Suzuki 24 Hours of Big Bear

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Legends Re-emerge on a Classic Course
Thrilling races create an unforgettable weekend at Big Bear Lake

HAZELTON, West Virginia–Tinker Juarez proved once again his world-class athleticism by holding off a string of determined challengers when the third round of the Suzuki 24 Hour National Points Series returned home to West Virginia at Big Bear Lake on June 7th and 8th.

What began seventeen years ago as the 24 Hours of Canaan, the brainchild of Davis, West Virginia’s own Laird Knight and his event promotion company Granny Gear Productions, has grown into a nationwide series with worldwide participation and major corporate sponsorship from Suzuki Automotive.

Over 150 teams and 600 riders turned the quiet camplands of Big Bear Lake into a scene reminiscent of an outdoor music festival, replete with a massive mobile stage display, vehicle test drives, cycling expo area, kid’s races and screenings of movies at night, all courtesy of title sponsor Suzuki. The throngs of racers, support crews and families make Big Bear the second-most popular round of the Suzuki 24 Hour National Points Series. Yet despite all the pomp-and-circumstance, the event retains its soul as a way for cyclists and their families to come together, challenge themselves, and have a great time in the process.


Many of the over 600 racers camped out with family and friends
credit -Harlan Price
Tinker Juarez was a major player in the blossoming international cross-country mountain bike scene back in 1992, but more recently he’s made a name for himself as an ultra-endurance mountain biker. The southern California native came to the Suzuki 24 Hours of Big Bear for the first time this year. In addition to 24-hour mountain bike racing, he’s also challenged himself on the road, in the Race Across America (RAAM), and secured a victory in the Furnace Creek 508.The Big Bear 24 provided all the challenge Juarez had hoped for: a great course and a surprisingly strong field of competitors. This combination made his victory all the more sweet. Spectators were treated to one of the closest battles seen in the sport for a long while. “This was one of the only 24-hour races I’ve ever had to race for the entire time in order to win,” Juarez said in an interview on the awards podium.The Men’s Expert and Men’s Masters classes also produced riveting struggles in which the leaders were separated by only a few minutes until the very end.
Heavy rains during the week before the race left conditions wet and in places, slick. But intense heat before the weekend helped to dry the well-drained course. This same heat, in the high 80s to low 90s, changed the normal expectation of cooler conditions in the Appalachian highlands of West Virginia. This factor, added to several new faces – and returning racers riding under aliases, made it difficult to predict a winner.Juarez had his own doubts about his ability to win the Men’s Solo division at Big Bear. Earlier this year, he took top solo honors at the Dirt, Sweat and Gears 24 in Tennessee, but had never previously made the trip to West Virginia. “I’d always wanted to do the 24 Hours of Canaan or Snowshoe, but never had the chance during my pro career. Laird always puts on a quality event worth travelling for,” noted Juarez.
Tinker on the rocks
credit – Harlan Price

The dreadlocked rider from Downey, CA is a bit out of his element on technical muddy east coast courses, but in the end his experience with endurance events mitigated any unfamiliarity with regional course conditions. Juarez even used a familiar race strategy from his days on the international XC scene: a fast start to open up a sustainable gap on his competitors. His first lap came third-placed overall, even on time with team riders from Cancer Awareness and Just4Brothers at 1 hour, 16 minutes. For the next 5 laps, Juarez stayed in the top ten places in the overall standings, before stepping off the gas slightly.


Tinker Juarez follows Ernesto Marenchin
credit – Harlan Price

Meanwhile, Ernesto Marenchin of Stow, OH followed the reverse plan, holding back slightly in the opening 3 laps.Going into the night, Marenchin started turning faster lap times than Juarez, and shortly after daybreak he went past the Californian to take the race lead. Juarez kept his cool in the sweltering heat, however, and kept the pressure on Marenchin, who discovered that riding ahead of a competitor of Juarez’s calibre is not as easy as riding behind him. Juarez quickly resumed the lead and surged away, finally completing 15 laps of the 12.2 mile course with a 52-minute advantage over Marenchin.”Marenchin deserves to be commended, he kept the pressure on me the whole race. I knew that I shouldn’t panic, though, and just focused on my own performance and keeping it steady.” concluded Juarez.Behind Juarez and Marenchin was former Canadian national team member Jesse Jakomait in third, who bettered last year’s champion Steve Schwarz. Schwarz challenged Juarez early on, before slipping back to third behind Marenchin, and finally to fourth after a mechanical problem on Sunday morning.
In the Women’s Solo race, a racer registered mysteriously as “Ms. Cookie” displayed her own experience and consistency to win the class.Further research revealed “Ms. Cookie” to be the pseudonym of Carol Clemens, a Pittsburgh, PA resident who finished second in 2007.The early challenge was mounted by Liz Baumgardt-Kays of Rockford, IL, who turned two fast early laps before fading to third overall behind the quickening pace of Clemens and Heidi Shilling of Whitehall, OH. Baumgardt-Kays is racing all six rounds of the 2008 Suzuki National 24 Hour Series for the experience – and the fun. She’ll have another three rounds to work out her pacing effort – an effort already well understood by Big Bear’s Solo Women’s winner:”I knew from previous years that you can’t start out too fast, and have to really gauge your efforts to survive the whole race,” concluded Clemens, displaying the wisdom of a seasoned 24 racer.
Ms. Cookie bakes in the West Virginia sun
credit – Harlan Price

And they’re off! The “LeMans-style” start, characteristic of Granny Gear events
credit – Harlan Price
If the marquee name of Tinker Juarez, and the nail-biting challenge brought forth by Ernesto Marenchin proved the story of the 2008 Suzuki 24 Hours of Big Bear, the number of registered teams and the wacky names they entered with, gave it its substance and style. Registrations were up almost 20% over last year, thanks in large part to the number of teams signed up in any of 22 separate categories. As the StoryBoardTM results revealed at the conclusion of the event at noon on Sunday, teams from the Men’s Pro, Expert, Veterans or Masters categories occupied the top ten results overall.Pro and Expert Men’s teams dominated the overall results, with the iplayoutside.com/WVMBA Pro Men winning overall and category honors. The four-man squad boasts three members from nearby areas of West Virginia, and is co-sponsored by the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA). Team captain Jason Cyr, from Granny Gear Productions’ home town of Davis, said that local knowledge of the course at Big Bear – which is set up throughout the season and open to the general public – played into the team’s dominant performance:”The course is well-balanced and technically challenging. All of us having raced it before – even if not part of this particular team – definitely played into our hands,” said Cyr.Pennsylvania-based Expert Men’s team Dirty Harrys, which includes three members of the Spreng family – Robert, Henry, and 16-year old Henry Spreng, III, were fastest of the Men’s Expert teams, and second overall only to iplayoutside.com/WVMBA. Other strong performances came from local team Big Bear Masters, and last year’s second place overall squad, Just4Brothers in the Men’s Veteran category.

Who in the Sam Hill??
West Virginia mountain biking icon Gunnar Shogren – racing under the identity of “Sam Hill” as part of the DuoPro pair Hipster Doofus & the Kessel Run, set the fastest lap with a 1:07:42. Wife Betsy made it a family affair with a 1:19:04, fastest women’s lap on the day. Both Shogrens were a few minutes slower than the course record lap times they both set back in 2006, which is not surprising considering that on Sunday morning the muddy sections were described by Jacomait as being “like peanut butter”

The Suzuki 24 Hour National Point Series now travels to Killington, VT on July 26/27. Expect to see a course that favors the climbers the more than any except the Vail Lake season opener. Taking place in college-rich New England, collegiate teams should make their mark at Round #4.

It’s not too late to put together your own team for Killington, nor do you have to hold a student I.D. Visit the registration page at www.grannygear.com.

Thereafter the series goes to:

Landahl, Mo, September 20/21
Moab, Ut, October 11/12

For more information about the Suzuki 24 Hour National Point Series, please visit www.grannygear.com.


About Granny Gear Productions

Granny Gear Productions, a sports marketing and event production company, has earned a reputation as mountain biking’s most innovative and successful event organizer. With more than 26 years as a mountain bike race promoter, Granny Gear President and CEO, Laird Knight, created the 24-hour racing format in 1991. In 2001, Knight became West Virginia Tourism’s Person-of-the-Year and in 2002, Knight was inducted into The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.In 2000, GGP created its unprecedented and unrivaled RealTime(tm) Scoring System, that tracks every rider and every lap, posting results for every team in real-time on the web. www.grannygear.com

About Suzuki
The Brea, Calif.-based Automotive Operations of American Suzuki Motor Corporation was founded in 1985 by parent company Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC) and currently markets its vehicles in the United States through a network of approximately 500 automotive dealerships in 49 states. Based in Hamamatsu, Japan, SMC is a diversified worldwide automobile, motorcycle and outboard motor manufacturer with sales of more than two million new automobiles annually. Founded in 1909 and incorporated in 1920, SMC has operations in 187 countries. For more information, visit www.media.suzukiauto.com.


For photographic materials, contact Paul Skilbeck at above address.

source: o2sm

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