(February 17-19, 2012) TUCSON, Ariz. — At high noon on Thursday, February 16th, 24-Hour Town began buzzing with visitors from around the globe. Over 3,500 riders, volunteers, crew members, and spectators would descend upon the Sonoran desert for a celebration of mountain biking at it's finest! The 13th annual 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was destined to live up to it’s moniker “the wildest ride in the southwest!"
With registration filling up earlier than ever, the 13th annual 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was destined to live up to it’s moniker “the wildest ride in the southwest!" At high noon on Thursday, February 16th, 24-Hour Town began buzzing with visitors from around the globe. Over 3,500 riders, volunteers, crew members, and spectators would descend upon the Sonoran desert for a celebration of mountain biking at it's finest!
By Friday afternoon, good vibes were flowing as riders set out on the course, expo vendors presented their very best, and the lines filled at packet pick-up with anxious racers ready to pedal into the sunset. The sun was shining, the wind was calm, and 24-Hour Town was full of smiling faces. Friday evening, Todd Sadow and Epic Rides hosted a dedication dinner in honor of Susan DeMattei, a mountain biking hall of famer and legend of the sport.
A sunny Saturday morning was the perfect setting for the start of this epic experience. The pre-race pow-wow was short and sweet to ensure that all racers, crew members, and volunteers were on the same page. Shortly after 11, riders began to log in at the Exchange Tent. Excitement was filling the air and the mountain biking spirit could be felt throughout the town. It was time for the first riders to stage their bikes and begin the infamous walk to the starting line. 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is well known for it's lengthy LeMans-style start where racers must run 400 yards on a dirt road in cycling shoes alongside a few hundred spandex-clad riders through a corridor of cheering spectators just to get to their bikes which will all look alike by the time they arrive. It's total mountain biking awesomeness!
The first lap was fast and furious as racers tried to get ahead and set themselves and their teams up for a great day. Chris Baddick ripped through with the fasted lap of the day roaring through at a blazing speed of 56 minutes. By the second lap, the field had spread out and riders were able to get into a rhythm. Nat Ross and Rebecca Rusch of the Duo Co-ed team King and Queen of Pain laid down some of the fastest laps of the race. They took the lead from the beginning and never looked back. Reba, as she is known by her friends, laid down the fast day and night laps for the Duo Co-ed category. Their racing was so strong that they nearly lapped every other racer in their category.
The sun was still shining, the trail was fast, and encouragement was everywhere. As riders rolled through 24-Hour Town, friends and family cheered, cowbells rang, and music brought smiles to tired faces. The category leaders were starting to gain on the competition and the race was on. Solo category winner Cory Wallace of Kona was not even fazed by the race. His normal day job as a logger in Northern Canada requires more self preservation and will power than any 24 hour race could ever demand. Even through his final lap he looked calm and strong. Cory embraced his win finishing in 24 hours and 10 minutes riding a total of 289.8 miles!
As the sun started to set, it was time to mount lights, refuel, and change into warm, dry clothing for the long night ahead. These laps can be quite lonely since there are not as many riders out on the course and just enough line of site to avoid the cacti the lined the course. But the night didn’t slow down the strongest riders. Of the the fastest laps of the race came during the wee hours of the night. Single Speed Solo racer Mike Melley blazed through with a 1:17 lap, faster then many of the other SS Solo racers day laps. Melissa Liebling of Tucson, Arizona stomped her way through the night, all on one gear. “It can be hard to stay awake and motivated. I always look forward to coming back to my pit and seeing my crew.” Said Liebling.
Racers looked forward to seeing their crew each lap to say hello, grab some real food, and hear cheering from the folks who managed to stay up all night. The temperature dropped, but the air was calm and stars were shimmering. For those that experience last year’s race, this was a complete 180 degree change from that hellacious race. It was a beautiful night in the desert this year!
Sunday morning arrived with an amazing sunrise and impressive results! Solo racers, geared and single speed alike, were continuing to gain time on the competition and had ridden through the night with success. Melissa Liebling was able to put enough of a lead on the rest of the SS Solo ladies to fit in a 20 minute power nap. Returning from her rest she opened up the first daylight lap finishing it in 1:30.
Spectators began to emerge from their campsites and the course was once again alive with encouragement. The most exciting spot on course is the famous "rock drop." Riders are given a choice to ride it or bypass this technical section of trail. Cheering fans and photographers can always be found here and it's just another part of this race that is sure to make every rider smile! Earlier in the race a crowd cheered on and shouted, “Here comes a girl!” But they were blown away when World Champ Melissa Buhl rolled through and manualed down nearly the entire technical rock section.
As warmth filled the air, racers were rejuvenated and completed their final laps with increasing speed. By noon, the race was coming to an impressive end. Unique to this race is the requirement of that if you finish a lap before noon, you must go out on another. This leads to a grand parade of racers lining up to successfully finish their race right at high noon. In each solo category as well as co-ed duo, winners led the entire 24 hours! An unforgettable experience!
Champions include: Michael Melley - Male Solo Single Speed Melissa Liebling - Female Solo Single Speed Cory Wallace - Male Solo Sarah Caylor - Female Solo Nat Ross & Rebecca Rusch - Co-ed Duo Stan’s No Tubes Elite Women- 4 Person Open Women Epic Endurance P/B The Gear Movement- 4 Person Open Men
For complete results, visit here. Thanks to all of the sponsors, riders, crew members, spectators, and most importantly, volunteers for contributing to this event! See you all in 2013!
Story and photos by Devon Balet