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.