Sold-out fields and sunny skies greeted the 11th Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo over President’s Day weekend outside Tucson, Arizona.
The annual initiation into the newborn mountain bike season has weathered its share of gnarly conditions and unique challenges, but each year comes back stronger. The 2010 event marked the 11th edition and was dedicated to Stan Koziatek of Stan’s NoTubes. 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo kicked off Friday evening with a dedication dinner in his honor on the eve of the famous 12-gauge shotgun blast marking the Saturday noon Le Mans start. And with more than 1,700 riders, the race itself went off without a hitch.
“We had really fast conditions, which translated into some injuries, but fortunately we had search and rescue folks on hand,” said promoter Todd Sadow of Epic Rides, and he added that none of the injuries were severe.
“The course was awesome, conditions were great” said Colorado-based singlespeeder Jake Kirkpatrick. He raced with the 5-person Hippie Ninjas of Stan’s World team, which (like the event) was dedicated to Koziatek, and won the five-person, co-ed 150-199 combined age category. “It got a little chilly at night, but other than that, it was perfect. Pretty fast, rolling, not too sandy – it was really, really nice,” added Kirkpatrick.
David Million of Las Cruces, New Mexico has been at every single 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo event since the first edition in 1999. “I love the course, and the weather is definitely a factor,” Million said, adding that as a schoolteacher he takes advantage of the long weekend to get out on the bike. “They really key on the fun factor.”
Laughing, Sadow said, “I think [Million] and I are the only ones that have been to every single one.”
24 Hour Town
According to Sadow, the 2010 edition herded about 1,700 riders into “24 Hour Town,” a surprisingly well-organized (but sprawling) encampment of migrant mountain bikers. 24 Hour Town sprouts seasonally in the middle of the sun blasted, cactus-studded desert due north of Oracle Junction, Arizona.
Its expo area includes the usual all-night event accommodations like a transition tent, food and coffee kiosks, registration tent, medical center, neutral battery charging station, and an announcing booth. Additionally, Old Pueblo’s expo also boasts demo fleets from Pivot and Titus, numerous exhibitors, showers, plus tire and tube recycling.
But what really sets 24 Hour Town apart from what you might find at other, similar all-night races is the level of civic planning, so to speak. Upon entrance (which requires $5 plus a donation of two canned food items to an area food bank), the local newspaper is pressed into your palms. It’s got a town map, including named “streets” for camping. Campfire restrictions are spelled out in advance of the cold night, as is the “Epic Rule,” which reads: be nice and have fun. RV and tent campers, generators and family pets, geared and singlespeeders are all encouraged to coexist peacefully for at least their weekend residence in town.
“We call it 24 Hour Town, but it’s really more like a city,” said Sadow.
Sunny and warm in February? Hell yeah!
The vibe at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is distinctly laid back. Everyone knows that it’s February, and the competitive engines have yet to be stoked with July’s high-test gasoline. For most riders, the goal is simply to have a good time, enjoy the riding and get some sunshine. It’s hard to deny the appeal of warm, clear skies in the middle of February.
“It’s like an early season race, you know, you go out, you have fun, and not everyone is in super good shape,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s nice to get out of the snow and have fun with it.”
Sadow said he’s excited when the top solo competitors from around the world to show up and ride in February.
“But we know that they’re making a big exception in their training for the year because they are here to ride in February,” he said. “The first priority for the event is to make sure everyone has a really good time.”
But he also noted that just because it’s February doesn’t mean there won’t be some fasties that show up. If you are one of those folks, click here for results.
“The nature of anybody that’s coming to these events typically means that some of them are looking to race, so there is some really good racing going on,” he said. Sadow pointed at past appearances by Tinker Juarez and this year’s solo men’s winner Anthony White from the United Kingdom as examples of the talent that can appear in any given year.
He also remarked on tight racing among the top two corporate teams this year, which at times were separated by less than a minute and finished within 20 minutes of each other. “Every year is different,” he said.
It’s about the course, of course
Another factor in the Old Pueblo’s popularity is the course. “Todd’s done a great job on the course,” said Million at the Friday dedication dinner. It lacks any sustained climbing and technical features are few. For the most part, it’s composed of smooth, sinewy singletrack and is perfectly suited for singlespeeds and fast cruising.
The only major hazards are spiny cactus plants of every persuasion, typically lurking in the worst possible places, like the apex and outside exit of tight corners.
“It’s a trail that we’ve built over the last 11 years now. Each year we add something new for the course,” said Sadow.
And while the course is composed of entirely purpose built trails for the race, the terrain is open year round and includes additional trails lacing the area.