Aspen cyclists set for Moab challenge
In its four-year history, the 24 Hours of Moab endurance mountain bike race has been kind to Roaring Fork Valley residents.
A team from the Hub of Aspen won the men’s expert division in both 1996 and ’97, and at last year’s race, a team from New York Pizza took top honors in the men’s sport category while Rishi Grewal of Carbondale pedaled to victory in the men’s solo division.
This year, with as many as a dozen four-person squads from the valley scheduled to compete, could prove to be a bumper crop of honors for area teams. A Hub of Aspen team that is even stronger than its predecessors is ready to roll, and even though Grewal will not be taking part in the solo event, Kevin Jones, a veteran of the New York Pizza foursome, and Mike Marolt, who finished 17th last year despite having his headlight fail him, are set to defend the valley’s honor in that category.
And, maybe most significantly, when the race kicks off at noon Saturday, a new “base camp” will be in place to help a handful of Aspen teams to what will hopefully be a victorious run.
The base camp idea was the brainchild of Charlie Eckart, a two-time winner of the race with the Hub team and the president of the Aspen Cycling Club.
Each team at the race relies on a pit crew to supply it with food and water and to help team members recuperate and make bike repairs between biking shifts on the loop course outside Moab. Realizing that a number of Aspen teams were traveling to Utah each year for the race and bringing their own pit crews, Eckart reasoned that it would make sense for the Aspenites to pool their resources.
To organize the base camp effort, Eckart enlisted the aid of Aspen’s Charles Englebert, the owner/operator of Maiden Voyage Bike Tours. Englebert will oversee a staff of perhaps 20 volunteers who will set up tents, fire pits and camp stoves before the race and then stand by to massage, feed, repair and otherwise aid riders from five or six Aspen teams as they pedal through the cold desert night until the finish at noon on Sunday.
An avid cyclist who competed in the 1996 race, Englebert knows what riders need in an endurance race.
“We’ll be treating them right,” he said. And just in case he was thinking of doing otherwise, Englebert’s wife, Alena Gouba, will be competing with a women’s team, which ought to keep Englebert on his best behavior.
As for Eckart, he has retooled his Hub of Aspen team with a trio of cycling hotshots. Mark Logan is a high-caliber former pro racer who trains in Moab. Mike Scanlon, one of the top area racers, is a 24 Hours veteran, and Danny Sullivan was described by one local rider thusly, “Every time he races here he crushes the locals.”
“It’s a new team,” said Eckart. “This is probably our best team yet.”
In an effort to regain the title they won in ’96 and ’97, the Hub squad has laid out a solid plan of attack, orchestrated by people who know what it takes to win the event.
“We’re going to ride super-aggressively during the daylight hours,” said Eckart. “Then we’re going to take it easy during the night and pour it on the next morning.
“We’re going for the win again this year.”
For Jones and Marolt, winning would also be nice, but they will probably be satisfied with finishing and posting good times. Jones is riding solo for the first time in the event, which should prove challenging enough. And Marolt will be looking to improve upon last year’s finish (and should, provided his light works correctly this time around), but is mainly looking to have some fun.
“It’ll be a blast,” he said. “The course is typical desert crap: slickrock, sand, singletrack. Anyone who likes riding in the desert would love it.”
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.