24 hours at Moab; Going Solo at 60
Nine years ago, Gary Albert’s running career was cut short by a bad back. His doctors said he’d never do anything athletic again.Now, at 60 years young, Albert is not only defying his body, but his mind. In fact, he’s getting downright hard-core.Over a 24-hour span, Oct. 16-17, Albert became the oldest rider ever to compete in the solo division of the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race, a festival-style competition that’s become a pilgrimage for cycling enthusiasts – from accomplished racers to clip-in pedal novices – from the valley and beyond.And it’s fair to say that Albert’s cycling career is just getting started.”But to be honest with you,” said Albert, whose decision to enter the solo division was out of necessity (he couldn’t find teammates) rather than audacity, “I’m just a side-light at Moab. I’m not a highlight. The fact that I’m the first 60-year-old to do it is probably because I’m the first one to think about doing it. I’m certainly not the first one who could’ve done it.
“This endurance race in Moab is really about the incredible athletes that are out there – you can’t believe what these guys and girls can do. They’re so strong.”This year’s installment, held on a sandy 15-mile loop trail in the Behind the Rocks area, about 10 miles south of Moab, featured 18 divisions and 450 teams (with all manner of team combinations: dual, four-man, five-man, coed, etc.). All told, approximately 5,000 people, including racers and support crews, were on hand for the round-the-clock race.Working out for a livingA longtime runner, Albert, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., first moved to Aspen after college in 1971. It was here that he started the toy company that eventually brought him to Denver and then to New Jersey. Albert’s company produced some hit toys (such as Cabbage Patch Kids miniatures and figurines: “That was a big year for me”), but he sold the company at age 40 and moved back to Aspen to raise a family. That was 19 years ago.”Like a lot of guys who retire young in Aspen, we run and ski and lift weights and snowshoe … I was constantly working out. Very avid. But I was never an avid biker. I’d go up to the Bells like a lot of people do, but I didn’t get into real endurance biking until four or five years ago,” Albert said.
“When I had back surgery I couldn’t run anymore, so I was looking around for something else. It took me a couple years to recover – working with Bill Fabrocini at the Aspen Club – and if I owe it to anybody for getting me intobiking, I owe it to Billy. He’s not only my PT, he’s my buddy. And he and some other young guys would drag me out on these bikes, and now I love ’em for it. Getting friendly with a number of young bikers in town really showed me the ropes.”I did a few century [100-mile] races and then last year I did the Leadville 100 [mile], and I did pretty well. Everybody that finishes in less than 12 hours gets a belt buckle, and I got my buckle. I finished in 11 hours, 50 minutes, which for an old guy isn’t bad. Especially since my doctor told me I’d never be athletic again. I was thrilled.”After the promising finish at Leadville, and with encouragement from fellow cyclists, Albert set his sights on Moab. When he couldn’t find any teammates, he entered as a solo rider. Albert completed five laps; in comparison, the men’s solo champion, Nat Ross of Breckenridge, completed 16 laps. (And it should be noted that 52-year-old endurance guru Dawes Wilson of Vail placed third, with 15 laps.)’I want to be like you’Before the start at noon Saturday, Albert had this to say: “I don’t expect to win. I expect to come in last.”
And later: “What’s amazing to me, when I go out on the trail, is seeing how physically strong all these people are. It’s mind-blowing. I’ll do a two-hour lap and they’ll do it in an hour. Awesome. But you know what? They’re just as encouraging to me as anyone else. When they see me doing it, they say, ‘Wow, when I’m 60 I hope I can still do this.’ And I think that’s the key.”At Leadville last year, [local cyclists] Steve Marolt and Butch Peterson and Fletcher Yaw all individually came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know how you did it, but I want to be like you.'”In Moab, all the solo rider have lower numbers, one to 60 or whatever. But I didn’t know that. But everyone was screaming at me the whole time. And I didn’t get it, until the very end. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong. But no, on the last lap, I realized: ‘They’re rooting for me.'”For Albert, his first experience in the 24 Hours format is not likely to be his last. He hopes to bring a 60-plus team back next year.”The way I look at it, number one, it’s just a thrill for a guy my age just to be able to do it. A thrill. I can’t explain it. But then to see what some of these other people can do, the skill, the strength – ’cause I grew up in New York City and didn’t know about any of this shit – and then there’s the experience and the camaraderie and the encouragement you get. Coming into a pit stop, you’ve got everybody screaming at you, and you’re just encouraged to go out and do another lap.”
Albert averaged two hours per lap, finishing four laps in about eight hours before calling it quits at about 8 p.m., while other racers continued on until noon the next day.”I hadn’t really ridden at night before and I was terrified,” he said. “One guy broke his wrist right in front of me. I was afraid, to be honest. So I waited until sunrise and then went out and did one more. Then I was done.”This past summer, Albert logged some 4,000 miles on his bike, including eight century rides. His training spanned some seven months. And next year, he hopes to push it a little bit farther.”Next year, I’d like to get four or five over-60 guys around town – and there’s a lot of them – and put together an over-60 team. No one has an over-60 team, so we’d be the first. And hopefully there’s guys around town that will take my lead and do it next year.”We all try to stay young, we all try to stay active, so why not?”
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