WILLIAMS, Ariz. – After a successful comeback last year and following a 25-year absence, Man vs. Machine bike race returns to Williams Sept. 24.
The race pits cyclists against a 1900s-era steam engine in a 53-mile race from Tusayan to Williams.
The stakes are high after the steam engine beat the cyclists last year with a 15 minute lead.
“If I were a betting person,” said Stephen Pelligrini, public relations manager with Grand Canyon Railway, “I would bet on the train. As we say, may the best machine win.”
This year, race coordinators are evening the odds by handicapping the train with a 10 mile lag time.
“The bikes and the train are going to leave at the same time but from different spots,” Pelligrini said. “The bikes are going to leave from the same spot at The Grand Hotel in Tusayan and the train is leaving from the South Rim Train Depot. Last year the train won by a lot (15 minutes) and the train stopped for a photo shoot on Highway 64 in Redlake. We let the bikes catch up and once they did we started rolling again and we overtook them again pretty quickly. By starting inside the park at the same time the bikes start at Tusayan should make it a bit of a closer race.”
Last year the train started at mile post 52, outside park boundaries.
The race, hosted by Grand Canyon Racing and sponsored by the Grand Canyon Railway has cyclists from over 11 states already registered for the race to Williams against the Grand Canyon Railway steam train.
Prior to the 2015 race, the race had not been completed since 1993 when professional rider Krzysztof Wiatr led a pack of 51 riders who finished ahead of the locomotive to win the race. Wiatr beat the steam train by 15 minutes and later went on to win the U.S. National Criterium title in 1993. Last year, Constantine Schreiber of Tempe won the men’s race in two hours, 19 minutes and eight seconds. Jennifer Schuknecht of Scottsdale won the women’s race in 2:28:17.
Race coordinators said they are expecting a good turn-out this year.
“We’ve got more sponsorships this year and a lot of people are aware of what the race is at this point, which is great,” said Pat Bohrman, coordinator for Grand Canyon Racing. “We’ve definitely noticed an increase in exposure. A lot of people think it’s a really huge event, as if we’ve been around for 10 years.”
There were 260 competitors in 2015.
On race day, cyclists will take on Grand Canyon Railway’s steam engine No. 29 for a 53-mile ride that has a 2,023-foot elevation change.
“We are featuring locomotive 29 this year, which was recently restored,” Pelligrini said. “It’s a smaller locomotive, so we’ll see if that has any outcome for the race.”
Cyclists will leave the Grand Hotel at 10:30 a.m. and head south on Highway 64 for 50 miles before ending up on historic Route 66 for the final three miles. The finish line will be on Second Street and Route 66 in Williams near the Route 66 Zipline.
Local and state law enforcement, including Coconino County Sheriff’s Department, Arizona Highway Patrol and the Williams Police Department will provide security for the race. Over 60 volunteers help put on the race.
Proceeds from the event will go toward the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Williams High School cycling team the ‘Pedaling Vikings’ and Williams Young Life.
According to Bohrman, around $7, 000 was distributed among last year’s charities, which included Williams High School Scholarship fund and the Williams High School Mountain Bike team.
The race is open to all types of racers. It is capped at four hours. Additional chase cars will follow riders this year. There will be three stops on the route to provide food and water, and a medical services team will be on site.
“We had a really strong head wind last year, which really slowed down the main pack,” Bohrman said. “We expect the first people to cross around 12:30 p.m.”
Registration for the race is $60-$85 and includes a $30 additional option for a bus ticket transporting racers and their bikes to the starting line.
“What that allows is the rider to participate, ride back to Williams, hit the finish line and enjoy a beer and dinner and spend the evening there,” Bohrman said. “We are here to serve the city of Williams and we think there is a lot of purpose behind this cause that rallied us to put this event on in the first place and that’s really what drives us to continue doing it.”
Grand Canyon Railway is selling round-trip tickets for those interested in riding the train during the race.
Train tickets for passengers who want to ride the train during the race can be purchased from Grand Canyon Railway for $79 for adults and $49 for children 16 and younger. Passengers can get into the Grand Canyon free that day too.
Tickets are available only by calling 1-800-thetrain or by purchase the day of the race at the Williams Train Depot ticket counter.
The day of the race, the train will depart from the Williams train depot at 7 a.m. and stop at the Grand Canyon for servicing before starting the race. The train will depart the train depot at Grand Canyon and bike racers will depart Tusayan at 10:30 a.m.
“There won’t be any time to see the Canyon but it will be a nice steam excursion, with an early morning departure at 7 o’clock, probably the earliest we’ve ever sent a passenger train to the Canyon,” Pelligrini said.
Following the race, Grand Canyon Railway invites everyone to enjoy live music, food and a beer garden at a post-race party at the Babbitt-Polson Pavillion between the Williams Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Canyon Railway. The finish line post-race party celebrates the 90th anniversary of Route 66. It is sponsored by Grand Canyon Brewery and is open to the public. Live music, food and beverages will be available for purchase. The family-friendly event is open to cycling enthusiasts, athlete s’ friends and families and the general public.
Additionally, a post-race party will be held at the Grand Canyon Brewery in Williams at 7 p.m.
“This is open to the public. We want visitors and locals to come enjoy the after-party and we hope they will stop by our vendor tables,” Bohrman said.
Race participants will receive a custom Grand Canyon Brewery growler and a T-shirt. Additional merchandise will be sold after the event. Cycling teams who register a minimum of five riders will receive 20 percent off at checkout. Over $5,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded among the top three finishers of the men’s and women’s division.
More information and registration can be found at www.grandcanyonracing.com.