Red Earth, green leaves

ISHPEMING – The seasons may have changed, but much of the event and its purpose remain the same at the second annual Red Earth Classic bicycle races to be held in Ishpeming and Negaunee this weekend.

Last year’s inaugural running took place two months later near the end of September. Late July should provide a greener look as one of the event’s major purposes is to highlight the off-road biking trails available in and around these twin cities.

“We looking at doubling the number of entries from last year,” said Justin Koski, who along with Matt Palomaki are the directors of this two-day series of events. “It looks like about 75 percent of our entries will be from outside the Upper Peninsula.”

Last year’s three competitive events will again be held on a Saturday – the Red Earth Classic 19-mile Short Race, 35-mile Long Race and 2.5-mile Junior Classic designed for youngsters.

The first two cover trails through the same general areas, but the Long Race adds in extra loops and circuits to get its mileage up.

Each of the longer two start in downtown Ishpeming, moving east toward the Old Town trails in Negaunee, then reversing course and coming back through Ishpeming and west into Ishpeming Township.

The courses then veer north, crossing busy U.S. 41 via the old railroad underpass so there won’t be any danger of collisions between cars and bikes.

The courses veer east again in the home stretch, finishing up at Al Quaal Recreation Area near Teal Lake in north Ishpeming.

The Short Race commences at 10 a.m., the Long Race at noon and the Junior Classic at 5:30 p.m. The late afternoon race for youth starts, ends and spends just about its entirety on trails at Al Quaal.

New this year is Sunday’s Red Earth Short Track Race Waves, a series of sprints along a one-mile course at Al Quaal that start with time trials, then four-person head-to-head Enduro-style races until winners in various divisions are determined.

“We wanted something to highlight the trails that have been improved in the last year in and around Al Quaal,” Koski said. “And having a whole weekend of races should encourage people from out of the area to make the long trip here.”

More than $5,000 in prize money is available for pro riders, meaning there should be some intense competition, too.

Al Quaal will be headquarters for a number of events during the weekend. Ishpeming’s annual Italian Festival will be held at the park, while Red Earth organizers have added a beer tent, silent auction, drawings, several awards ceremonies and even a Saturday evening beach party all within the park’s boundaries.

The silent auction will benefit the Great Lakes Recovery Center of Ishpeming and Marquette, with raffle proceeds to aid the Youth Mountain Bike Development Program started by the race directors during the past year.

Koski also mentioned more than 50 sponsors, led by Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine and also including the Upper Peninsula Health Plan, SRAM, Dan Perkins Construction, Lake Effect Entertainment, Great Lakes Recovery Centers, SISU Cycles, television stations WLUC-TV6/Fox U.P. and radio station 100.3 FM/The Point.

For more information, including online registration that is still available, visit the website www.redearthclassic.com.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.