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Building up speed: Though cycling race has increased more than 20-fold, it still has a low-key feel

Riders take part in the 2015 Lutsen 99er. The race, which began in 2010, now has four courses of varying lengths and 1,750 riders. Submitted photo

In 2010, the Lutsen 99er cycling race was a group of 70 friends riding through the northwoods. Now, six years later, the race has 1,750 riders taking on four routes: 99 miles, 69 miles, 39 miles, and 19 miles.

“It’s fun and really inclusive and very low-key,” race director Peter Spencer said. “You race, and then there’s a barbeque and a lot of festivities.”

The race has grown, but there is a definite local focus, from sponsors and partners to the riders themselves.

“We have people from more than 20 states, but it’s really Minnesota-focused,” Spencer said.

The race has received a lot of support from the Cook County community, Spencer said.

“Everywhere along the North Shore has really embraced it,” Spencer said. “The community is so behind it.”

The race gained a larger following once Life Time Fitness, a national organization based in Minnesota, began promoting it in 2011.

Visit Cook County executive director Linda Jurek Kratt compared the effect the Lutsen 99er has on Cook County to the much-larger effect Grandma’s Marathon has on Duluth and Two Harbors.

“Cook County fills up with people,” Jurek Kratt said. “We’ve seen incredible growth.”

Beyond the growth in tourism, Jurek Kratt has seen the Lutsen 99er put Cook County on the map as an area for cycling.

“We’re always trying to promote our adventure trails,” she said. “But this race brings more eyeballs on what we have to offer here.”

The Lutsen 99er has focused on being a family-friendly event.

“The first 70 people were all friends,” Spencer said.

Organizers also have partnered with the Minnesota High School Cycling League to help build a cycling culture for young racers.

“There’s definitely a family aspect to it,” Spencer said. “As the kids get into it, so do the parents.”

With four distances, the race is welcoming to all bikers.

“There’s everything from beginners to the pro level,” Spencer said. “The course is really welcoming. There’s very little single track, so you can ride with people.”

Spencer is excited to see old acquaintances again.

“It really is just a big group of friends,” he said. “It’s such an inclusive atmosphere. You can really just grab a beer and meet people.”

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