24 hours of Moab: Best mountain bike race in Colorado? | VailDaily.com

24 hours of Moab: Best mountain bike race in Colorado?

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Mitch SandersTo kick off 24 hours of Moab last weekend, racer take the first lap " a short foot race " before heading to their bikes

MOAB ” It’s a right of passage in the Colorado mountain biking world.

First-timers marvel at the atmosphere. Veterans can’t stop planning ahead until next year’s race. And even those who don’t race still need to make the yearly pilgrimage.

“It’s the Super Bowl for riding,” Barry Davis said. “It’s a Woodstock celebration that comes at the end of the year.”

It’s 24 Hours of Moab ” in Moab, Utah.

“I think the running joke is that the biggest race in Colorado is in Utah,” said Laird Knight, who is the president of Granny Gear Productions, which puts on the race, and is the father of 24 hour mountain bike racing.

Last weekend, a giant contingent of bikers from Eagle County headed west for a weekend in the desert. The results ” plenty of victories and top finishes ” were welcomed, though they won’t necessarily be what’s remembered most.

“Never had I been in a situation when I had been woken up in the middle of the night to put on spandex and ride a lap in the middle of the desert over treacherous rocks,” said Tim Stenovec, who raced with the winning five-person coed team Rubber Chicken Rides Again.

The race features teams of riders taking turns lapping a technical course over a 24-hour period. This year, the contest had 1,400 racers and 388 teams camping out for an extended weekend.

Todd Williams, who had only decided to go when a friend asked him a week before, wasn’t disappointed upon arrival.

“I was amazed at how many people were there,” Williams said. “It was a whole little city and I couldn’t believe all the lights. I’d ridden in Moab before. This was hard … but the experience was great. Everyone was really good, and when the pro riders (passed you) they would be saying encouraging stuff.”

With more than 20 different divisions, the race provides a challenge for sport riders to top pros. And even though the course is the same, the experience leaves riders with memories of “the race from ’95, or ’02.”

“Every time you do Moab, its different,” said Mike Janelle, who won the duo pro division with Nat Ross “That’s why I like it. I’ve done it nearly every year with the exception of ’99 and last year.”

For pro riders like Janelle and Ross, who led the overall for a bit of the race, but decided to back off a bit at the end, the format is a nice break from you-versus-the-field races.

“We don’t always get to ride together,” Janelle said.

And, as Ross noted, the actual race is why they go, but there’s plenty else that’s alluring.

“There’s no place like Moab ” it’s killer scenery, and look what happened when we were gone ” its snowed,” he said. “It’s nice just to go there and celebrate a long season and wind down in style.”

As summer turns into fall, bikers have Moab on their minds. While a Wednesday night race in Vail may tire the legs, bikers still can’t totally kick the Moab itch and often check the race’s Web site to see who is going or change their team’s quirky profile.

“It does it for me,” Davis said. “In the past two years, I’ve spent way too much time goofing off on our (team’s) homepage, adding pictures and anecdotes. You’re getting pumped and it helps you get connected with other bikers.”

With team names like “Borracho Libre”, “Priapism” (for those who aren’t familiar with drugs like Cialis, grab a dictionary) and “Does my bike make my butt look fat?”, there’s plenty to get excited about.

Once the riders get there, set up camp, and hit the path, time seems to fly by.

“Twenty-four hours sounds like a long time, but the next thing you know, you get started and you’re getting ready for the next lap, eating, changing or getting teammates ready for the ride and then the 24 hours are up,” said Mitch Sanders.

The time may seem even shorter when riders have a solid support crew there.

“They are as much a part of the team as the riders,” Stenovec said. “Our support ” Craig Cohn and Barry Davis ” they were the ones fixing bikes and waking us up.”

Most of the supporters are riders who have decided to sit a year out.

“My buddies said, ‘Come and support us,’ and I remember how much fun it was,” Davis said. “Every year racing, I wanted to be the guy supporting. I always looked at them jealously as they sat by the fire, drinking a Budweiser.”

Steven Kirchner, who was part of a support crew for a handful of teams, thought the role wasn’t quite as tiresome as riding.

“For me, doing support was much less stressful than competing,” he said. “It wasn’t as physically demanding but still had the sleep deprivation.”

Riding Moab during the day isn’t always easy. So when night falls, riders take an extra bit of caution.

“This was only my second night ride,” Williams said. “I was apprehensive on the stuff during the day. It puts a different feel on stuff. It makes things not so steep look steeper and it also flattens everything out. And you can’t tell hard pack from sand.”

Katie Brazelton, who was part of the women’s veteran winning team Lifestyle Ladies, didn’t let the dark stop her from changing a tire.

“It kind of exacerbates the situation,” she said. “I flatted and it was so much harder at night. And both my lights went out on one lap so I was trying to follow people who had lights. Every team can expect something to happen in the middle of the night.”

And just about every team from Eagle County can expect to land on the podium.

“It’s basically a Vail town race,” Davis said. ” Vail dominates.”

As the race has grown throughout the years, the overall competition has increased, as have the divisions.

“It’s gotten a little muddled, but I still like the team aspect,” said Bruce Kelly of Pedal Power. “Also, what’s nice, being in the bike business, is to see the energy there and the industry and what drives the industry.

“It’s the last hurrah of the year and you are there with your friend and people you’ve been riding with or helping to take care of their bikes. It’s a nice way to end the year and have some stories about the 2007 24 Hours of Moab and what went down there.”

As the snow collects in Vail, there’s already discussion about next year’s race.

“I just talked to a friend about it,” Williams said “We’re already thinking about getting a team together.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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