a race deep in the Tucson, AZ desert.
2/15 – 2/16/2020
The race format is straightforward: ride as many laps of a 16-mile course as possible in 24 hours. The chief rule to finish, you cannot quit before 12 PM on Sunday. That’s right Bedouin, no stopping when you’re tired. High Noon Saturday to High Noon Sunday. Now ride bikes!
The 24HOP sells out immediately. If you want to race this next year you better be prepared, online, card-in-hand in just a couple months. Our bike-race-addicted Team Captain, Victor, wrangled a late spot from the waitlist after a 4-Man Open Team canceled. He made 3 phone calls, to 3 more addicts, and our team was aligned in early February.
- Victor Rodriguez (Team RaceCo): 2019 Dirty Kanza, Leadville 100, La Ruta de los Conquistadores Finisher.
- Rob Kevwitch: 2019 Leadville SS Winner.
- Steve Caughlin (Team RaceCo)
- Justin Holle (No Ride Around): 2019 SS Colorado State Champ, 2019 Leadville SS 2nd, La Ruta de los Conquistadores 9th Pro.
- Support/Masseuse/Fan: Christine McQuillen (Team RaceCo)
We brought a stacked team. As is the case in early season events, the competition is variable. Who’s going to show up? We went into the race with one goal, winning. Oh…and having fun. Yeah, we are leaving snowy, cold Colorado for some desert fun. However, we had no idea how much fun was waiting for us in the desert north of Tucson.
Getting gear and racers to AZ:
Advertised as a party in the desert, the 24HOP is BYOE (everything), event. Gear, lodging, support, and water. You better gear up and a carry-on won’t cut it. We loaded down Rob’s ex-wife’s SUV (an important distinction) with Victor’s impressive Opus camper trailer and hauled a Clampett-worthy procession south on I-25. Rob, Christine, and I left Victor’s house at 7 PM Thursday, settling in for a 13-hour haul. Exchanging driving duties every few hours, while commenting on each other’s heavy-footed fuel expenditures, we made it to our Denny’s Super Slam AZ-breakfast in good spirits. It was descending into 24 Hour Town that snapped us out of our road trip stupor. This place is PACKED!
Becoming a resident:
Steve, having made his way to 24 Hour Town the day before, met us Clampetts at the entrance and navigated our weaving way through the MTB version of Burning Man to our little slice of desert heaven. The trailer dropped, gear unloaded, and we’re back to Tucson to meet with Victor and source groceries. Fuel. That’s the secret sauce for successful 24-hour races. Not just the right fuel, but lots of options. Prepping the body, and mind, for midnight laps at race pace means we need all the tricks. Thus, our grocery cart looked like a health-conscious stoner went unrestrained through Basha’s. The team complete, we left the perfumed socialites to their worldly ways and disappeared into MTB Burning Man with big smiles and anxious hearts.
We snuck in a pre-ride lap. The funny thing about pre-riding a course you’ll visit many times over the next 24 hours is that you’re purpose is to catalog, strategize, and memorize, all the while knowing that everything changes when the sun goes down and sleep deprivation creeps in. I forgot to do any of the above things. I simply rode. Damn it felt good to be in the warm desert, on dry dirt, and my freshly build Norco Revolver race bike. We are going to have a good year together my friend.
How do you separate over 2,000 racers from one another on a 16-mile, singletrack racecourse? Make them run 1/3 mile in their carbon-soled cycling shoes of course. At 12 PM Saturday morning I took off running to the blast of a shotgun and spectators cheers. Fortunately, I got out ahead of the guaranteed chaos that developed in the thick of the field. Victor held upright my bike as I cyclocross-mounted and sped off. The first lap? Blistering fast pace. Testing my full heart’s capabilities I never backed it down. At no point in that first lap did I mountain bike. I simply raced. Coming into the transition corral in under an hour, I passed the digital timer to hand off my physical baton to Victor, second in the lineup.
A brief aside here… Most things that seem goofy come from past experiences. The 24HOP mandates that teammates hand off a baton (a small wooden dowel) to one another in front of a race official. The race official then notes the rider coming in, their time and the rider leaving for the course. As a racer, we limit anything that causes us seconds in a race. Including, but not limited to, eating, drinking, urinating, bike adjustments, coasting, and enjoying the view. SO, when we have to manually check-in our frustration is quelled only by the acknowledgment that one year, years ago, things must’ve gone really badly in regards to race timing.
In 24 hour racing, things never go perfectly.
Leaving Saturday’s light behind, we pedaled into the night in 5th place. Who showed up? Remember, that was a key piece to our goal. Well, 119 4-Man Teams showed up, and while many were there for the fun, more than half were as ambitious as us.
Victor enjoyed the unmatched Arizona sunset on course and passed the baton to a waiting Rob. Dr. Rob, who passes racers on course with the courtesy of a Ritz-Carlton doorman, raced out of the transition tent aiming to be back in an hour. That was his pace. That guy is fast.
An hour came and went. Steve, next up for a lap, sat waiting in the transition area as an hour became 1:15, then 1:30. Something was up.
Racers don’t carry phones. We carry the tools we need to stay in the race: a tube, some air, a chain link, a tool, and perhaps an Enduro Bite. Rarely do these tools fail us. Waiting to hear Rob’s voice outside the camper, I sat reading a book with occasional sideways glances to my watch. Like a whirling desert dust-cyclone, Christine came crashing into the tent. Rob, we learned, had passed a message on to her from the course! How?! Well…Rob had broken a chain and in doing so destroyed his entire rear wheel. Unrideable, he began running his bike along the course. 5 miles from the finish line made for a long haul. Fortunately, the Leadman-training Rob enjoys a good trail run and went only a couple miles before another racer offered the use of her phone. Thankful for the offer, Rob called the only phone number he had memorized…his ex-wife’s. Yeah! The lady who already gave us her vehicle for this adventure. Yep, the lady who was out for dinner celebrating Valentine’s Day with her significant other, significantly not Rob, and answered only after his 4th attempt, with contempt. Rob detailed how important her involvement was in relating the calamitous situation to his teammates, via text to Christine whom she had the phone number for. I can only imagine how many rolls her eyes took in her head. Alas, the message relayed, Christine breaks our evening reverie, and Victor heads out on course via a fire road to find Rob and give him a functioning bike. 1 rule with 24-hour racing is that the riders cannot leave the course, but if they do, they must reenter the course at the same place before a lap is officially completed. Thus, delivering Rob a bike on-course was a decidedly smart move. All said, Rob ran 3+ miles before getting onto a working bike.
A crux moment, a decision…
Rob felt the weight of what happened. We dropped from 5th to 10th place and the hope of a winning finish vanished. Rob asked something like, “hell, is it beer-thirty? Should we just have fun the rest of the race?” I could appreciate the desire to toss in the towel and approach the rest of the event in a laid-back way, but I have done too many 24/12-hour races to know that anything can happen. Rob, a fantastic rider, blew a chain. The teams ahead of us, full of great riders, could experience a similar fate. No. It’s not “beer-thirty”. We are racers. We pin our best laps and we see where things shake out. Control what you can control. Rob accepted the charge and took the next lap atop Christine’s not-race, not-sized, trail bike. That’s giving it to fate Rob!
So, did we stay up all 24-hours?
The middle hours of a 24-hour event test the stamina of any level racer. Tired, both physically and mentally, we live on timers. After finishing a lap we’d have a bit under 3 hours to forget about the bike. Then, it’s back to gearing up and getting fueled for a 1-hour-ish hammer. In those night hours, we played “Bed-3-Card-Monty” as we snuck sleep in 30-minute increments. When a racer reenters the camp, another leaves, a bed opens, and the cycle continues. We kept an eye on results as each of us passed the baton. We moved from 10th to 8th, to 7th. By dawn, we were looking at 6th place. Want to see what that transition is like? Go ahead and have a cup of coffee, run for an hour, eat a snack, and try to go immediately to sleep. Then repeat. Good luck!
As Steve handed off to my final lap I knew that 5th place was within reach. After two laps in the dark, I wielded superpowers in the fresh day’s light. I saw turns before they were there, I pumped in and out of the wash, and I left the saddle in pursuit of watts on every rise in the trail. We had 5th in our sites! That’s a podium. Each of our final laps pulled us from tired to motivated. We all pushed through the desert with a purpose and as Steve took the last lap we had a 13-minute lead over the 6th place team. It was our podium to lose.
With cheers erupting from all around 24-Hour-Town teams pushed to transition before the 12 PM cutoff, hunting just one more lap. The solo racers drained the last of their seemingly-endless tanks. Those of us who had completed our final laps took to the semi-trailer that housed the warmest, most-inviting, post-race showers I’ve ever experienced. Ahh…cleaning of the effort, the chamois cream, the AMP Lotion, and the layers of desert dust wiped free any bit of exhaustion. A new man!
We counted the minutes and watched at the final rock drop of the course for Steve’s RaceCo colors to come streaking by. Streak they did! Steve pinned his fastest lap and put Team RaceCo/No Ride Around on the 5th step of the podium. We had persevered. We met disaster head-on and kept our racing-wits about us.
Team Stats: 20 Laps / 320 Miles / 5th of 119
Team events pull the MTB racer from the solitude of typical racing. Alone on a course, chasing other loners, all while sacrificing real-world to-dos can challenge the mindstate of the most committed racer as they look to discover a new depth to their person. Racing in a team format brings this potential darkness to light. High-5’s after sprint laps and cheering each other’s efforts keep racing light. Us vs Them provides a bit more levity than Me vs Them. The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo gives a Winter break to the mountain bikes idly racked in the garage, begging to be ridden, and gives us riders the chance to circle the bikes and tear up some dirt. 5th wasn’t first, but the experience was no lesser for it. My first-time experience at 24HOP only guaranteed that it won’t be my last.