grind your way through it,’’ said Benji Neff, director of Mountain Sports at Giants Ridge.

The Short Grind begins in front of the chalet and then heads to the silver cross country trail. The course starts out on rolling terrain before a steep climb and a steep descent, Neff said.

“It starts out a little challenging. Once you get past those first four miles or so, it starts to mellow out.’’ The riders then go on some ATV trails up north of Sabin Lake, loop down through the Voyageurs Retreat area walking/hiking/multi-use trails. From there, it loops around the lake and heads back to Giants Ridge, he added.

“If you’re doing even an 18-mile bike race you want to be challenged a little bit,’’ according to Neff, which the Short Grind definitely does.

The Long Grind is a battle for even the best mountain bikers.

The riders go through the Short Grind course before coming back to the ski area.

“Then we send them out on a combination of cross country ski trails and our new single track bike trail.

“The Long Grind has a ton (4,500 feet) of climbing,’’ said Neff. It’s no secret what riders have just completed the 35-plus mile course, he added, because they “definitely have a look of exhaustion’’ when they’re done. “You work for every single one of those miles.’’

About 100 riders will begin going out on the course at 9 a.m. The amount of participants was capped at 250 due to the coronavirus, but Neff thinks “it will still be a good event.’’

To adjust for the pandemic, the event was modeled after Department of Natural Resources guidelines for recreational events.

That means there won’t be a mass start, Neff said. Instead, a group of 10 riders will be sent out in waves every three minutes. The Long Grind waves will be sent out first, followed by the Short Grind waves.

“That cuts down on the intermingling,’’ he said, and keeps the competitors more spread out on the course. In addition, the barbecue, awards ceremony and social events that have traditionally gone with the event have been eliminated and will be done virtually.

“We’re happy that we can just still hold the event,’’ said Neff, because many events in the region haven’t been held this year.

Spectators are also asked to respect social distancing and wear a face mask when in groups of people.

Now in its fifth year, Neff said the race has always been a positive event.

“People like it. They like the challenge of the course and coming to Giants Ridge.’’

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For event info, COVID-19 considerations and online registration visit: https://www.giantsridge.com/summer-activities/biking/mountain-biking-2/

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