Arizona resident Melissa Liebling went into this year's 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo with confidence and excitement. She had experienced Old Pueblo before but had a good feeling that this year was going to be special.
Her road to the finish wasn't paved in gold however. Liebling had to overcome some potentially crippling difficulties on her way to first place in the solo singlespeed category and the highest lap total for any solo woman at this year's event.
Read about Melissa's stunning ride below:
Knowing that registrataion would fill earlier than ever for 2012, I was up bright and early to register for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo on the morning it opened. I knew this would be one of the most important races of my career and I couldn't wait to start training! It's one of the biggest, most competitive 24-hour races in the world and it's right at home in Tucson, Arizona.
I first attended this Epic Rides event in 2011 shortly after moving to Arizona from Ohio. It was too late and I was too inexperienced to enter the solo or duo category so I participated on a corporate team. It was a blast and I knew that solo 24-hour racing was in my near future! Living in 24 Hour Town and pedaling through the Sonoran desert was just where I wanted to be. The mountain bike community is amazing!
With my main focus for 2012 being Tour Divide, training for OP fit right in. I recruited a crew, trained hard, and was feeling great by the time I headed out to camp on Friday morning. The vibe surrounding 24 Hour Town when I arrived created a permasmile that never disappeared until I finally fell asleep Sunday night. I did a short pre-ride lap on Friday afternoon and everything was in place. I felt strong, my bike felt great, and the trail was fast! I was riding new Stan's NoTubes wheels with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires and felt like I was floating across the trail! It was awesome and that feeling continued throughout the race! I spent most of the afternoon saying hello to the vendors and all of my bicycle happy friends. It was a super mellow evening chillaxin and getting my head ready to race for 24 hours!
A sunny Saturday morning was the perfect setting for the start of this epic experience. I attended the pre-race meeting with part of my crew just to make sure I didn't miss a beat. Returning to camp, I ate my usual breakfast, put on the poor chamois that would have to race with me all 24 hours, applied plenty of Chamois Butt'r, and headed down to the timing tent to check in. My crew and I picked a spot to stage my bike for the start and I began the long walk to the start line. It was sweet because I saw so many friends on that walk that I forgot about the task ahead and was simply looking forward to a long day in the saddle.
Todd Sadow, the "Ringmaster" of 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, was there to count us down to the start and we took off running! It's 400 yards on a dirt road in cycling shoes through 3,500 racers, fans, and volunteers to get to the bike, which becomes very hard to find! Luckily, I ran fast enough to beat the crowd and knew exactly where my bike was waiting. It was time to start pedaling! It took some time to catch my breath, but I was off to a great start and pulled out a screaming fast lap to gain the early lead! I passed my pit and crew with a smile and thumbs up to continue on to the second lap. I was in a rhythm and feeling strong. The field was starting to spread out and all the riders were super encouraging. The laps rolled by and soon I lost count. I was eating and drinking well as the sun started to set. It was time to mount my Nite Rider Pro 1500 and MiNewt. 600 lights. I ate my first hot dog of the day and headed out into the night. These laps are long and lonely since there are not as many racers out at night and not much to look at except the trail ahead of you. I looked forward to seeing my crew each lap to say hello, grab some real food, and hear cheering from the folks who managed to stay up all night. By the end of my second night lap, I was wondering where my next crew member was. I didn't see her and was concerned. I found out that she wasn't going to make it, but thanks to some of my very best friends and fellow racers, I had nothing to worry about. They stepped up and took over to crew me the entire night and all the way to the finish!
My last full lap in the dark was the most difficult. I was starting to fall asleep on the bike and had trouble focusing on the trail. I knew that if I didn't rest, I wouldn't be able to continue. I returned to camp to find out that I had increased my lead to 47 minutes and felt I was finally able to take a 20 minute power nap. It was the best decision I made the entire race! When I woke up, I knew that the sun would be rising in a matter of minutes and there would only be six hours to go. I grabbed several Bonk Breaker Energy Bars and headed back out on the trail. Feeling rejuvenated from the power nap, I rode another fast lap and settled into a pace I could maintain for the remainder of the race. Until the very last lap, the weather was perfect! Very little wind and tons of sunshine. It was cold at night, but thanks to my crew, I was cozy and warm in my winter cycling gear. I went out for my last lap with a close friend and training partner to keep me company. I was feeling slow, but knew that I could not be caught. It was a sweet end to an amazing and super tough race! I crossed the finish line shortly after noon on Sunday with a huge smile knowing that I would remember this experience forever! In the end, I rode 15 laps for a total of 241.5 miles in 24 hours, 28 minutes, and 25 seconds to win the solo single speed category. An awesome and unforgettable ride!
Thank you so much to my crew, sponsors, and the Epic Rides family! I couldn't have done it without you!
MTB Race News would like to thank Devon Balet for his incredible photos. Check out more of Devon's images at Devonbaletphoto.com