The unofficial start to the US MTB season rolled out of the desert this weekend with a couple of special guests as Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie took part in the 19th annual '24 Hours in the Old Pueblo' relay race outside of Tuscon, Arizona.
Epic Rides' 24-hour event began the mountain biking season with over 4,000 people camping at the race north of Tuscon. This year the 2,000 spots for racers sold out in just seven hours. It remains the largest 24-hour mountain biking event in the US and certainly one of the largest in the world.
Former pros Armstrong and Hincapie planned to join Christian Vande Velde and Dylan Casey in the four-person Men’s Open, but Vande Velde fell ill before the event and was replaced by triathlete Julia Polloreno.
"It's a killer vibe, really, not like anything else I've done before," Armstrong said when asked about the event. "We rode yesterday and the weather was pouring rain, cold and miserable. Now because of the rain the course is perfect."
Armstrong is banned from officially sanctioned events, so the relaxed atmosphere and community at the Epic Rides 24-hour mountain bike race was a perfect fit for him and his crew.
When asked about the Wedo Team strategy this year, Armstrong didn't hesitate: "We're going slow, having fun, and drinking." Having said that, Hincapie, who is expected to race at Cape Epic again this year, consistently recorded some of the fastest laps on the course, finishing two of his three laps in less than an hour each. The team eventually finished in the bottom half of the category.
Racing took place on Willow Springs Ranch about 30 miles from Tuscon, to the west of the 3,050-metre Catalina Mountain Range. While Tuscon has had an extremely mild and dry winter, two solid days of rain on Thursday and Friday made the car trip to the race extremely difficult. Bonnie Springs Rd., a 19km dirt road that leads to the event, actually had to be closed to non-four-wheel vehicles on Friday due to the deep mud.
The course is 25.5km long and consists of desert singletrack, fire road, and some very rocky terrain. There were 375 metres of climbing per lap. The top riders were able to average an astounding 28km per hour on the course.
Taylor Lideen from Phoenix won the Solo Men's race with a total of 20 laps or 512km. His fastest lap was 1:02 and slowest was 1:24 during the night. Kaitlyn Boyle from Prescott, Arizona, won the Solo Female race with 18 laps. Carla Williams from Roanoke, Virginia, also rode 17 laps but 43 minutes slower than Boyle.
The Average Joey's 4-person Men's Open Team won that category by clocking an impressive 22 laps for 563kms. M&M Cycling Youngsters finished in second place with 21 laps. CZ Racing's 4-Person Women's Open team crushed the competition with an astounding 19 laps. The closest team to them had 14 laps.
Timon Fish from Albuquerque, New Mexico, won the Men's Singlespeed race with 18 laps. Ann Sudoh won the Women's Singlespeed race with 13 laps. Lindsay Nohl also clocked 13 laps but was 48 minutes off the pace of Sudoh.
In one of the most impressive results of the weekend, Nash Dory and Collin DiMattio completed 22 laps in the Duo Male category, equaling the winning result of the 4-person Average Joey's Open Team. Esther Blom-Geiser and Rachel Alter completed 16 laps to win the Duo Female competition.
Todd Sadow, Epic Rides President and Co-Founder was pleased with the weekend. He remarked, “To see the growing popularity of the #24HOP is proof the 24-hour relay race format is a great way to gather folks who love the outdoors and mountain bikes”.
The 2018 edition of the 24-Hours in the Old Pueblo was dedicated to Victoria Cramer, who is a published author and cancer survivor. She has missed only two years of the event, and even raced while undergoing chemotherapy. Her struggle is documented in her memoir, "Living Life Loudly".