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By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
It has to be categorized as mountain biking’s most difficult paycheck, but endurance specialists Tinker Juarez and Cristina Begy finally got their payoff at noon Sunday, when each was crowned as 24-hour U.S. solo champion at Winter Park, Colorado. For Juarez, that term endurance specialist is something new, and if you think it sounds like a rough career switch for a 40-year-old, well it is. But the veteran Volvo-Cannondale pro has always been known to train with superhuman volume, so going around the clock isn’t that much of a stretch.
The final numbers posted by Juarez were staggering: 27 laps, or 216 miles (on mostly technical Rocky Mountain single track); 25,300 vertical feet climbed (all above 9000 feet), and, get this, two dabs. Each of the nearly 400 amateur competitors who spent a good part of their day — and night — walking the steepest, most technical sections of the course, have a clear understanding of that last stat. Not only did Juarez flow nearly flawlessly for 24 hours straight, but he powered over the gnarly rock and root traps with a 2×9 drivetrain — his lowest gear was a 30/34, which he only used at night (he used a beefier 32-tooth chainring during the day).
“It was really hard,” said Juarez, who had enough of a gap over second-place men’s finisher Nat Ross (Gary Fisher-Subaru) on Sunday morning that he was able to end the marathon shortly after 11 a.m. “That pace at this altitude is brutal.”
Juarez, used to suffering only two hours at a time as a World Cup and NORBA cross-country racer, set his heart on this title before the season began because he thinks 24-hour racing is going to be a more popular discipline in the future. With three cross-country titles to his name, he now has four NORBA championships.
Like most of the American men on the cross-country circuit, Juarez no longer focuses on the World Cup, and with only five races on the NORBA circuit, he said there’s no reason not to focus on NORBA’s new discipline. “Five NORBA [cross-country] races isn’t enough to keep me busy,” he said.
With only nine men and two women going for the solo title, the pursuit remains fringe to say the least, but for participants and fans watching Juarez hammer the same terrain that they are just hoping to survive, it’s quite a show.
Begy, who completed 17 laps for the title, conceded that being the best in a field of only two made the title slightly less sweet, but added, “I think it’s in its infancy. A lot of people don’t even know about it.”
As for her sporting feat at Winter Park, the women’s field may have been almost non-existent, but Begy, who also won the Gorge Games 24-hour race in Oregon several weeks ago, also beat half the men’s field. “It’s going to get tougher and tougher, so it’s good to get the experience now,” she said.
Like many, Begy’s biggest problem in the 24-hour discipline has been eating, and she said this was the first time her stomach felt fine throughout. Along with energy bars and drinks, she also took a bottle of hot chicken soup on one lap. She had one light failure at night and lost about a half hour’s time. Besides that, there were several bobbles and falls, but otherwise things were as smooth as they could be.
Conditions on the 8-mile course, which climbed nearly 900 feet per lap, were perfect. Saturday started out at nearly 80 degrees, and nighttime temperatures dipped into the upper 40s. Riders were treated to a lightning show on the high peaks east of Winter Park around midnight, but the threatening skies never delivered any rain.
NORBA championships were also awarded to three team categories. Team Specialized took the 6-man junior title with 31 laps; Beaver Creek/Christy Sports won the 4-man category with 36 laps; and a Winter Park-based masters team called King of the Rockies won the over-35 category with 34 laps.