Duluth residents Brian Bich and Jessica Rossing may be using the 28th annual Brewhouse Triathlon as a warm-up for the USA Triathlon National Championships on Aug. 10 in Milwaukee, but it doesn’t mean they or any other racers heading to Milwaukee will be taking it easy Saturday at Island Lake.

Everyone is fighting for local bragging rights before taking on the nation’s best.

“It’s more of a personal competition,” Rossing said. “Even though we’re all friends, there is that unspoken, ‘I have to beat you or be close.’ Being local, especially Duluth, we all know each other, so there is a little more of an expectation to do better.”

Racing begins at 8:30 a.m. with the first wave of the short course, followed by the long course start at 9:15 a.m. Packet pickup runs today from 4-7:30 p.m. and the transition area opens at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

“It’s fun to have a local race to be a part of,” Rossing said. “We don’t have a lot of races here in Duluth, surprisingly, and it’s cool to have this one. You see a lot of people come back each year to do this race, so it’s fun to have the community support it.”

Rossing has been competing in the Brewhouse since 2007, finishing second among female racers in the long course - also known as the Olympic distance with a 1½-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run - each of the last three years.This year, Rossing plans to go harder than normal racing in the short-course sprint (.75K swim, 20K bike, 5K run) in preparation for nationals. Starting Sunday, she’ll then taper down her training before leaving for Milwaukee.

“It’s that last hurrah to see where your fitness level is at so that you can fine-tune those little details before the big race,” she said.

Bich, who has won the Brewhouse 10 times outright dating to 1998, will race the long course again, but he said he’s not worrying about those around him.

The defending back-to-back Brewhouse champ is racing the clock, hoping to cross the finish line in under 2 hours like he did in 2012 (1 hour, 40 minutes, 52 seconds) and barely did in 2013 (1:59:42).

“I don’t really care who is there,” Bich said. “I’d rather just have a good performance. There are lots of people who can beat me now because I’m pretty old. I’d rather just have a good race.”

One of the racers who could knock off the champ is Duluth’s Josh Blankenheim. The 48-year-old Bich took sixth in his only other race this summer, the Heart of the Lakes Triathlon on July 20 in Annandale, Minn., while the 33-year-old Blankenheim took fifth, beating Bich by 43 seconds.

“I’ve really backed off on my racing the last few years. I used to race hard from May until September. Now, because of my kids being busy and me being older, I don’t race as much,” said Bich, whose 15-year-old son, Nathan, is racing in the sprint Saturday. His younger son, Connor, is planning to race next year. “I’m still racing to win and I’ll do the best I can, but I don’t quite have the eye of the tiger that I used to have as far as training and tenacity.”

The triathlon is held at Island Lake, about 20 miles north of Duluth, for a second year after leaving its longtime home at Pike Lake following 2012.

Rossing said the new venue is more open and spectator friendly, the water is cleaner and the biggest thing racers such as her and Bich noticed in 2013 was the smooth bike ride.

“The new venue is nice. The lake is nice. The whole transition area by the beach is nice,” Bich said. “The biggest difference is the roads are a lot smoother there. The roads around Pike Lake where we used to have the race were really rough.

“Besides having a nice lake to swim in and a nice transition area, probably the other biggest thing for having a nice triathlon is have nice roads to ride on.”

28th Brewhouse Triathlon When: Racing begins 8:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Island Lake, north of Duluth

Online: brewhousetriathlon.com