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US 24-hour National Championships at Big Bear cancelled

The 24 Hours of Big Bear, scheduled to be the US National 24-hour championships in Hazelton, West Virginia on June 12-13, has been canceled for 2010. In addition, the organizer, Granny Gear Productions, also canceled its 24 Hours of Nine Mile event in Wisconsin on July 31-August 1.

"The cat is out of the bag," said Granny Gear's Laird Knight to Cyclingnews. "The bottom line is that neither of those events is large enough to be financially sustainable, and I can't risk it. I know folks will be disappointed."

While both events are canceled for 2010, they are not permanently off the calendar.

"I do have plans to operate those races in the future. I'd like to hit the reset button. That will give me the opportunity to put together a marketing and sponsorship plan that can have events grow to the size they need to be and and get the financial support they need to succeed."

Knight cited the declining attendance of both races as the reason for the cancellation this year. "A five percent reduction in participation doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up," said Knight. "When a company like mine operates on a thin margin, even a small decline in participation is a huge hit."

He attributes the decline in participation to two factors. One is the recession and another is a larger trend in American mountain biking. The recession means less money available for sponsorship and less money available for racers to spend on racing.

"There is a shift in the demographics in mountain biking. Mountain bikers are getting older and having families. Racing is a self indulgent activity. The market is awash in events. There are a bazillion cross country, 24-hour, 12-hour and stage races out there. We're even competing against things like Little League and the concert happening nearby on the same weekend. People have a lot of choice now in entertainment."

Knight mentioned that another aspect of his decision is that he "needs a break. I've been promoting 24-hour races for 18 years, and I was a race promoter for 10 years before that. It's been no small amount of work."

"We need 225 and 250 teams to make an event like Big Bear succeed. Something around 800 to 1,000 racers," said Knight. "People don't get how expensive it is to run a 24-hour race. My game is to run top drawer events. I'm not in this to run cheap events. I want to run superb events. We never made those events cheaper because they were smaller. We've always been committed to making those races excellent."

In the past few years the Granny Gear National Points Series grew to a five-race series. The effort of promoting those took a toll according to Knight. "I'm proud of those efforts, but I'm looking forward to having a break. I've loved it, but it's been hard work." Last year, the series included three events in West Virginia, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Of the 24-hour race series, only the 24 hours of Moab remains. It will be run in Moab, Utah on October 9-10. The race has historically been successful and as Knight says, "It carries its weight".

Knight says that instead of the two 24-hour races in West Virginia and Wisconsin, he will host two rides on the dates when the the events would have happened this summer.

"They will be gatherings. If you want to come ride and talk about the race, show up and let's talk about how to make it work. There will be no entries, no costs," said Knight.

"I love Big Bear, and I love Nine Mile. They are awesome venues and great courses. They have everything they need to be successful, we just need to get the events to a scale where they are financially successful, too."

There is no official word yet from USA Cycling on what will be done about the US 24-hour National Championships although the decision making is in process.

"We were disappointed to hear the race was canceled.  It has a long history," said Andrea Smith of USA Cycling to Cyclingnews.  "We are working on what we will do about the national championships.  Granny Gear has been a good partner."

Knight said he is talking to the national federation about relocating the 2010 championships to the 24 Hours of Moab, which hosted the nationals last year.

Eszter Horanyi and Josh Tostado are the defending 24-hour solo champions.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.