[Ed. Note - TNFEC-SF is now accepting elite athlete applications - if you are interested elite, please send e-mail to endurancechallenge [at] hawkeyeww.com]
From what I can tell, the elite invites that attracted 100+ from around the globe last year is mysteriously gone. The press I contacted have no info, and I didn't get a response from the race organizers. Could it be that the TNF Series has headed the route that Competitor.com took with their Rock n' Roll series, and have ended their outreach/prizes to elites? Given all the longer distances of the race are sold out for TNFC-SF, it's not like they need it to draw attention to the race. Still, that would be a bummer. It was so great to see all the international athletes in SF last year, even when the weather forced last minute course changes.
We all know that VFC, the holding company for The North Face, makes tons more money selling jackets and backpacks to everyday folks. But I've always been impressed with their use of elite runners to promote an iconism that is inspiring, and their willingness to put some money on the table to draw the greats into competition. Let's face it, there were one of a few sponsors willing to do so, and it helped pull us into the golden age of trail running. But when the financiers at the Competitor Group did the math, they felt the price of drawing elites wasn't as good as say, another rock band on the course (I mean, why draw the line at one per mile?).
Let's hope this isn't an early signal of where the TNF brand is going.
[Note - per the sleuthing of commenters below, it appears the $30k in prize money is indeed intact, and there are some elites rumored to be coming including the defending champion, Miguel Heras.]