2023 Lusten 99er MTB Race

With Wilmington Whiteface canceled this year and my result from 2019 not counting towards corral placement (confirmed w/ Quinn at Lifetime), I plan on racing Lusten. I’m trying to gain a better understanding of the course terrain. The GPS file shows over 6k of climbing but what is the breakout of paved vs. “gravel” vs. singletrack? How rough are some of the sections (roots, sharp rocks)? Based on a 5+ year old thread I found (and the finish times) the race seems pretty fast and over more gravel roads than anything.

The first climb up from the lake is all tar and never seems to end.

After that it is some rough snowmobile trail where you will see a lot of flats. then you get some gravel, then some ski trail that is narrow and rooty but not bad. Then more rough snowmobile trail. Then some gravel and some snowmobile trail then more gravel. That takes you through the loops on the NE part of the course.

Then you hit the rough stuff, a long slog of bumpy logging road. this is when the motivation starts to fade in a bad way.

If we get the old course that turns on to some nice fast gravel with a few sections of snowmobile trail that can be rough, but managable.

the new course (89er) then turns down the worst section of trail imaginable, rough with some punch steep climbs. From there you have a fast (I hit 44 mph) gravel descent back to the lake, some tar then a long single track climb to the finish.

If it is the old course we skip the terrible trail and do a lot of gravel, at mile 81 you hit a series of stair step climbs are always blow me up. Then some fast single track, a little climbing and then the brutal bridge run climb to the finish.

So, I don’t find the course to be the kind that eats tires, most of the rocks are pretty rounded, but can be hidden in the grass along the thread of dirt. There are not any really rooty tough sections.

There are very few places where it seems like you are doing a lot of climbing but it really adds up, last years course was just shy of 6,000 feet of climbing, 10 miles shorter and only about 20 minutes faster than the previous 99 mile course.

On paper it is an easy course, but it really can beat you up by the end because it is easy to push a little too hard on the gravel roads.


If memory serves, the only pavement is at the start (at least on the old course), including the first climb as mentioned. If you are looking at the ride with GPS, this is from the start until the first unpaved road, about 9 miles.

After that first paved section, any other “paved” sections are actually gravel roads. The roads that are marked unpaved are primarily snowmobile trails. I wouldn’t worry about sharp rocks.

For me, the difficulty in this race is that once you turn off the pavement there are very few sections to settle in and get in a rhythm. The snowmobile trails are littered with babyheads that start to wear you down. the constant undulations of -10% to +10% also start to wear you down. It might be worse for me because I am risk averse on the snowmobile trail descents.

Not sure if this will be helpful but thought I would share: There is a gravel race in northern MN called heck of the north. A fair amount of people do both of these if you are from MN. I describe myself as a “diesel engine”. For me, Lutsen is far more difficult than heck. Most people I talk to who are lighter and snappier think heck is way more difficult. Granted, this is like an n of 5.

Finally, here is the strava link of the guy who won it last year:


Josh had a heck of a ride, a teammate was in the final selection and said Josh just rode everyone off his wheel on the rough new section heading towards Onion River Road.

I am just going to say it again for those in the back, you think you can do this race on a gravel bike, but the right bike for it is a 100mm full sus. I am dumb and have never done it on my full sus, SS, Hard Tail and 2x rigid fatty.

This year I plan to ride my full sus unless it is wet then I will roll the hard tail.


This section was beyond soul sucking.


I passed a lot of 69er riders unwillingly losing their race nutrition along that section. I was so cracked it was unreal, when we got down to the lake the cold air gave me a chill I couldn’t shake.

Nothing really to add, other than I’m going to be racing Lutsen for the first time this year.

I’ll be on a 100mm FS Orbea Oiz, front and rear lockouts…

That is a good choice, because it is the same bike I will be on.

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Good to know that a FS Scalpel 2 is a good tool for the job, as that’s what I’d be bringing. Still TBD if I’m going to do it. Sure thing if I don’t get into the Unbound 200, but might do it anyway even if I do because why not? YOLO!

Bumping this one back up - does anyone know how this year’s course compares to last year’s shortened course? Looks like the distance this year is 86 miles.

Trying to take a guess at Leadville Corral Times.

If we use the rain route, that would cut the final climb out, which took me 20 minutes last year.

If we use the dry route, I’d plan on it being fairly similar times, maybe +10 minutes from last year. The high climber route has about 300 feet of climbing vs the finishing climb of 500 feet. But you won’t have the 40mph descent down the onion river road.

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So is this just never going back to being a 100 miler?

I haven’t seen the new route yet, but the new start/finish is the golf course at the bottom of the hill instead of the ski resort at the top. So the start will not involve flying down the hill to 61 and then climbing back up. It will start low and head to that first climb. More importantly, it will not finish with a climb. They are adding some more singletrack though. The route will be mostly the same, but changes had to be made and Peter said it will be closer to 89 than 99.

Just FYI, It’s posted - it’s 86 miles this year.

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Let me ask another, unrelated question. WHat’s the quality of the dirt sections? Any sharp rocks? I’m running my XC Bike, buy wondering if Race Kings are a decent choice, or go with something a little burlier and tougher?

From one of the earlier posts, sounds like not a “Tire Eater” of a course and they should be fine?

You should be fine, nothing scary for sharp rocks, but run too low of a volume tire and you could have issues. Race Kings should be fine, I plan on running Mezcal TLRs.

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Great, thanks. I actually run mine with Tubolight Inserts too, so have a little extra pinch-flat protection in that regard. I did slash a sidewall on one around home - but we’ve got some nasty sections here.

I ran Aspens last year with zero issue.

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I tried to keep a blog for my prep and race a couple years ago. LINK to POST

GL out there. The people and the trails in the surrounding areas are amazing.

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Anyone have an update on course conditions? I know they still had quite a bit of snow a few weeks ago. This will definitely be my hardest day on the bike to date so not really looking to add mud to that!!