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Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman comes off the Van Buren Street footbridge near the beginning of the bicycle leg of the race during the 2015 Grizzly Triathlon.

MISSOULA — For the 31st year, the Grizzly Triathlon will commence on Sunday with almost 200 athletes expected to participate.

And for the 21st year, Giles Thelen will act as the event’s director.

But Sunday will be his swan song in that position as Thelen, 48, said he’ll be stepping into more of an adviser role after this year’s competition.

He says “never say never” when it comes to stepping back in, but for now the plan is that the Missoula Aquatic Club will take over after Sunday.

“So much has happened in 21 years,” Thelen said. “I was in graduate school and single and fit and so much has happened since then in terms of establishing a career and finding the love of my life and raising kids.

“My two boys are 9 and 11 and they don’t know anything but the Grizzly Triathlon in April. It is part of their whole world and I think they’re going to have a harder time adjusting to life without the Grizzly Triathlon than I am.”

Thelen said the event is ready for some new leadership. He noted that when he originally took over he changed some things and he said the timing just felt right on stepping away. He also wants to spend time as a competitor in the event and actually train ahead of time.

“It just seems like it needs a new energy,” he said.

With that, Thelen said he’s excited to hand the reins over to the Missoula Aquatic Club.

There are a lot of memories that stand out for Thelen over the last 21 years, but the appreciation he receives from the contestants is what he’ll treasure most. Thelen, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, said there have been years where he’s used his own money to help put it on, something participants have been sure to thank him for.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Thelen said. “Last week, one of my friends said, ‘Giles, you know there’s 185 people signed up to do a triathlon in Montana in early April. That’s impressive.’ So the support of the community every year and just the thanks. That’s the thing I’ll look back on this in 20 years and that’ll be the part that makes me feel the best.”

Though 185 have signed up, Thelen said there was a late surge that should bump them above the 200 mark when the event begins at 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Thelen said the route will be the same as a year ago. The competitors will begin at the Grizzly Pool and the transition area is right next to the Champions Center. Next, they’ll bike out toward Bonner. Then they’ll come back, park their bikes in the transition area and then run along the Kim Williams Nature Trail and Smokejumpers’ Trail along Mount Sentinel before turning around and coming back to campus to finish the race.

There are nine heats scheduled. The first heat will begin at 8 a.m. The elite masters division of participants age 40-plus begins at 11:05 a.m. and the elite division will be the final group to begin, starting at 11:30 a.m. One of last year’s winners, Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman, is competing once again in the elite division.

The weather has been a little rough lately, but unless a blizzard hits the Garden City on Sunday, the Grizzly Triathlon will commence as scheduled.

And Thelen is ready to make the final year a memorable one.

“It’s seeing people that I only see once a year and reconnecting with friends and working together as a group to put this race on is what I always look forward to,” Thelen.

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Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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