September 6, 2005 – Want a solid account of the action this past weekend in Whistler, B.C.? Well – read on!
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3: Pre-race
PEOPLE GET READY
Good morning sports fans. We’re about 3 1/2 hours to the noon start. I was awakened this morning to the sound of rain on my hotel balcony. But fortunately it stopped and was only a light sprinkle. The skies are still dark, so more sprinkles are a distinct possibility.
I had the pleasure of riding the course on Thursday. This year the highly technical course is 13.1 kilometers long (14.3 for the elite riders) with 380 meters of climbing per lap (460 for elites). I’d guess the course to be at least 75% single-track. There are some changes from 2004. Last year there was a very fun twisting, turning single-track near the end of the lap that brought the course back in to the top of the venue. Unfortunately the Luge/Boblsed course for the 2010 Winter Olympics has taken over that particular piece of real estate…sigh. On the plus side is that most of the other favorite sections are intact and are in fact, in better shape than last year thanks to be worn in from another year of use.
Even with the lost last section it’s still a very enjoyable, technically challenging course that has a bit of everything. There’s the already mentioned technical single-track (complete with roots, baby heads, rock face drops), a few North Shore style bridges, some fast fireroad to give riders a mental and physical break from picking lines through the single-track, some medium climbs and one particularly tough one near the end of the course. FUN STUFF! There’s even one small section of pavement (near a park, so riders need to keep their eyes peeled for baby-joggers).
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3: Race Report #1 – 2:00pm
Scratch my earlier comments about the rain having stopped…that respite was short. While the rain hasn’t been particularly heavy, more of a steady misting, it has been constant. So much so that by the noon start all of the riders had at least donned rain-jackets and many had mounted fenders. A more recent weather report calls for an 80% chance of rain for today, with a 60% chance tomorrow. Sorry racers, but it’s gonna be a long wet one.
After the shorter than usual LeMans start UK rider Rob Lee held the first position, 5-time 24 Hours of Adrenaline Solo Champ Chris Eatough was second, while American Nat Ross of Team Gary Fisher was close behind in 3rd. To give the Solo riders a first lap unencumbered by team riders, the promoter opted to start the solos five minutes ahead. Considering that the solo elites do an added 1 kilometer loop and that the teams tend to put their fastest rider first, it was amazing to all that Eatough was the first one in on lap one. Despite the slippery course conditions Eatough managed to complete his first lap in just 49 minutes and 56 seconds. Ross came in just 20 seconds later with Canada’s Galen Keher in third, one minute behind Ross.
There’s a battle brewing among two single-speeders. Coming in 14th position was the first derailleur-less rider, Jake Kirkpatrick, followed just 10 seconds later by Dejay Birtch. The first woman in was Monique Sawicki, passing under the finish clock some 11 minutes behind Eatough.
Despite the wet conditions, spirits are high among the racers. More than one let out yells of course praise as they passed through the finish chute. And when the announcer asked Rob Lichtenwaler “How’re things out there?” Lichtenwaler answered “Dry! Really dry.” Hmmm. Delirium is not unheard of at these events, just usually not this early.
So far the rain hasn’t been a cold rain. Many riders had gone out overdressed on the first lap and were seen in their pits peeling off layers. Most have jettisoned their rain pants and rain jackets, opting to stick with shorts, or tights and just a jersey and light shell.
That’s it for now. I gotta get back up to the course…my wireless internet connection isn’t working up on the mountain. So to bring you these reports I have to ride the gondola down to my hotel to sit with my lap-top in front of the nice hot fireplace. Yeah, rough.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3: Race Report #2 – 4:45pm
EATOUGH ON WINNING TRACK
Well, the rain hasn’t stopped. But thankfully it hasn’t been a hard rain. Just a misty, constant, water-torture of an annoying rain! Thankfully it still hasn’t been a freezing rain—many of the racers are now racing in just shorts and a jersey. That will change soon enough. As night falls so too will the temperature and we’ll see more layers, more tights, more wool, more Gore-Tex and more cold shivering racers.
Reports from on-course are that the trails are holding up well, despite the moisture. A few racers have been spotted sporting slightly less skin on their shins and forearms. Yeah, the rock-faced drops and rooty sections are slicker than that time you spilled fork oil all over your kitchen floor. But thankfully, there have been no major injuries.
In the elite category it’s looking like a Chris Eatough runaway. By 4:16 this afternoon the Trek rider had completed 5 laps, putting him nearly fifty minutes ahead of Canada’s Galen Kehler, with Ernesto Marenchin of Kent, Ohio less than a minutes behind, followed by Nat Ross just a few seconds behind him in 4th place, Thomas Hodlemoser of Austria held 5th place, some seven minutes behind Ross.
It’s still early in this race, but based on the previous five years, all won by Eatough, it seems likely that Eatough will keep his pace and his lead and the battle will be over third and second. Speaking of second, what about last year’s second place rider, Tinker Juarez? The crowd favorite opted out this year and is warm and dry at home. Reached by phone the rider who’s come closest to challenging Eatough explained, “I would have liked to have been there. But you can only do so many long races. I had committed to doing the E-100 in Utah last weekend, and wanted to check out this new event next week in Ohio, so….But tell the fans ‘hi” for me.”
The fight for single-speed honors continues. Jake Kirkpatrick has held the lead. But Dejay Birtch has dropped to third with Dale Plant of Bellingham WA moving up to second. Just 2 1/2 minutes separates first and second. With nearly twenty hours to go it’s still anybody’s game.
Marg Fedyna, one of Canada’s top adventure racers and mountain bike endurance racers, is holding the top position in the women’s elite category. Three minutes back in second is Louise Kobin of San Jose, CA. Kobin, a long-time fixture in the endurance racing back in scene, is fresh off of a strong ride in the Tran-Rockies where she teamed up with 24 Hours of Adrenaline US Solo Champion Eric Warkentin. In third is Monique Sawicki, just 45 second behind Kobin. Sawicki is on form, having recently won the NORBA Marathon Series for the second year in a row. A consistent season had her sew up the series before the sixth race was even held.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 3: Race Repot #3 – 10:30pm
EATOUGH LEADS INTO THE NIGHT
It’s been dark for a few hours now and Chris Eatough is still out in front, albeit by less than earlier today. The Trek rider holds a 25-minute lead over Nat Ross in second.
Among endurance racers the efficiency of Chris Eatough’s pit crew has become legendary. Of his five 24 Hours of Adrenaline World Solo Championships, the winning margin in almost all can be attributed to his time saved during pit stops. This year it is plain to see that the competition has studied the methodical pit techniques that Chris’s father Mike and crew have developed as most of the top contenders are now getting in and out of the pits in mere seconds, instead of minutes.
When complimented on a particularly well performed and speedy pit stop, Ernesto Marenchin replied with a casual,” We’re trying.” Their work is paying off as Marenchin, currently has a hold on third place. Marenchin was ninth here last year and since then took a win at the 24 Hours of Big Bear.
Just across the pit aisle from Marenchin is Graeme Allbon’s pit. The Australian, currently in 7th place has also emulated Eatough’s pit methods. Before one pit stop his crew had his bottles, food and batteries all staged and waiting long before he arrived. He wasn’t even off the bike before his team was cleaning his face, feeding him cups of pasta and changing out his water bottles. Within seconds he was on his way. Allbon was a successful cross-country racer in the late 80’s and early 90’s, having won the Australian National Championship a number of years during that time and also scoring some impressive results in the US NORBA National Championship Series. He got out of racing for ten or so years while he worked at his career as a biochemist for the Australian Institute of Sport where he helps train athletes of various types, including cyclists and boxers. His return to racing last year has already been fruitful; He won Australia’s, “Working Week” series, a 5-race series of eight hours races. He had the series wrapped up after the 4th race and skipped the finals to race in the US.
It was a fast pit that put Monique Sawicki temporarily to the lead in the women’s class. She and Marg Fedyna had come in moments apart at about 8:00 tonight. While Fedyna’s crew attended to their, Sawicki’s crew did the same, but a bit faster, sending their rider out well ahead. But once on course Fedyna was able to take back that time and then some, finishing the following lap several minutes ahead. Meanwhile back in third, Louise Kobin remains steady and strong. “She’s feeling well,” her crew chief reported. “She was relaxed and unhurried during her last stop,” he said, “She got a bottle, a ClifShot and was gone.”
Also gone are a few riders. Earlier tonight Dan Barger of Team Subaru pulled out with scratched corneas from having wet grit flung into his eyes. He’d been having trouble since the first lap and finally packed it in and went back to his hotel. But not before earning some endurance-racing karma points by helping his neighboring pit with cables and housing that their riders needed. Barger said he’d be back in the morning to spectate and cheer on the remaining racers.
Also packing it in is our former single-speed leader Jake Kirkpatrick, having called it a race after losing his brakes to cracked brake lines. “No one here has the lines I need,” he lamented. “We asked everyone, checked all the bike shops, No luck. That’s racing. It happens.” Before packing it in Kirkpatrick did two laps with just the front brake. “I wanted it pretty bad,” he shrugged. Imagine riding this technical, rocky, rooted course with just one brake on a fully rigid single-speed. Ouch!
He isn’t the only one to experience brake problems. While modern disk brakes are a godsend in wet conditions for their powerful and consistent stopping power, they are also vulnerable to premature wear when those wet conditions are also as gritty as the trails of Whistler. Throughout the pits mechanics have been seen changing brake pads…or for those without spares, frantically trying to borrow or beg a set of pads.
That’s it for now. Your roving reporter is going to grab a couple of hours of shut eye before going back out on course to gather more interesting bits for your reading pleasure.
SUNDAY, SEPT 4, Race Report #4 – 7:00am
Guess who’s still leading. Yup, Eatough. There are however many changes to report behind Eatough. Just 25 minutes behind is Ernesto Marenchin, whose move up to second relegated Nat Ross to third. Santa Cruz Cycle’s tattooed wonder Mark Hendershot holds fourth, and amazingly enough, Australia’s 24-hour champion Josh Street has moved up from twentieth to fifth.
A bit of shuffling has occurred in the women’s’ elite category as well, with Marg Fedyna currently first, Louise Kobin second, and former leader Monique Sawicki in third.
An influence on these changes (and on the departure of several other riders) is last night’s weather. The constant light mist that had tormented the entire duration of this event, increased to a full-scale deluge this morning before dawn. Wind-driven sideways rain made for miserable conditions indeed. Racers returning from that lap wore shell-shocked expressions, lots of mud, and wet soaking clothes.
Even the usually unruffled Eatough wore a pained expression on his return from that lap from hell. That lap’s pit stop was yet another demonstration of his crew’s ready-for-anything preparation and teamwork. While Eatough sat in his pit (a rarity in itself) his crew cleaned his face and eyes, stripped him out of his wet clothes, toweled him dry, dressed him in a fresh set of gear and even duct-taped the cuffs of his rain pants. Eatough sat entirely passive as a mannequin through the entire operation, saving every iota of energy for one thing—-being his bike’s motor.
For Eatough and most of the top contending men and women, sleep isn’t part of their game plan. But for the mere mortals making up the other 90% of the field, an hour or three of shut-eye is a must. The question is, how much or how little sleep does a racer need to be able to sustain a competitive pace? Factor in the rain and it’s no wonder that among the night’s many sounds were loud admonitions “You gotta get up!” from pit crews to tired riders dreading the thought of leaving a warm sleeping bag for yet another lap in the wet and cold
Take that awful weather, add plenty of rocks and roots, sprinkle in a generous dash of sleep deprivation and you have a recipe for some serious crashes. But although many riders wore mud that was obviously from ground contact and not from wheel spray, no serious injuries have been reported. “A lot of people are walking the nastier sections,” reported one rider. Walking sounds like a smart course of action—it might cost little time, but not that much when one considers the time it takes for a clavicle to heal.
SUNDAY, SEPT 4, Final Race Report – 2:00pm
EATOUGH RACKS UP SIXTH STRAIGHT TITLE
No one in their right mind would ever call 24-hour mountain bike racing “easy.” But amazingly enough, in most years Trek’s Chris Eatough has made it seem just that. Usually he’s crossed under the finish banner looking like he’s just finished a weekend ride. His post-race interviews have invariably been articulate and lively. Such wasn’t the case this cold rainy weekend as Eatough earned his sixth title when he finished his last lap at 12:08 pm today.
While he managed to smile and raise his arms in victory as he broke through the finish line tape, that fleeting moment passed quickly, revealing a man with the sunken, faraway eyes of a battle fatigued solder. “I have nothing left,” he said, “So many things have happened during this race, so much to go through. I’m just glad that it’s over.” With that 24 Hours of Adrenaline founder Stuart Dorland mercifully presented Eatough with his Championship jersey, Eatough joined the women’s winner Marg Fedyna on the podium for got the traditional photos and hugs and then quickly made a bee-line to his hotel for what was likely one of the most-enjoyed hot showers in history.
While women’s elite winner Fedyna didn’t look as if she’d be ready to go dancing tonight, she appeared less strained and drained than Eatough. The Edmonton, Canada-based adventure racer and endurance racer was positively beaming as she donned her championship jersey and sprayed the crowd with champagne. ?It’s been a while coming, she said of her win, having come close before but never breaking the top three until today. Her win was hard fought as earlier in the race newly crowned NORBA Marathon series winner Monique Seasick challenged Fedyna for the lead before conceding some 50 minutes to take second. In third for the third year in a row was San Jose, California’s Louise Kobin.
Kobin has now taken third three times in a row here. She’s amassed quite record In the 4 years that she’s competed in endurance events. She’s been in four 24 Hours of Adrenaline World Solo Championships, has raced the Trans Rockies four times and the Trans Alps three times. She’s also done LaRuta, the Cape Epic, and won the 24 Hours of Adrenaline US Solo Championship at Laguna Seca National two years ago. Asked prior to this race if she was prepared for the threat of nasty weather, the physical therapist gave an evil grin and replied, “I’m hoping for it.? Well she got her wish.
Another sicko who expressed hope for nasty weather was female elite racer Teri Wahlberg from Santa Maria, California. Wahlberg is a proven performer, having finished 3rd this year at Laguna Seca, The Ellsworth, Ritchey, and Rudy Project sponsored rider who works as Spinning and aerobics instructor declared ?I usually do well in adverse conditions.
Usually, but not this time. She was the only female elite racer to pull out, doing so at the ten-hour mark after completing her sixth lap. Let’s all wish her luck and hope to see her back in 2006.
A rider who hoped for anything but foul weather was Kip Biese of Colorado Springs. This was only Biese’s third 24-hour race, “And hopefully this will be the first one I finish,” he lamented. While he’s been successful in the NORBA Marathon series (he’s ranked 4th overall), poor weather put an end to his lead in an Arizona 24-hour race when he pulled out after going hyperthermic. “Finishing is my first goal,” he said prior to this race, “…and a top ten would make me call it a success. Base met his first goal, he finished, and he came within one position of his second goal with a commendable 11th place.
Also coming very close to his pre-race goal was Australia’s number 2 ranked 24-hour racer, David Osmond who declared that he hoped to finish close to Australian 24-hour champ Josh Street. He came close, taking 6th just two spots back of Street. Yet this formidable full-time wind engineer—“I find place to build wind farms—claims that he’s more of a runner than a rider. Indeed, he’s among a very select twisted kind of runner who thinks it’s fun to run up the stairs of tall buildings. He’s twice been to New York to run up the Empire State Building,
Perhaps the most inspiring of the weekend’s athletes was Brian Colbert, racing in the male 45-49 category. While is racing luck wasn’t with him—he pulled out after finishing nine laps in 12 hours, he’s still a hero as he uses his mountain bike races as pledge rides to raise money for charity. Last year he raised some $200,000. This year he’s up to $20,000 with his that money destined to go to a Cambodian children’s hospital for burn victims. Earlier this year he raced the Trans Rockies where he broke his hand on the fifth day of the seven-day race. Quit? No way. He soldiered on and finished.
It’s that very combination of competitiveness with a soft spirit that makes this such a wonderful sport. All weekend we witnessed the giving nature that flows within our mountain bike community. Someone need a pair of brake pads? Lunched a derailleur and don’t have a spare? Camp stove out of propane? Desperately need some “vitamin I” (Ibuprofen)? Ask a neighboring racer or his or her pit crew. In each instance we saw racers share with other racers, even when doing so meant helping a direct competitor. Where else in “real life” do we get to connect and share such a rich and memorable experience with the best group of friends we’ve just met?