Guest Column: The State Of 24-Hour Racing

Opinion

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Leighton Poidevin is a longtime mountain bike racer who’s contested nine 24-hour mountain bike races and three cross-country ski race all nighters. He has a handful of race wins on his resume, and once finished fourth at the solo world championships. Poidevin’s 2013 racing plans include Canada’s Trans Rockies in July, and the world solo 24-hour championships in Canberra, Australia in October.

What is the state of 24 hour racing? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. Having competed in a dozen 24 hour solo events over the years, it’s fair to say I care about the future of the all-night racing discipline.

But 24-hour racing is not (and has never been) a UCI-sanctioned event, so it has been left in the hands of independent race promoters. And many of those promoters have questioned the financial viability of running 24-hour events — especially the solo category, which hasn’t seen a world championship event the last two years.

I’ve yet to hear any real concrete reasons why the 2011 event was tabled. But in 2012 Stuart Dorland, owner/operator of the 24 Hours of Adrenalin series, which previously put on the solo world’s event, wrote on his event website that, “It would not be economically or administratively feasible to keep the event on the calendar.”

I understand that many solo races are only viable when there is also a team aspect. A typical scenario is maybe 80 soloists and 1200 team riders, with the teams bringing in more than five times the revenue. No wonder it’s easy to forget about the solo riders.

So what can be done to save the solo discipline? Number one is getting the bike industry and other major sponsors involved to help ease the financial burden put on race directors. In the past, the automotive industry and beer companies helped prop up some 24-hour races. But they have since left the sport, leaving it in a tricky predicament. Yet, I’m still convinced that the compelling narrative of racing one’s bike from noon to noon is a story sponsors will want to get behind. We just need to make sure that message is being delivered in the right way.

Presently, I think our best hope comes from the likes of the Canberra, Australia-based World Endurance Mountain Bike Organization (aka WEMBO). This group bills themselves as a collection of like-minded mountain bike clubs and promoters from around the world with vast experience in hosting 24-hour mountain bike races.

The group was formed in 2011 after 24 Hours of Adrenalin opted to not host a world solo championship. At the time WEMBO laid out a three-year schedule and this October they are planning to host a 24-hour world solo championships in Australia. The plan is to slot the solo race a week after the Australian 24-hour mountain bike championships at Mount Stromlo.

By holding these events in conjunction with each other, the hope is that it will create a weeklong mountain bike festival atmosphere that will be attractive to sponsors. In my opinion, this is the best way to make solo events feasible. We already know that without major sponsorship support, running a stand-alone event is very difficult. But by having the team and solo events a week apart, the infrastructure will already be in place, significantly reducing overall costs. Bottom line, creativity is the key to any successful venture.

The final question to be addressed, is that without the UCI’s rainbow stamp of approval, what makes an event world championship worthy? In the case of 24 hour racing, I think it starts with an organization that can attract the world’s best riders. That means Australians Jason English and Jess Douglas; Canada’s Cory Wallace; and America’s Tinker Juarez, Josh Tostado, Kelly Magelky and, of course, the “Queen of Pain” Rebecca Rusch. Hopefully some or all of these riders will travel to Australia.

Secondly, these races must consistently represent the cycling industry by displaying a level of professionalism that includes a clear set of racing rules and accredited drug testing.

Only time will tell if WEMBO can pull it off and preserve the legacy of 24-hour solo racing. Or perhaps it is destined to be a cycling discipline bound for extinction. I for one, certainly hope it lives on.

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  • Sylvain says:

    Ride on buddy!!!

  • epicyclo says:

    “…these races must consistently represent the cycling industry by displaying a level of professionalism…”

    I disagree strongly. I like that this is an amateur event that has not been sullied by the grubby hands of the UCI.

  • Shaun Taylor says:

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on 24hr racing, Leighton. Like you, I don’t want to see 24hr racing go away, luckily I don’t think it will. There are a lot of grassroots 24′s out there that are fun, affordable, competitive and well organized. This weekend I will be racing a 24hr Solo in Spokane, it will be my 3rd time at this particular event and it will be my 23rd 24hr Solo (four of them were Solo World Championships). I’m drawn back to the Spokane race because it is… fun, affordable, competitive and well organized.

    I like the 6hr and 12hr formats of course, but I have a soft spot for the 24hr formats. Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of people about 24hr racing, and they often ask me why I do them, as you know the answer is complex and can be quite long. But at a surface level, the answer can be as simple as ‘Because it’s fun, and hard, and memorable, and hard, and competitive, and hard, and attitude changing, and hard… and I like it.’

    I hope WEMBO has a great event this year, I really liked the course they put together for the 2010 World Solo Championships. That flowy berm section at the bottom of Mt. Stromlo still makes me smile when I think back to it. Actually, the Stromlo pre-race lap I did with you, where I was teasing you about your magical 29′er wheels, still makes me laugh. In just one event I formed a lot of good memories, hung out with world class athletes, made some new friends in a foreign country, and bumped into some larger than life characters. Perhaps that’s one of the key elements to a 24hr race… in order to race them you have to be out on your bike more than you normally would and in so doing you capture a lot more of those good memories along the way. In my opinion that’s enough of a good reason to keep on doing them.

  • Shaun Taylor says:

    I know you will find this funny, Leighton.

    I think this weekends 24hr would have made for a ‘compelling narrative’. I was tearing that race apart until 13.5hrs in.. then I blew up… like a hand grenade. I had to get off my bike and lay on my back, on the side of the trail, and just stare at the stars for 10mins in order to get my act together. If I would have kept riding I would have detonated like a supernova.

    Somehow I bumbled down the rest of the trail and then fell into my vehicle and crawled into the fetal position. Eventually I rolled out of the fetal, jumped on my bike and raced another 5hrs. Ahhhh, the healing properties of caffeine saves the day.

    Best part of the weekend? Seeing Monilee Lloy and Julie Kelly hitting the Solo Female podium with a 1st and 2nd place finish.

    Maybe see you at the Sufferfest this year? ;-)

  • Solo Steve says:

    Great article Leighton! I still hold out hope that 24 hour solo racing will last so that I can get back for a few more when life settles down a bit for me. Maybe Scotland worlds next year, hmm. Good luck in Aus this year! I wish I could go back this year, 2010 was incredible.

    Shaun, those ‘lay on my back,… and stare at the stars’ moments do happen. Glad to hear you continued on in the morning. Looks like Gary, Monilee, and Julie were tearing it up.

    Cheers

  • Joe says:

    24 hour races are my preferred race. In fact I did the final Burn 24 in Wilkesboro North Carolina this past weekend. I am forced to chase the dwindling number of 24 hour races around my side of the country. I have raced in at least 20 of them and will continue to do them as long as I can get to them. My fellow 24 hour junkies and I have even taken to “hosting” our own rides at the local trails, just for the fun of it.
    PLEASE DO NOT LET THE 24 HOUR RACE GO AWAY

    they need help from all mountain bikers whether you race or not

  • Jess Douglas says:

    I would certainly welcome drug testing. I was drug tested for the 1st time in my racing history in Italy last year at the WEMBO 24hr, it was a good thing. I do believe 24hr racing has the potential for any experimentation with drug use from caffeine alternatives through to recovery and of course performance enhancing and without scrutiny.

    Other than this, a continuity of a “series” a platform that one can continually pit themselves against the worlds best, every year, year after year and in different locations around the world. For 24hr racing to gather momentum and be considered the real deal.

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