Video by Devon Balet Photo.
With the profusion of marathon mountain bike events and the growing popularity of the expanding National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Race Series, I keep hearing talk that the days of 24-hour races are numbered. The argument goes like this: With bigger purses and less time commitment for training, marathons are skimming top-level racers and enthusiasts alike away from 24-hour events, where shrinking attendance means a downward spiral of higher registration fees, more reticent sponsors, and fewer races.
There's some truth to the argument. For example, the 17-year-old 24 Hours of Moab saw around 30 percent fewer teams in 2011 than in 2010, and there was talk that the event could be cancelled (though, happily, it looks like the show will go on). And at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo two weeks ago, I heard lots of racers talking about the NUE. "I'm doing the NUE series this year," Trek Bicycle Store racer Jonathan Davis told me between laps at Old Pueblo, where he decided to skip the solo category to save himself. (Instead, he raced duo with his 10-year-old son, Tanner.) "It's too hard to be competitive in NUE and also show up ready for longer races. Solo 24 takes a lot out of you." Then again, Davis added that he's definitely going to September's 24-hour Solo Worlds in Canmore, which looks to be attracting a deep and star-studded field.
I raced 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo for the fifth time this year and was struck by the huge crowds and big sponsor presence (headliner Kona Bikes turned out a number of teams for the launch of their King Kahuna Carbon 29er, including Solo Male winner Corey Wallace). Blessed by the warm-weather riding it delivers to racers so early in the season, this Tucson, Arizona, event is part bike race, part Burning Man-style festival, with some 3,500 people descending on a cholla-and-prickly-pear-spiked swathe of open desert. "For the last four years, the event has reached the 1,800 rider capacity earlier in pre-registration than the year prior," says Todd Sadow, President of Epic Rides, which organizes Old Pueblo. Judging by the turnout and the carnival atmosphere, it's safe to say that this race, at least, is as healthy as ever.
The experience got me thinking about the viability of 24-hour racing in general. Having just witnessed so many people out riding and enjoying themselves at a 24-hour event, I can't see these things going away any time soon. With that in mind, I give you ten reasons to sign up for a 24-hour race now: