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Interview With Wildcat Epic Promoter Gunter Spilhaus

Posted by: Matt Williams |September 23, 2012 3:36 PM

If you haven't yet heard of the Wildcat Epic mountain bike race, you probably will before long. Though originally conceived as a stage race, the Wildcat Epic now has 50 and 100 mile options,  and is a candidate to join the National Ultra Endurance Series next season. And though it's a relatively new race, it has already seen participation from some of America's top endurance racing teams, including the Jamis Factory team. Now in it's third year, the Wildcat Epic is looking to be bigger and better than ever in 2012.

MTBRacenews.com recently caught up with Wildcat Epic promoter Gunter Spilhaus about the race, the challenges of organizing private land owners, and the events he has planned next.

On The 2012 Wildcat Epic/ Wildcat 100

A native of South Africa, Spilhaus cut his teeth as a race promoter organizing adventure races and working for the Cape Epic Stage Race. And it was in South Africa that Spilhaus first started thinking about promoting a mountain bike stage race. He got things going with a mountain bike adventure race. While traveling in Britain, Spilhaus raced a two-day mountain bike adventure race on a whim. As he put it, "I liked it so much that I brought the franchise back to South Africa and started a race there." 

Family reasons brought him to New Paltz, NY six years ago, and the dream of promoting a stage race came with him. "We're one of National Geographic's top 100 adventure towns," Spilhaus said, "it's happening here." He added, "There are half a million visitors to this area a year, we just have to convert those people to mountain bikers."

The Wildcat Epic is, for Spilhaus, a major part of that vision. He originally intended to promote the Wildcat Epic as a four day stage race, but that was three years ago, and "just as we were about to roll it out the economy tanked, so we had to scale it back to the two day format to make it more manageable. We made it to longer [50 mile] days instead of four 3-4 hour stages." Spilhaus then added the 50 and 100 mile options as well. This year, the Epic race will consist of 50 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. The 50 miler will run on Saturday, while the 100 miler will take place on Sunday. 

To create the course, Spilhaus had to forge together a coalition of local land owners, farmers, and local bike clubs. "We have 23 landowners involved in the Wildcat race, and there are a bunch more that need to see it happen a few more times to be convinced." As it is, much of the riding used in the Wildcat race is only open to bikes on race day, making the event a unique experience for locals and out of towner's alike. 

The course will take riders through beautiful local apple orchards, and then onto a 150 year old system of carriage roads up Castle Point, which features 360 degree views of the surrounding area. From there riders will drop "into Williams Lake for some sweet single track," before making their back to the finish in New Paltz. As Spilhaus put it, "riders will get a little bit of everything at the Wildcat."

Looking Forward

Currently the Wildcat Race is a very busy weekend, with three races taking place over two days. That could change though, particularly if the Wildcat 100 becomes part of the highly acclaimed National Ultra Endurance series next season.

"We're really excited about being a part of the NUE series," Splihaus said. "I want to say it's a matter of when, not if we become a part of the series." Doing so, said Spilhaus, "would allow us to profile the event on a national level. We've been promoting it at a grassroots level for three years now, and the NUE Series contacted us because they are trying to pull some participation to the east coast." 

If, or when, the Wildcat 100 becomes part of the NUE series, "we'll split off the Wildcat Epic and run that a different weekend." The goal is to turn that into a full four day stage race connecting Windham, NY to the New Palz area, Spilhaus said.

Bringing It All Back Around

As Spilhaus said, "Joining the NUE Series would allow us to raise the profile of the Wildcat 100 and expand the Wildcat Epic to a stage race format." But the logistics of choosing weekends, organizing volunteers and logistics, and creating a great course are easy relative to one task. The biggest challenge? "Convincing landowners that mountain biking is it. I refer to East Burke a lot," Spilhaus noted, "that's the example for what we're trying to build. There are a lot of road riders in the New Paltz area, we need to be converting them to mountain biking too. And we want to turn what we're building here at the Wildcat into a sustainable trail network that benefits the local community."

"People are starting to see Agri-tourism as a potential, and apple famers are looking for additional revenue. We want the farm stands to become the trailheads, so that people go for a ride and come back and shop at the farm stand." 

And while it was clear that Splihaus had the energy to elaborate on this vision for much of the day, he had more pressing matters to attend to. He said goodbye and headed out the door to work on trails.

The 2012 Wlldcat 100/50/Epic is August 11 and 12. For more information visit www.wildcatepicevents.com

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