The view from the pits - 24 Hours of Colorado Springs

The 2011 24 Hours of Colorado Springs proved to be quite the adventure before the race even started. After a successful first year on the Falcon Trail at the Air Force Academy, plans were made for the National Championships and another fun time riding up Stanley Canyon. Then things changed and we weren't even sure of a venue for the 24 Hours of COS. So a huge congratulations to the race director and organizing committee for securing a fun and challenging venue in the middle of Colorado Springs. This year it truly was the 24 Hours of Colorado Springs, set at a favorite play ground - Palmer Park. I rode one lap two weeks before the event and while it seemed "easy" for Palmer Park, but after a few laps it would be challenging. A good mix of technical riding, fun single track and fast double track that didn't provide much respite.

On race day however, I wouldn't get much more then a quarter of a mile from the camper. This is a race report about crewing for a solo rider. Nick was racing in the solo single speed, harboring hopes of defending his win from 2010. But it was not to be - with some very fast racers showing up for a shot at the Stars and Stripes combined with some stomach issues that kept him off the bike for over 4 hours. At noon, Evan Plews had completed 18 laps, AJ Liddell turned 17 laps and Andrew Carney rounded out the top three with 15 laps. Nick took fourth with a respectable 12 laps and John Wu placed 5th, also with 12 laps. I think in the end, the true winner of the race was the challenging course as many riders called it day early into the event.

Because of city constraints, we weren't allowed to move into the park until Saturday. Our one complaint about the race - not being able to set up Friday made an already long weekend even longer. But we got a nice spot just outside the transition area. Nick raised the tents and I set up my pit area - I needed space to support him like I wanted! And the goal was to be as efficient as possible - in and out and keep him moving for the entire 24 hours. We both knew that he wasn't feeling good and wasn't at 100%, but were still gonna stick to plan.

Nick starting the first lap of the race.
At noon, the racers exploded from the starting line. A true Le Mans start - I wasn't even able to hold Nick's bike for him. But I was standing over the Stumpjumper with my green flag, so he knew where to go. He was quickly off on the parade lap and into the maze of single track that is Palmer Park. I took some photos and headed back over to the camper to wait. All the bottles for the next lap were mixed, so all I had to do was watch the riders. It didn't take long - Russel F on the Pro Cycling 4-man team handed off to Kalan, followed quickly by Cameron taking Daniel (they were racing 2man). The first solo ride, Josh Tostado, came through in just under an hour, then the first single speed rider shortly after. A herd of single speed riders followed - streaming through in some pretty fast times. But would they be able to hold that pace for the next 23 hours. Nick came in at about 1:10 - ninth place - swapped bottles, drank a coke and headed out again. Part of my job as pit crew was to keep track of the race. So after prepping the bottles and food for the next lap, I settled down in a chair with a drink and watched the riders. Nick was in the middle of the pack of the single speed race - a few minutes down on a large group of riders. It wouldn't take much for that pack to break down and for riders to move up quickly.

Nick was steadily gaining on that group with every lap, but as the time ticked by and the laps mounted he was drinking less and less. I'd send him out with two full bottles or a camel back and bottle and he'd only have drunk half of what I'd given him. Not a good sign - especially since it was so hot out. He'd drunk twice that much in the short laps of the 50 mile race, in the same temperatures. He also wasn't eating anything  - his stomach was hurting and he felt both constipated and bloated at the same time. A few short breaks to try to eat something. But every time he ate, his stomach hurt worse. So he relied on the coke, ginger ale and tang for the calories. Not nearly enough for a race like this... I have to admit - getting the coke de-fizzed was the hardest part! I got sprayed a few times making sure that his bottles were flat.

As darkness fell, the number of racers quickly diminished. I was watching the brightly lit riders streaming by - trying to keep track of the single speed race. Evan Plews was already at least one lap up on most of the other riders and two on Nick. There is always a drop-off of riders when the sun sets on the 24 hour races, but it seemed pretty steep this time. The number of riders still making the rounds of Palmer Park plummeted when the last rays of the sun vanished behind the mountains. There were some strong riders and teams that were humbled by the challenging nature of the course and turned in for the night early.

The finish line banner
Nick was still moving, but slowing down. He still hadn't eaten anything substantial since breakfast that morning. At midnight, he had finished 8 laps and headed out for number nine. A little behind the planned schedule, but still doing well. But then the wheels came off. He went through transition, finishing lap nine, starting lap ten and headed straight for the bed in the back of the camper. I have never seen him looking so miserable - he wanted to eat but that made his stomach hurt. He was so tired from riding and not eating anything he was falling asleep on the bike. A few more bites of food, some time in the bathroom (which did not sound pretty at all) and then a rest on the couch. He didn't sleep, but just laid there with his eyes closed. I let him rest, then gave him a gentle nudged him out the door - the race wasn't waiting for him to feel better. Lap 10 would be a 4 hour lap by the time he got back on the bike and finished the lap.

Another long break at the start of lap 11 - this time he did manage to eat something, although he fell asleep a few times with the Tupperware of eggs and potatoes in his hand, spoon halfway to his mouth. I went out and checked the results while he was resting. He'd jumped up to 5th place, even with the long breaks because of the high rate of attrition. On the podium - I just needed to keep him riding to keep him there. And this was the hardest part - normally if he wasn't feeling good, I'd go out and ride a few laps while he recovered. But he was on his own - had to keep the wheels turning under his own power. I told him his place and gave him a not so gentle nudge to get back on the bike. He finally took off to finish lap 11 as the sun was rising. And that's when I found out that he had a chance to jump into fourth - the rider currently in 4th had finished 11 laps, but seemed to have called it a day. All Nick had to do was finish 12 laps and he would be in 4th at the end of the race. Andrew was holding 3rd and was well out of reach. The current 6th place rider was slowly gaining on Nick, but was running out of time to catch him. I still needed to keep an eye on him.

Nick had enough energy to head out for that 12th lap without a long break. No arguments as I explained the situation and sent him on his way. My job done, I headed over to the Back of the Pack pit area to watch the race and take advantage of the comfy pink futon. The rider now in 5th, behind Nick finished his 11th lap and headed out onto lap 12. Statistically speaking, he could not catch Nick. There wasn't enough time to finish two laps before noon - not at the pace they were riding at. Nick came through and I sprinted back to the camper. He had time to ride another lap and completely secure 4th place if he wanted. But it wouldn't change anything except add that extra lap to his total. And with his physical condition - riding that other lap didn't make sense. Unless he needed to. So we played the waiting game - me on one side of the transition tent with phone and clock and Nick in the camper. He was ready to ride if he needed to. But he didn't - the rider in 5th finished after 11:10, - after the cutoff and with no way to finish a 13th lap.

The Single Speed Podium - Andrew Carney (3rd) Evan Plews (1st) AJ Linnell (2nd) and Nick (4th) -
Not pictured John Wu (5th)
So it would be a 4th place finish at the 24 Hour National Championships for Nick. Admittedly, he was hoping for much better and was disappointed with the way the race played out. But I'm proud of him for keeping going and riding despite the adverse conditions he faced. And it was great getting the Ascent Cycling jersey on the podium - thanks for all the support over the last year! We'll be back next year - Nick wants redemption, but I might decide that we have to do Duo...


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