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Evan Plews' 24 Hours National Championship Report

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |August 1, 2013 2:17 AM
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2013 USAC 24 Hour National Championships - Gallup, New Mexico

As I have alluded previously, my race schedule is becoming  less and less a relentless chase for results but rather a random "bucket list" of events I've never attended or have unfinished business with. My history of 24 hour solo racing is concise but fairly successful. I won the overall at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in 2009 then failed to finish National Championships in Moab that same year. In 2011, I won the single speed solo National title in Colorado Springs so that rekindled my desire to take one more shot at the solo title this year near Gallup, New Mexico.

The venue was remote and beautiful, and the course was a polar opposite of the technical venues in Colorado and Utah. Completely non-technical with the only sustained climbing of the false-flat variety, the Enchanted Forest course was fast... maybe too fast! It constantly begged us for more power and speed when conventional wisdom required moderation and pacing. 

The race began on a gravel farm road and quickly funneled into a nearly endless singletrack loop for its near entirety. After a dusty pre-ride on Friday I was concerned to be in the top tier when we entered the trail but managed the holeshot instead. I was quickly overtaken by local "All Star" David Vaughn and Nate Miller both vying for the four-man championship title. Soon Tinker Jaurez and multi-time national champ Josh Tostado moved ahead as I did my best to settle in for the long haul. 

I had been "testing" a single ring set-up with clutch derailleur for over a month with zero chain drops in the NW, but as lady luck would have it, suffered a chain derailment near the end of the opening lap. It only cost 15-30 seconds, but it was a prelude to the remainder of the race for me--little annoyances adding up to "throw-off" my run at the overall title.

While Tostado and Jaurez came through about a minute faster on the first lap, I was able to erase that deficit and overtake them despite an extra long bottle stop. Josh immediately fell off the pace as had the rest of the solo field and only Tinker could stay with me. He looked great on the climbs and seemed super fit and ready for the race. As is usually the case, I was able to stretch him on the technical/descending sections so I was excited for another epic battle.

I measured my effort on the climbs and let the Ripley burn up the rest. As we flew into the third lap, I felt stoked to be at the front and in good shape despite my earlier time losses. Then the chain came off again and Tinker passed. it was just before beginning the long "climb" and I was content to give him some slack again. Then my right leg cramped. No cramps are "typical" for me but this didn't feel like any cramps I've ever experienced--I wasn't tired, I wasn't dehydrated or under-fueled and the cramping radiated through my leg like a chain reaction.

I let up and they went away, but so did Tinker. I continued smoothly but on the descents I was fearful--not of the trail but of losing my chain again. I couldn't pedal through any kind of roughness in the small cogs and had to impatiently look down to make sure my chain was on before resuming. I had a sickening feeling that the race was unraveling in an uncontrollable sort of way. Death by a thousand seconds I suppose!

I drank more fuel but the twinge in my right leg was now in my left and I backed off the throttle even more. After the fourth lap I drank a quarter gallon of water thinking maybe it was dehydration and my body needed dilution. Then it started the cloud up and sprinkle. For once in recent memory, I asked for rain and I got it! I though maybe that is what this Oregonian needed--a little rain and while the chain stayed on, I was losing a minute or more per lap coasting when I should have been pedaling. I was also not able to spin my legs as I rolled which seemed to cause the cramps to lurk whenever I could continue. 

I grabbed a handful of electrolyte tabs and soldiered on as my lap times continued to deteriorate. All the while, I was still just minutes behind and feeling great but my muscles seemed to have a mind of their own and my drive train had apparently been sabotaged by a chupacabre rendering it useless for any sort charge back to the front.

The rain lasted long enough to dampen the trails and it was apparent that any more would have had a dire effect on locomotion as the mud was the sticky peanut butter variety that built up on anything it touched.

I looked forward to nightfall as I never had before. Maybe Tinker would slow and maybe I would eventually overcome the cramps in the cooler temperatures. I only had one bike so the light change took several minutes, but I rode fast that lonely, singular lap in the dark. If anything I was faster than before, but as I neared the start/finish the rain picked up and gradually intensified. I paused for more electrolytes as it turned into a downpour.

Then I stopped. For the first time in my short, illustrious 24-solo career I took a break. Why? Because I knew it would be futile to try to ride a lap in that mud. I knew the extra resistance could only increase my cramping and I knew the temperature would plunge with every falling rain drop. I rolled the dice on staying warm and keeping my equipment at least as functional as it had been to that juncture in the race. 

I took off my wet clothes and sat in the rental car listening to the rain hammer down this time asking it to stop. After about 45 minutes I heard an odd voice getting louder but not necessarily clearer. It took a few seconds to wrap my tired mind around the source but then I realized it was a bull-horn coming closer on a quad. The voice was saying the course was closed and that the race would be postponed until further notice.

I got out of the car and witnesses to all manner of bicycle and human carnage by virtue of mud. Bikes were clogged beyond function and bodies were often just as dirty and/or bloodied by unplanned dismounts in the slick conditions. I chuckled--maybe I made the right call afterall.

Awhile later the quad came back by and I inquired about the restart. The rain was already slowing to a sprinkle and I wanted to be ready to roll. They had no idea of when or how the race would continue so I just sat there. The rain stopped and time slowly wound on. There was some indication of a restart at 2AM, so I got out and walked around only to be told it would be 4AM at the earliest. At four, there was still no verdict so we were told to wait until day break. Sometime around 5AM I dozed off only to be "instantly" awakened by the bull-horn just an hour later.

My mind was totally fogged in and my body felt paralyzed from sitting in the car most of the night. Somehow I knew it was over just then, but I tried to get on my bike and my derriere felt like it had been ripped in two from "basting in its own juices" all night. I went to the second pre-race meeting and apparently those hard women and men still had the gumption to get out and race. I was broken mentally and most likely physically and these folks seemed bright eyed and bushy tailed!

I reluctantly rolled back down to the startline with reality slowly sinking in with each turn of the pedals. My race was over. I wouldn't be 24 Hour National Champion this year let alone 14 or 15 hour asterix champ. They started racing and I just tried to encourage them onward. With the trail to the left I went "right" and rode aimlessly through the early morning sun. Suddenly the burden of the race was lifted and my bike unfurled its wings again. I was free to roam at any pace so I went and got my camera and headed out to the end of the course to try to get a few pictures...

When the dust—er, mud settled, it seemed to me like the right folks prevailed, Nina Baum (NoTubes) won the women’s solo title and Tinker Jaurez (ShoAir) solidified his fifth National Championship in the men’s division. The New Mexico All-Stars transformed themselves to "All-American-Stars” by winning the four-person Open race, and Get Out! took top honors in the Junior Open category.

mk 05/22/2014 6:44 AM
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globalwarmingishere 02/25/2014 10:43 AM
Tinker is a class act who doesn't strava everything and then post it on fb. You are a sissy who can't ride in mud.
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