24 Hours of Moab – a dust bowl dispatch | AspenTimes.com

24 Hours of Moab – a dust bowl dispatch

May Eynon
Special to The Aspen Times
With dust hanging heavy in the air, bikers begin the 24 Hours of Moab in a grand Le Mans style. Paul Conrad photo.

MOAB, Utah – The ninth annual 24 Hours of Moab endurance mountain bike race returned to the desert this past weekend, transforming the “Behind the Rocks” region south of town into a dust bowl soiree for the Saturday-to-Sunday epic.

Staged by the West Virginia-based Granny Gear Productions, the event drew several thousand supporters, organizers, vendors and, of course, 1,500-plus cyclists who raced in 15 classes, from solo to five-person teams.

As usual, a host of participants came from the Aspen area, and many of them fared well, with fastest-lap honors for their divisions and podium finishes.

Opening with a section of singletrack, the undulating 15-mile course was mostly jeep track; for every lap, riders climbed 1,360 feet.

At the stroke of noon on Saturday, the race began with its customary LeMans-style (read: dusty mass sprint) start, as one member of every team raced toward the waiting mounts. With the singletrack section up front, gridlock was immediate as racers were relegated to waiting in line to get under way.

“It was a complete bottleneck,” said Aspen’s Shawn Carr, who raced for Team Hickory House.

Once a grass-roots operation, the event has grown into a full-scale, all-frills festival. Honda returned as title sponsor for a second year, lending an X Games feel to the festivities, complete with a 24-hour vendor village.

The Moab race is well-known for accommodating both the silly and serious, and many athletes showed a sense of humor in their team names and costumes.

Take, for instance, “The Mullets,” a five-person open-class team. With three of five heads appropriately shorn – short on top, long in back – Michael Schwantes, Nick DeGross and Myrna Crabtree, of Carbondale; Jason Kohout, of Basalt; and Amy Denicke, of Woody Creek, represented the valley in fine style. (Neither of the women, it should be noted, sported mullets.)

Sanctioned by the Association of Mountain Bike Team Racing International (AMTRI) and designated as a World Championship race this year, the 24 Hours attracted an influx of pro racers.

The men’s solo field was flooded with pros, including 2002 solo champion Nat Ross, of Breckenridge, who competed in his 21st 24-hour bike race. Decorated pro Tinker Juarez, of Downey, Calif., overcame Ross this year for the men’s solo title after pulling 16 laps (including a 1:07:49 lap that was the fastest in the division).

Among the Aspen solo riders were Thaddeus Reichley, Kevin Jones and Mike Pritchard. Jones and Pritchard withdrew from the race prior to midnight; Reichley carried on for a 10th-place finish, with 13 laps.

Carbondale’s Kelley Mattingly took third place in the women’s solo, completing an impressive 12 laps – on a single-speed bike!

Former Aspenite Becca Blay, who turned pro and moved to Boulder last year, partnered with Boulderite Kerry Barnholt to take ninth in the women’s duo pro division.

Men’s duo pro riders Aaron Smith, of Aspen, and David Garaffa, of Snowmass – competing as the “Rat Pack” – finished 10th, with 15 laps.

Men’s juniors, a rapidly developing category, featured the Colorado Rocky Mountain School team, “CRuMbS on Ones.” Students Tyler Henderson and Cody Smith, of Carbondale; Mitchell Hoke, of Evergreen; and Tate Fairbanks, of Glenwood Springs, finished ninth, with 14 laps.

The single-and-rigid category debuted this year – for bikes without gears or suspension. For the most part, the single-speeders went light, with bikes weighing around 18 pounds, and some featuring only a single brake.

The Roaring Fork Valley-based team “One for the Road” was in contention for first place in this new division when Scott Harris, of Carbondale, broke his frame in the first half of the race. Harris was able to press on, however, as the team completed 17 laps, the fastest being a 1:10:44 by Jeff Mozingo, of Rifle. Andrew Gardner and Randy Johnson, of Carbondale, rounded out the foursome, who ended up claiming second place in the category.

In contrast to the minimalists, a fair share of cyclists made a statement of their own by riding downhill bikes, which weighed in excess of 40 pounds.

“They might be cleaning Nose Dive [a technical drop-off section in the middle of the circuit], but they’re pushing their bikes on the uphills,” said Carr.

Carr raced with Billy Garaffa, of Snowmass Village, William Ragan, of Aspen and David Blanke, of Barrington, Ill., in the men’s sport division.

Keith Berglund, of Aspen, helped pedal “The Chicken Riders” of the Clydesdale division to first place, with 17 laps. Weighing in collectively at more than 800 pounds, the Chicken Riders were comprised of Berglund, Brad Grohusky, of Frisco; Jason Amrich, of Boulder; and Carl Pluim, of Denver.

“The Aspen Times” team claimed third place in men’s sport, with Tiziano Gortan, Lance Bolton and Theodore Wade, all of of Aspen, and Christopher White, of Carbondale.

For some, being on the sidelines was a nice change from years past. Tino Ochoa, of Basalt, had raced in various categories for the past six years, with a third place in the men’s expert division his most notable finish.

“It’s a wolf pack out there – really vicious competition,” he said of the expert category. “Thank God, I’m not here racing.”

Elliot Larsen, of Aspen, also a past first-place finisher (men’s sport class in 2002), took the year off as a competitor.

“I’m just cleaning drive trains for my friends this year,” he said.

Larsen was one of the team mechanics for the men’s expert class team “Joe’s Wingmen.”

The “Wingmen” finished strong, winning the division – and coming in only seconds shy of overall first place. Aspenites Joe Wheadon and Joel Mischke, Jason LaPointe, of Snowmass, and Wade Newsom, of Basalt, made up the speedy combo.

Newsom scored the fastest lap on the team, with a time of 1:05:05. “Joe’s Wingmen” and a single coed/pro-am team, “Specialized,” the overall winner, were the only two teams to finish with 20 laps.

“Specialized” was led by Jay Henry, of Avon, and Jimi Mortenson, of Eagle. Mortenson had the 2003 fastest course lap in 59:32.

In a role reversal, scores of male Aspen racers whose girlfriends had supported them in the past now took over the base camps and supported the women. One Aspen camp consisted of three teams of all women, with 25 guys stoking the fire, cooking the meals and wrenching for them.

Among the teams, “The Divas of the Hub” won first place in women’s sport with a full lap spread. Katie Monahan and Val Alexander, of Aspen; Sheila Bassing, of Basalt; and Aspen native Lindsay Yaw turned in 15 laps. Alexander had the fastest lap of the entire class.

“We couldn’t have done the race without our amazing support crew,” she said.

“This year, the men are the slaves,” said supporter Jason Beavers of Aspen, a former racer. “I don’t mind one bit.”

From dusk until dawn, riders were required to have halogen lights mounted on their helmets and/or handlebars. “It’s such an adventure to ride at night,” added Alexander. “It’s like a whole new course when the sun goes down.”

As for the conditions, the temperatures were hot during the day and fairly mild at night.

“It’s not that cold, but there’s a lot of sand out there. I saw a lot of people fixing chains and changing flats,” said Kohout of “The Mullets.” “It’s a full-on beach in some places out there.”

When all was said and done by about noon Sunday, 65,235.9 miles had been logged by the competitors.

“It’s such a long race, you have to take it in stride and not get all stressed out,” said Aspen’s Reichley, who rode solo. “So many things can happen.”

A teacher at the Aspen Elementary School, Reichley arranged for a substitute on Monday in case he wasn’t feeling up to it.

“Considering I can’t even sit down, I think I might need to use that sub.”

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