MCGAFFEY, N.M. - With a new venue this year, the USA Cycling 24-hour Mountain Bike National Championships rolled through the Zuni Mountains in western New Mexico this past weekend. Over 500 riders converged on this high mountain plateau to experience some of the smoothest singletrack in the Southwest.
Despite the fact that New Mexico rarely sees rain in the month of June, a thunderstorm rolled through the area around 10pm at night, dumping a significant amount of rain on the bone dry trails. Most people seemed to enjoy themselves, but the bad weather dampened spirits. The state is currently listed as the most drought stricken area of the country, so the moisture turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
As the rain started to fall, many felt it would be good for the course, but the rain continued to fall along with thunder and lightning. Soon racers were coming in with mud-caked bikes that were no longer rideable. As a result, race organizers decided to stop the race at 10:30pm for the safety of the riders and for the integrity of the course. Temperatures were starting to drop and many worried about encountering hypothermic conditions. The rain soon stopped, but the heavy clay soil made some of the trails unrideable. Eventually the race resumed with a mass restart at 6:30am.
While no one doubted that he was a serious contender, Tinker Juarez (Sho-Air/Cannondale), 52, surprised many by getting out in front of the pack from the onset and staying there the whole time, setting a fast pace right off the bat. Evan Plews, the 2011 USAC 24-hour single-speed champ, and Josh Tostado, the 2011 USAC 24-hour champ, weren't far behind, but Tostado dropped out after six laps.
With the rain setting in, Plews also dropped out after eight laps with leg cramps. This put Jonathan Davis, solo male winner of the 2013 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, into second place about 15 minutes behind Juarez. Knowing that Juarez didn’t like racing in the rain, Davis pushed hard and gained five minutes on him, but unfortunately the rain lap didn’t count due to UCI rules. This also meant that Plews remained in second place, and with not having gone out for the rain lap, did not expend his energy racing through the heavy mud. It also meant that Davis had spent an incredible amount of energy to close the gap on Juarez, but it was all for naught as the rain lap was nixed.
When the race was restarted the next morning, Juarez had about nine minutes on Plews and 15 minutes on Davis. Plews started but never finished that first lap, apparently still suffering from cramps, which put Davis back into second place. Davis went out hard but with only four and half hours of racing left, wasn't able to close the gap. In the end Juarez knocked down 11 laps in 14:15:36 to win the solo male category.
“I got really nervous with the rain. I've never have good luck with rain,” Juarez said. “I thought for a minute, this is going to be a tough night. When they called it, it was a miracle. It gave everyone a chance to rest and clean up their bike.”
"A properly executed 24 requires all 24 hours," Davis said. "Losing the night really changed the dynamics of the race and quite possibly the outcome."
In the women's group Nina Baum (Stan's No Tubes/Kenda) came out on top in a heavily stacked field including defending 24-hour national champion Jari Kirkland as well as Rita Borelli and Tracy Thelen. The first 10-hours of racing were very close with the top five battling it out. Once again the weather was the dominant factor as most everyone ended up losing a lap to the race being paused. In the end it was Baum's consistent fast laps that put her on the top podium spot, beating out her nearest competitor by almost 24 minutes with 10 laps in 14:42:13.
“I'm a cross-country racer. Normally, I race for two-hours and I'm done, so having that break was huge,” Baum said. “While I was sleeping, my mechanic replaced my entire drive train.”
In the four-person open category it was the New Mexico All-Stars with the overall win of 13 laps in 14:38:48.
“No one really turned a slow lap. We've been preparing for this race all year,” All-Stars team member Cameron Brenneman said.
“It's probably the fastest course I've ever ridden in my life,” All Star's team member Mike McCalla added.
In the four-person junior category it was the Get Out! Juniors team burning out 15 laps in 14:40:30 to take home the top prize. The juniors raced almost the same course as the adults with the exception of a six-mile cutoff, allowing for faster laps.
Despite the weather, the event was chock-full of fun for racers and non-racers alike. Friday saw keg-barrel racing, a pin the mustache on Gary (Fischer) contest and a night showing of the movie “Singletrack High.” Saturday was even more packed with live music, a wine and cheese hour, a pinata bashing for the kids and a kids bike race.
Also on tap was a racing event for kids, called the Enchanted Lands that took place on a seperate four-mile course. Dozens of little kids on bikes rode laps with their parents and friends while the big kids banged out laps on the championship course.
In the end, the decision to pause the race will surely be controversial. When bad weather strikes it's always a tough call, but weather will always be a factor at any race. With the venue hosting next year's 24-hour nationals, racers and organizers will both be better prepared for the unexpected.
Note: This article has been updated from the original with the correct results as well as additional information about the battle in the solo male category.