24 Hours of Adrenalin World Solo Championship|
Sunday, August 01, 1999
With thoughts of a semi-leisurely weekend ahead, it was off to the Canmore Nordic Center in Alberta, Canada. I had never participated nor covered an event like the Kokanee 24 Hours of Adrenalin. What made this even more interesting, was that the promoters & organizers, Trilife Sports International, were calling it the World Solo Championships! What I didn't realize was that it also meant a near 24-hour session for those reporting on the event. Well almost, I did snooze a bit from 10:00 PM to 1:30 AM.
The Saturday morning of the event was perfect for mountain biking. Brilliant sun, a coolness in the air and a setting in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. The weather would become an analogy for the events as they unfolded.
First an introduction to the 24 Hours of Adrenalin format. Courses are approximately 16-18km (9-11 miles) in length. The courses are challenging, even more so at 4:30 in the morning after racing for 16.5 hours. Canmore's Nordic Center course offered about 1100 ft. of climbing over each of its 18km (11.1 mile) laps. Riders begin with a 500m (about a 1/4 mile) run around the start/finish area. The purpose of this "Le Mans" start, in addition to being a great visual, is to thin the competitors. Lights must be used from dusk until dawn. And the most brutal rule, each soloist and team must ride for 24 hours. Crossing the finish line at 23H:59M:59S means you do another lap or earn yourself or team a DNF. What this means is time management is key. You don't want to put you or your team in the position of doing another lap, unless you're a glutton for pain.
Solo riders are the "rockstars" of the event. Canmore attracted the world's best endurance cyclists. John Stamstad, who many consider the god of ultra-endurance cycling was present. His strength is when the elements turn and the minds of others weaken. He is mental toughness personified. At most events John will out perform 90% of the teams. Rishi Grewal, American legend of the fat tire scene is making a move into the endurance world. Two to three hour races are just not enough for the Klein racer. Twenty-three years old Greg Blackwell is the young Canadian hope. Most super-endurance athletes don't reach their prime until later in their careers when they better understand their bodies. Greg, in addition to being a nice guy, already has 2 wins in the Kokanee series and multiple second place finishes. Pat Norwill (Mazama, WA) is also a force to reckon with. A consistent top-3 finisher, Norwill always seems to be in the running as dawn breaks.
Women were also well represented. Chloe Lanthier (Whistler, B.C.) does events like a 370km run across Africa, the Iditasport Extreme 640km winter bike race in Alaska and other mind-blowing events. Two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Moab and the women's 24 hour off-road record holder, Amy Regan-Axelson was present. Though only 6 women entered the solo category, each came ready and willing to give everything they had for 24 hours - and each finished.
Under a beautiful mid-day sun the signal went off and the Le Mans start was underway! Nearly 300 riders took off on foot amidst the wild cheering of spectators, friends, family and supporters. Imagine starting a race with a 500m run in cycling shoes - argh!
I got my first sense that this event was something different when Stuart Dorland, President of Trilife who was handling the announcing chores, made special mention of the last racer to complete the Le Mans start lap. "I want you all to put your hands together and I want you to be loud for a special racer as he comes through. Let's hear it for solo rider Brett Wolfe of Seattle!" A roar and volley of whistles, hoots and cheers seem echoed throughout the valley Brett propelled himself though the start/finish line and to his bike. You see Brett is doing the race as a soloist and is without his right leg. I'm certain behind many pairs of shades worn by spectators; tears of support and admiration were masked for this competitor. All I thought was "Wow!" and felt the goose bumps on my arm.
At the end of the first lap, Rishi Grewal led all riders with a blistering 54-minute lap. Remember there are another 23 hours to go! Solo rider Chris Scott followed Grewal's first lap by over 30 seconds. Canadians Michael Madden and Greg Blackwell were the only other solo riders to break the 1-hour barrier. Crowd favorite Brett Wolfe gained numerous spots on the field. There are so many stories that it's hard to get them all. A real character is Patrick "Gears are for Girls" Irwin (Suwanee, TN). That's his quote, not mine! Patrick's riding a single speed that he originally built up for his sister. He claims the bike road so well, he decided to keep it. On his sis's bike he cracks the top 15 of all riders after the first lap.
Skip ahead 6 hours and the story was Heather Oswald. A virtual unknown she appeared to be running away with the women's race. But time is the enemy in every sense and there are 18 hours of racing to go at this point. Rishi Grewal continued to lead the men's field. No doubt Rishi's years of training have allowed him to manage his body like few others. One question to be asked was where's Stamstad? The Cincinnati resident is known to come alive at night when other riders are physically and mentally battered. The sun had yet to set so Stamstad was quietly riding with the pack not ready to make his move.
The sunny skies gave way to rain clouds as the 7th hour approached. What begins as periodic drops descending upon teams and riders steadily increases in its ferocity. There are times when the skies literally open up to unleash vast amounts of water on this small city of mountain bikers. Would this be Stamstad's awakening?
Consistency seems to be the preferred tactic. A perfect example is again, John Stamstad. Seven laps and seven hours into the race Stamstad's lap times haven't ranged outside of 56 - 60 minutes. A 1996 Outside Magazine interview with Stamstad revealed an interesting quote, "...it was great to know there was something I could do that others couldn't. On the other hand, it was a little disappointing to realize it was the ability to endlessly push a pedal over and over." And so it is, John pushes those pedals better than most, far better than most!
It's now just before 3:30 AM and news has spread that upstart Greg Blackwell (Fernie, B.C.) has withdrawn due to injury. Greg attributed the soreness in his knee to old scar tissue first noticed after the Laguna Seca 24 Hour of Adrenalin race in California. A doctor suggested he have it scoped but he opted to hold off. "I came here with some soreness and was hoping to avoid any problems" said Blackwell. "I did 4 easy weeks after Laguna but that's what this kind of racing is all about. You're pushing yourself to see how much you can take." In the pit area John Stamstad is hunched over in his tent, huddled under a sleeping bag realizes Rishi Grewal had just lapped him. "I'm doing alright but those guys are just smoking me."
Rishi Grewal having just lapped John Stamstad is far from done. Although he admits he's not feeling as strong as he might look, this is not the time to ease up. Mechanicals are now common place among riders, solo and team, as the mud takes its toll. Rishi advises his mechanic and wife, legend of the women's scene Tammy Jacques, to lather on the chain lubricant. He grabs some quick nutrients and heads out into the early morning. Perhaps more than the team event, the supporting cast can make the difference for the solo riders.
The time is now 5:00 AM and morning and the night seems endless for the solo riders. Coming in through the darkness Chloe Lanthier looks exhausted. The ultra-endurance athlete sponsored by Rocky Mountain and Chevy Truck has run across African deserts and competed in the Ecco Challenge but the elements are eating away at her. At the beginning of her 10th lap two things become immediately apparent - this race is even tougher if you can't shift or see. Lanthier had the misfortune of having her light system fail early in the lap. Mud wreaked havoc on her derailleur to the point it was useless.
Wrenchman Mike of Pipe Cycles in Whistler is supporting Chloe. He jumps into action upon her arrival. Immediately he's asking about her condition and then the bike's. For quick warmth a pink fuzzy blanket is offered, reminiscent of one you might have had as a kid. A Coke and an energy bar are devoured as Lanthier apologized for having to ask Mike to open each item. Her muddied, gloved and trembling hands are unable to work with much dexterity. Chloe's lead over second place rider Katie Lindquist is now 1:24:09 as her lap times are now exceeding 2 hours. The conditions have definitely had an impact.
Soloist Brett Wolfe is about to take off after a short break. His last lap exceeded 2 hours and he's not happy about it. Brett comments, "I'd like to stick my head in the dirt and wait until sunrise." As he unsuccessfully tries to zip up his vest Brett claims, "I'm useless" and his mechanic finishes the job. Across the pit area Katie Lindquist asks her support crew, "Am I still doing ok?" It seems like a funny question considering Katie has been on her bike for nearly 17 hours. I'd say anyone who has competed for 17 hours is doing just fine.
Up in the hills above the transition area rider's lights flicker eerily in the dark. Through the lifting morning fog bank they appear almost extraterrestrial. For many participants, the dim lights emitted from the tents in the transition are shine like a brilliant sun - they are back to civilization!
Chris Scott nails down his 15th lap just a bit before 7:00 AM. Grewal completes his 16th lap at 7:22 in the morning. Scott's consistent output appears to have him positioned solidly in second place. Speculation that Rishi had gone out too hard, have been shown to be just that, speculation. Catching him seemed impossible. John Stamstad, hanging on for 3rd place, is having progressively slower lap times. The early consistency is no longer there. The real race now is for 4th. A mere separates Matt Ohran and Pat Norwil 2 minutes after nearly 20 hours of racing!
As the day approaches noon the weather regains the form of 24 hours earlier. The sun is shining and a buzz begins to circulate throughout the crowd. The race is winding down and the solo winner is a foregone conclusion. It will be Rishi Grewal in a landslide. The amazing thing is that there is such an electric feel circulating throughout the crowd. Some riders hang out on the backside of the loop that circles the infield. They don't want to be nailed and have to do another lap. As the clock nears 24 hours the crowd begins to count down in unison 5...4...3...2...1! Then rider after rider comes around the elevated earth bridge and down a short descent to the finish line. Regardless of who they were, every rider was the recipient of a hearty cheer. The most raucous cheers were saved for the solo riders. One of the quirky aspects of a 24-hour race is that the first to cross the finish line isn't likely to be the winner. Remember it's the number of laps completed then time which is used to determine the winner. Regardless, the 1000 or so crowd at the finish line isn't shy about sharing their appreciation for every rider as they cross the line.
And your Kokanee 24 Hour of Adrenalin World Solo Champions are ... Rishi Grewal and Chloe Lanthier! Grewal did an amazing 19 laps in 24H:28M:10S and totaled 342km (212.4). Lanthier ruled the women's field by completing 14 laps in 24H:25M:55S good for 252km (156.5 miles) . All solo riders seemed to have a look on their face of absolute exhaustion. Grewal may have had the best quote when asked what his favorite part of the course was, "The first lap and the last 20 feet." Lanthier stated after her race, "It was really cold out," she said. "In the rain my toes -- everything -- got really cold...My deal was if I didn't warm up after half an hour into my lap I was gonna turn around."
We've all gone for long rides. Maybe we took off without the intention of spending the better part of a day riding. Maybe we took a wrong turn and got lost. It's likely we didn't intend to ride for so long. Now consider going to an event where the sole purpose is to be on your bike and ride for 24 hours straight. I say, "congratulations" to all 24 men and 6 women who finished as well as the 6 who came to Canmore and gave their best. I also say, "thank you" to Brett Wolf, Trilife, and a host of others who reminded me what mountain biking is all about - pushing yourself farther and having a good time doing it.