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By Neal Rogers
Subaru-Gary Fisher rider Nat Ross called the other day, and I could almost hear him grinning from across the Atlantic after his big 24-hour solo win at the UK’s June 21-22 Saab-Salomon Mountain Mayhem event. Held near Birmingham, England, the race is now in its sixth and most successful year, with online registration selling out its 80 solo and 380 team spots in, coincidentally, just over 24 hours.
Ross — who took second at the NORBA 24-hour national championship earlier this year — didn’t have to worry about registration; his boss, mountain-bike legend Gary Fisher, co-sponsored the event and raced solo as well, putting in 11 of the 10-mile laps to Ross’s 28.
“Not bad,” Ross said, “when you consider it’s [Fisher’s] fortieth year of bike racing.”
Also in attendance from the mountain-bike pantheon of greats were Ned Overend of Specialized, racing with a group of British riders, and Keith Bontrager, who in his late forties is racing now more than ever.
Scheduled over the summer solstice, Mountain Mayhem dished up just six hours of darkness for the nearly 1800 participants.
“For years it was called the Red Bull Mountain Mayhem,” Ross explained, referring to the event’s former title sponsor. “The first time I ever heard about this race was in VeloNews, when the Giant team won it, probably three years ago. They did something like 40 laps, and I couldn’t believe it. It was with Bart [Brentjens] and all the big boys. Ever since I’ve wanted to come over and compete.”
Red Bull is still a co-sponsor of the event, as race promoter Patrick Adams explained.
“Red Bull usually only stays with an event for three years,” Adams said. “They stayed with ours for five. I actually created [Mountain Mayhem] for Red Bull six years ago, but this year I had to go out and find new sponsors, and Saab cars, Solomon footwear and Gary Fisher bikes came on. Gary’s been to all of my races but one.”
With the head honch backing the race, Mountain Mayhem quickly became a top priority for Ross. “This was definitely an ‘A’ race for me,” Ross said. “I really wanted to win, so I checked past results on the web, and figured if I could ride 45-minute laps, I would be all right. I went hard from the start, and got close to lapping the second-place solo rider by 6 p.m.”
With such a comfortable lead, Ross pulled over and took a 25-minute shared dinner break with Fisher.
For Adams, who also runs the Giant UK team, the event’s popularity comes as little surprise.
“It’s free to come and view it,” he said, “it’s free camping. People enjoy it. I don’t have VIP’s. I created an event for riders, and if you have happy riders, you have happy sponsors. All you have to do is create something for the riders and not rip people off.”
Adams added that the Mountain Mayhem offered up $26,000 in total prize money, including $1600 for Ross’s first-place solo finish, all in cash, sealed in see-through envelopes.
In fact, Adams is hoping to expand Mountain Mayhem and other events he promotes — one titled “Sleepless in the Saddle” — into an independent world series designed for racers, not necessarily with sanctioning from the UCI.
“I spoke with the UCI four years ago,” Adams said, “and the exact quote I got was that the UCI ‘didn’t have any interest in my circus events.’ When I get money from my sponsors, my riders get the benefit. I don’t want the money to go to UCI officials staying in nice hotels. If I can run a tidy race and make a profit, which I have for six years, then I will continue to do so. I contract UCI officials working independently as fair play judges. I don’t want to start needing to raise entries just to pay for something we can run without.”
Adams said he hopes to bring his style of 24-hour racing to the States and go head to head with TriLife Inc. and Granny Gear Productions, North America’s biggest 24-hour race promoters.
“What I want desperately to do is come to America and do 24-hour racing my way,” he said. “I’m coming to Las Vegas for InterBike, to speak with different industry heads. I do things very differently to TriLife and Granny Gear. I think if we could do things our way in America — with all due respect — we could get a real lift in mountain bike racing in America. I have a reality of what the sport is about. I like making money, but I have to make it with happiness. I’ve just counted 80 e-mails regarding the event, and they all say very lovely things about what we’ve done this weekend.”
Speaking of those lovelies, here are a few of my favorite team names from Mountain Mayhem:Three Blokes and a Giant PairCream CrackeredRock GoldentongueHaggis Neeps and TottieFour Toads and a Hole