Red Earth Classic mountain bike race organizers building toward big race, publicity for Ishpeming trails

ISHPEMING – Organizers of the Red Earth Classic are hoping for more than just a successful set of mountain bike races on Saturday in and around Ishpeming.

They also want to publicize all the available trails in the woods and around lakes and streams for bicycles near that city and neighboring Negaunee.

This inaugural event, with Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine as its major sponsor, includes three races – 35 miles and 18 miles for all ages and 2.5 miles for youths.

“With Saturday’s race, we hope to grow our race into one of the biggest Midwest mountain bike races,” said Justin Koski, who along with Matt Palomaki are the race directors.

They spoke by telephone on Wednesday afternoon while out working on some of the trails to be used on Saturday.

“We want to benefit the entire Upper Peninsula as a mountain biking destination, and Ishpeming and Negaunee specifically,” Koski said.

Some of the proceeds go to support the Upper Peninsula MTB Trail System, which includes the website, and the Start The Cycle Foundation, all part of the effort to publicize mountain biking opportunities around the U.P.

The trail “improvement” task around Ishpeming doesn’t require any real changes to the trails themselves, Koski said.

“A lot of our effort is going to marking the trails better, and also establishing the website to publicize all the trails around Negaunee and Ishpeming,” he said.

Saturday’s races, though, are expected to draw a number of professional racers, who are vying for $4,000 in prize money in the longer 35-mile race, with the top five men and top five women equally splitting this fund.

The two all-ages races begin in downtown Ishpeming near Main and Division streets with a 1.3-mile opening “prime loop” on the streets that is its own competition, Koski said. A number of downtown streets will be blocked off for this part of the course.

The 18-mile Red Earth Classic Short begins at 10:30 a.m. while the 35-mile Classic Long race commences at 12:30 p.m.

The Junior Classic doesn’t get going until 4 p.m. and starts and ends at Al Quaal Recreation Area in north Ishpeming, the finish line for the two all-ages races.

While the exact trails hadn’t been hashed out as of Wednesday, the general course moves south and then east of downtown Ishpeming to trails between Ishpeming and Negaunee, backtracking through town and coming out into Ishpeming Township, according to maps listed online at

The course will cross under U.S. 41 on the train underpass and should skirt Rock and Cooper lakes and even further west before heading toward Al Quaal Recreation Area.

Up to this point, the two all-ages races follow the same trails, but they diverge for most of the rest of the way.

Though the finish line is in the park, both races will take in parts of Al Quaal, with the 35-mile course moving north toward Deer Lake before returning to the park.

Koski said those interested either as participants or spectators can check the Red Earth Classic page online at Facebook for up-to-the-minute information on the courses.

A link from the main Red Earth Classic website shows elevation changes expected along the 35-mile long course, starting at about 1,400 feet above sea level and going as high as about 1,650 feet.

“There should be about 3,000 feet of elevation climb throughout the long course,” Koski said. He also expects the first finishers to cross around 3:30 p.m. at Al Quaal, the location of the event’s festival.

Open to all, families are especially encouraged to come out to see the pro racers at the finish and sign-up for the Junior race.

The festival opens at 11 a.m. and features the end of all three races along with music, food and drink available. Wrap-up is expected around 6:45 p.m.

Online registration for the event has now closed, but in-person registration will be available Friday evening and Saturday morning at the Rare Earth Goods store on First Street in downtown Ishpeming. Costs are $70 for the all-ages races and $15 for the Junior Classic.

Registration and packet pickup times are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. until a half hour before each all-ages race on Saturday. Junior race registration will be available until shortly before its late afternoon start at Al Quaal.