I occupy a funny space in the cycling world. Having been described as “pro singlespeeder” by some; the role I play in the cycling world may be B list credits at best. Any attempt to qualify and classify what I call “a days work of fun and games” ultimately comes up short of the actuality of things. I try and take goals seriously while acknowledging that racing a bike with one gear is an inherent limitation to the relentless pursuit of absolutely speed. Personally I feel both “pro” in my approach to training and racing while taking time to embrace life like my SS brethren.
24 hour racing is much the same, and after my week in Arizona at the Epic Rides 24 hours in the Old Pueblo I can confirm that the format and the fun are very much alive. Gone seem to be the days of night laps in Santa costumes at your local long lap format race. Replaced by transition tables with gel packets and “spectators” wrapped in blankets who take in the action one smart phone live update refresh at a time. Many have declared the format dead as race participation dwindles and riders seek adventure outside of race tape and transition zones.
The Old Pueblo itself is little more than a hot patch of dirt and cactus in the Sonoran Desert outside of Tucson AZ. Not far from the city, and only about 60 miles from the Mexican border the “pueblo” must be very old indeed because there’s literally nothing but a dirt access road and a mound of rocks to mark the place. The trail system the race uses criss-crosses through primitive road and over cattle grates making the absolute most of a barren patch of earth. The tent and RV city that emerges for the 24HOP is astounding and can be seen from the highway, miles in the distance. The dust cloud which rises from “24 hour town” and from the ribbon of powdery dirt access road which leads into the Old Pueblo gives a sense of adventure, a profound buzzing perception that something is going on. Like a bee hive alive with movement the site of 24 hour town enthuses attendants with a sense they are part of a great and exciting thing.
My arrival was late Friday afternoon after a leisurely morning and a short ride to shake the legs out from the prior nights mini-epic. The town was abuzz, movement and sound surrounds you in a context of emptiness and quiet. The desert has been brought to life through the wonders of diesel generators and recreational vehicles. Wanting to quickly seek out my Pivot Cycles team captain and teammates to touch base about logistics I found myself wandering brought the maze of homesteads which had been seemingly haphazard in their placement but in reality took best advantage of whatever lot of earth they could find. The city grows out from a central area with street names given to the dirt pathways for the weekend. It’s hard not to feel both very out of place and yet very at home. We may need sunscreen at regular intervals and be made mostly of water but it’s hard not to feel like 24 hour town is the right place for a mountain biker.
Meal had, logistics set, and plans made for world race course domination I got what shut eye I could and awoke the next morning to find a hub of rad riding activity. Tall bikes lazily moving through groups of people milling around an industry expo. Costumed luchadors clipped into carbon race rigs. Retro coaster brake bikes piloted by men with heated leather seats in their cars. Simultaneously a party, a parade, and a paradox of location set with a bike race as its binding theme. If I am a “pro singlespeeder” this surely was a scene where I would be understood.
As the LeMans start of clamoring carbon soled buffalo thundered past to tho cheers and jeers of a four thousand person audience I stood with my Pivot Teammates waiting for our lead runner to grab his machine and take the first lap of our eventual 23. My team were people I had never met, some of who’s names I knew, but I had trusted in my contacts at Pivot Cycles to ensure we had a compatible and race ready team. Boy did they not disappoint! Young gun Wes put down consistent lightning laps. Shannon and Jen are a power couple if ever there was one. He a work horse running like a Swiss clock and her making moves in the dark to turn one of the fastest women’s laps of the weekend. Our captain was Pivot rep Brien, who kept us all in ranks, determined our order and logistics, and made for a pretty quick lap machine himself! I would take the second, and first full lap on my Pivot LES SS. I didn’t tell the crew my XC speed isn’t what it once was but even with some traffic I felt pleased with a 1:00:43, our teams fastest lap of the 16.2 mile course. Wes had some extremely quick laps as well, even Jen turned a 1:10 in the night! All together we quickly moved to the front of our 5 person team category and traded spots with the overall top 5 readily throughout the event. I couldn’t have been more happy to be a part of this crew, to have received the hospitality of the Pivot Cycles family, and to have felt like I had a home in Arizona. I have never been able to say enough good things about my LES but other teammates had 429s, Mach 4s, and I even pulled out final lap on the 26×4.0 equipped LESfat! A 1:06 in the 25th hour if I might add! We had absolutely the best machines and the best mechanical (and nutritional) support out there. The guys from Skratch labs had a board where they marked down every time each rider had a tinkle….we left that to the realm of personal information and just trusted each other to be awake, alert, and ready to roll at the right time. 5 person racing is certainly less exhausting than other formats of racing. Actual sleep can be had. It takes about an hour to mellow down after a lap, get some semblance of clean, prep for the next (charge lights etc), and then about an hour or so to dress and prepare for your next. Leaving an hour to two for actual sleep to be had or attempted. Our team did a great job trusting each other sight unseen. Shannon was ALWAYS in the transition zone ready for me to pass off the baton. I was ALWAYS there when Wes got in. We did great working with each other. It’s great to work with professionals.
Or only drama was on Wes’s last lap. We were in a position where our team was far enough ahead of second that losing our lead was unlikely unless they went back out for a final lap and we stayed in. We were also in a position to possibly move up one or two spots. I consulted via hurried texts with Shawn T and his 24hour racing background and we decided we would stick to our rhythm and put Wes out and monitor for the team behind us to go out. When they didn’t I met him part way on course to see if he would be able to complete a quick enough lap for me to go out and try to catch the overall places in front of us. Wes came through the 3/4 point out of the saddle, laying over the handlebars putting All the power through the business end of his LES hardtail. I asked simply “are you hammering Wes???” He shouted “I’m trying to!!!”
And it was on!
I sprinted the LES fat I had commandeered from the demo truck back to the start finish, topped off my bottle and assumed my spot in the exchange tent. Shortly after that we were within minute of the Noon hour after which we wouldn’t be able to go back out for one more lap. Minutes….seconds….WES!!! Our number was called, I dove to my feet shouting and cheering Wes’s huge effort and bounded to gather the small token we were given as a baton and stuffed it into the BRC vest I was wearing over my t shirt and baggy short shorts.
Id never been so stoked after 24 hours! But I had a lightning fast carbon fun machine with 4 inches of grip ready to tackle a wide open desert landscape. And SOAR she did!! Ride fatty ride! Passing riders who were on a mission, moving through fields of zombie dead pedaling to their tent site graves, and hooting my way along the 16.1 mile course balancing between dust berms and cactuses, dead mice and rats plowed over by night traffic of two thousand racers. I was loving it. The simultaneous feeling of triumph and conclusion of our suffering painted on a back drop of stunning Sonoran Desert.
24 hour racing is alive and well. It’s a niche, no doubt, but it’s a concentrated dose for whatever your favorite flavor of cycling may be. When the racing is done, the port-a-potties are LONG since out of paper, and you have run out of sunscreen it’s time to pack up and leave the town you built in the desert and get back to “real life.”
I think that’s what folks miss about 24 hour racing. For one brief period everything is in the periphery. What matters is your last lap, the tales told around the campfire, and the great friendships born in the transition tent. The rest of life gets put on hold as you dive deep into a world of tolerance, enthusiasm, and passion that only maybe cyclists could build.