Written by Miro Zgavc, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDog Race Team Member.
2014 is a strange brew for me. I’m not necessarily you’re typical rider. In fact you could make an argument that a guy my size shouldn’t be on a bike at all, let alone be an endurance rider. Yet I found myself on a race team at the invitation of Barry Cox and other Lapdogs after riding 2013 flying the Orange and Black. You probably passed me while I was chugging along to my own beat somewhere in 8h solo single speed bliss… or hell, depends on the angle of the grade you caught me on.
One thing is for certain. I’ve always wanted to ride in Arizona. I’ve always enjoyed the heat, and something about riding in the desert appealed to so much. With my wanderlust in full force it lead to a Google search for “24h race Arizona” turning up Old Pueblo and the video’s that everyone seems to enjoy making about it.
But before that happened, I used to have a Kona Big Unit. Truth be told, I liked my Big Unit but never really did like the way it rode, so I bought myself a new frame and hung my Big Unit on a wall mount and posted the frame up on Pinkbike for what was possibly, 7-8 months till I got a random email asking me about the frame. To shorten the story, I ended up meeting a group of people in Las Vegas after a somewhat comedic attempt to ship the frame for about 2 months. It started with a Facebook invite, followed by Strava stalking, followed by pictures in my feed about riding in the desert. I ended up sending a message to my new Pinkbike buddy as a joke. “Hey you interested in doing Old Pueblo?” which turned into “If you put together a 4 man single speed team, I’ll be your 4th”. I believe it only took him 2 days to hold up that end of the agreement. I then went and spent all of my brownie points pleading my case to my incredibly understanding, beautiful, intelligent, and loving wife about going to a race on Valentine’s day weekend, who then allowed me to purchase the ticket and head to Las Vegas for the race.
… and off I went.
After a warm up session just outside Vegas and some amazing burritos, the 4 of us and our 1 support crew packed up into a 15 person van along with bikes, gear, food, and set off for Arizona to become a part of 24h Town.
We arrived late Thursday night. Arrived is a loose term but to sum it up, we slept out in the middle of nowhere in the Arizona desert because we got lost on our way to Willow Spring Ranch. Once the sun came up we corrected and arrived in an already packed 24h Town.
We unpacked and toured around for a bit, then put together the bikes for a relaxed recon lap to see what we were up against for the next 24h. Also being on a Singlespeed and only knowing what I saw in videos I needed a gear check to make sure I was in something I could ride for the duration of the event. I went with 34:18, seemed to work well. It also worked well because I didn’t have to change anything out from the gearing I run up here.
After a beer recon lap that included a grave site, an abandoned ranch, A-10s flying low altitude, cacti that looked like they had been spawned from hell, and warnings that because it’s been so warm rattle snakes would be out on the course… I knew this was going to be an interesting 24h regardless of how well I rode.
A little about the course:
The start of the course has what’s affectionately known as “The Bitches”. They’re a series of 5 gully dip and climbs that are not aerobically hard, and you get a huge amount of speed heading into them. What makes them difficult is the complete randomness of the ruts, wash berms, and soft gravel that greet you when you get to speed on the uphill. It is treacherous at speed, and at around 2am it claimed one poor soul that had to be airlifted out by helicopter.
Each one has its own distinctive signature with the 4th and 5th being the worst. On both of these there is a berm that you will cross. At speed this will launch you into the air and put you nose first into the hillside, at night they’re marked off with flashing lights to allow people to avoid them. There is also a ride around this section which I did take twice. It adds about 5 minutes to your overall time, but is quite possibly one of the most fun and flowing single track sections that I’ve ridden.
The rest of the course is a mix of small climbs with absolutely stunning views, amazing single track. Lots of rocks and sudden 1m elevation changes will keep you busy during your time out on the course. The final grind out of the course is a 5km steady uphill through single track. Look for the graveyard to let you know you’re almost done.
The final section gives you an option of the rock drop, or the ride around. The rock drop is the fastest option. The ride around is almost 5 minutes of extra time tacked onto your lap for no reason.
The rock drop on the other hand looks fairly simple from the ground or anywhere you look at it, till you’re on a bike at the top. Its deceptively steep and fast, but anyone should be able to ride it. If you’ve ridden at Joyride, this is a piece of cake and a quick sprint to the finish. After the overnight drive and beer lap in the afternoon we recovered on steak tip sandwiches and unlimited Skratch refills to hydrate. The majority of us crashed out under the clear skies and full moon in the middle of the Arizona desert as the sun went down at around 5pm leaving us plenty of night to sleep.
Morning comes, bikes prepped, gear on… 400m LeMans start to the race along with 500 riders. Team captain takes first lap, I decide 3rd is where I want to ride.
Let’s Do This:
Lap 1 felt really good. Bike was in great condition, and I was keeping up with a pack of geared riders on the flats, and I had a fairly strong showing through the hills and single track leaving the majority of them behind. This was until my front tire washed out before a small jump throwing my seat into my arse. I rode the last 10k out of my seat refusing to let my problem have any mental effect on me. On my way through 24h town someone tossed me a beer and congratulated me on finishing the lap seatless, though without a seat I didn’t attempt the rockwall drop on this lap, last thing I needed was an incident there in front of a huge crowd that gathers there practically for the entire event. Seatless and already spending quite a bit on a new helmet light, I was stuck between buying a seat, or borrowing one. I remembered that Cannondale was here so I donned my LapDogs chapeau and made my way to the tent to ask for help. Cannondale came through for me by offering me a new seat to borrow along with some swag. Their mechanic (Demo Bike Guy and all-round Super Hero, Brian Davies – guy in the yellow t-shirt, pictured above) offered to fit me on the seat and install it for me while I rested, but I figured with the warm welcome I didn’t want to take more then I felt obligated for, and thanked them for saving my night.
Lap 2 saw the ride around open up. With my lights on, I left camp and started out on my lap taking the ride around. With the vast horizon being so low you can see lights everywhere. Even though you may be riding alone, you always feel you’re on one big group ride. There’s always a rider that you catch, or that catches you at night, but I never ran into anyone who wasn’t a courteous passer, or allowed for a safe and quick pass on the left.
Lap 3 started having me prep a bit for the longer climb so instead of adding 5 minutes on the go around I decided before hand to do the Bitches at night and use the flat after to recover. The bitches at this point were heavily marked off with lights and tape to avoid the more brutal areas so I was able to get through them without issue and the recovery proved to be a smart choice. The rest of the lap I had someone who just pace lined behind me. Not sure who it was, but once we got to the grind out, I heard a few shifts and then never heard from him again, I was glad he was there, the added light made my lap much easier it sucked to lose my extra light source!
It was my sleep between the 3rd and 4th lap that the helicopter showed up for the air lift out of the race. Unfortunate for the rider, I hope they were okay. The noise from the copter along with the rest of 24h town never sleeping lead to me getting minimal rest but at least I was off my feet.
Lap 4 my legs felt tired and sluggish as I rolled out of the tent. I’m not sure what happened but my 4th lap ended up being my fastest. I rode smooth, quiet, and just grit my teeth through the end climb and sailed down the rock drop at the end to the timing tent and cold beer.
Overall our team placed in 99th out of 500+ teams and 8th out of 15 teams in 4 man Single Speed division with a best held rank of 6th place at 3am. We packed up, and drove back to Vegas stopping at all the terrible places to eat (excellent recovery food providers) we could fine. Along the way home I realized that this has to be on my list of races to do every year. In my mind, it’s worth it to have a race like this under your belt before the spring season shows up.
Simply put, it reminds you to have fun, and ultimately that’s what I’m here for and why I took up cycling as a sport.
Sometimes amid the hours on the trainer, HIIT sessions, and core workouts, I remind myself, you’re doing this so you can have more fun in the summer. It’s nice to have a small bit of summer in the middle of winter just to remind you that the fun is coming and enough of a push to hang on through those Zone 5 nights, and Zone 2 days till it gets here.