The Dirt: Sadow explains why 24-hour racing endures

The man behind the longest-running 24-hour race in the world explains why people keep coming back to 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

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Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.

Last weekend I went on a pilgrimage to the Sonoran Desert to see an event that I’d been hearing about for years: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. It had been about 10 years since I did a 24-hour mountain bike race. I was not disappointed. However, you might be thinking, “But Spencer, aren’t 24-hour races dead?” Fair question. I tracked down Todd Sadow, the man behind this longstanding race near Tucson, Arizona, to learn why his is still going strong.

VeloNews: What is the significance of having an event that’s been around for 20 years?

Todd Sadow: I think it definitely keeps the mountain bike vibe going strong. I think it maybe rebukes the idea that 24-hour racing is dead. People like to joke about that, but this thing filled up in three hours this year with just under 2,000 riders. It’s carrying the vibe in a great way and we are glad to raise that flag up.

VN: Tell me about some memorable years. I heard it snowed one year.

TS: Yeah we had a snow year. I think the most significant year was a rain year. It was torrential rain. It was insane. People were losing the course. They would go through a wash and because it was flowing and they couldn’t see where the trail exited the wash so they’d follow the water thinking it was a line at night. It was pretty, dare I say, I hate to say, it was epic. It was a deluge of rain that lasted all night. Fortunately, we were able to manage our way through it. We made it clear to people that were staged in the tent that if they weren’t comfortable with it they didn’t have to go out. I think a lot of people drank a lot more beer than usual. But I think a lot of people were also proud they made it through those conditions. Those were some pretty serious conditions.

VN: How does it compare to promote a 24-hour race versus a standard mountain bike race?

TS: A 24-hour race, you’re tracking ultimately a staggered set of races for 2,000 people over the course of 24 hours. So the production of it and the timing is undeniably different from just a standardized mountain bike event or cycling event with one start and one finish. It definitely adds a layer of complexity. But we’ve got a great team and we’ve built an amazing timing system. For instance, the person that we’ve worked with on timing, I’ve worked with since year two of Epic Rides. It would be very complex for us if we hadn’t been in this for so long and tenured at this point.

If you’ve got 2,000 riders, and everyone’s going to ride on average four laps, that’s 8,000 different races basically that are all staggered starts with the exception of one first start and after that, they’re all staggered. Yeah, it’s complex, but it’s good.

VN: Are there any memorable personalities that have shown up for this event over the years?

TS: One of the best memories I have of this event, we honor different people and groups that have had a lasting impact on mountain biking. In year five, we had this crazy run-in over permits with the permitting agency. We had dedicated the event that year to Keith Bontrager. I’ll never forget telling him on the phone, “Look, the event is going to happen, you should definitely come to town, but I might be in jail because I don’t know if we’re getting a permit or not.” And he just laughed and said, “That’s mountain biking man. I’ll be there.” He was just such a generous and patient person with us. We must have looked so disorganized even though we were working our butts off. Keith comes to mind, he’s been a good friend since. But so many people come to mind. Stan who pioneered tubeless tire systems, he let us honor him, he’s not a real public guy, but he played along. Sal Ruibal, who covered cycling for USA Today for a long time. We honored him and he was a great guest and a good person. God, there are just so many legends who have thankfully willingly joined us not knowing what they were getting into.

VN: It seems like now you have a really good relationship with the property owners. Those troubles are over more or less. Talk about what it takes to keep those people happy.

TS: Man, endurance. [laughs]. This event is 20 years old and we’ve had to endure just like everyone else has to endure to get to Sunday at noon every year. Most of our team’s been doing this for 10+ years and everyone is up for it year after year. The ranchers, we got off to a rough start with them. They didn’t understand us. Of course, they’re ranchers, we’re mountain bikers, we’re running around in spandex, they don’t really understand that. It just took a lot of time, and I got beaten to a pulp on multiple occasions and just kept taking it. As some point, they realized we weren’t going to go away and now the relationship has gotten so good that they’re here riding in the event, they’ve given us awards for stewardship of the land that they’re also leasing and own portions of. It’s really evolved into really a good relationship. Just time. It took time and perseverance. Communication, of course.

VN: Speaking of endurance, why do you think people have the misconception that 24-hour racing is dead?

TS: Sort of like we’re seeing with gravel right now where there are hundreds and hundreds of events popping up, and there was a time when 24-hour racing was the same way. I think the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was the fifth 24-hour mountain bike event in America. There was a time when there were 50 or 100 of them out there, and now it’s contracted down to probably less than a dozen, I don’t know, maybe five. Because there are so few 24-hour races out there, people perceive it’s a dead racing format. Even if that’s the case, we’re glad to keep it alive this weekend each year.

VN: Someone told me that perhaps 60 percent of the people out here aren’t even racing. Is that true?

TS: That might be true. This is a hangout, it’s a party. Back in the day, 24-hour racing got compared to Woodstock — the Woodstock of mountain biking. These days, it’s compared to Burning Man. I think it’s that quality, it’s exactly that. It’s the 60 percent of people that here that are crewing, that are volunteering, that are hanging out, camping, and enjoying the weekend. Everyone together sharing the bike in common is what makes these things so fun.

VN: That must be part of the reason why this event has lasted 20 years.

TS: I suppose so. I got to be honest, I think if we didn’t even open registration one day, people would still show up here on Presidents’ Day weekend.

SBT GRVL to reopen registration for 200 additional women

The organizers of new gravel race SBT GRVL in Steamboat, Colorado, are aiming for complete parity in their August 18 event. It started with equal payouts for the top finishers. Now, they are reopening registration for the sold-out event to 200 additional female riders as part of their #SBTParity campaign.

“This campaign is really important to Ken [Benesh], Amy [Charity], and I. Parity and inclusivity are in our brand DNA, so we want to take the necessary steps to achieve this from the beginning,” said Satkiewicz, cofounder of SBT GRVL.

Women can sign up on February 25 using the code SBTPARITY.

Orange Seal expands off-road team to three riders for 2019

McElveen, Nuss, and Cordes (L-R) make up the 2019 Orange Seal team. Photo: Orange Seal

Two-time reigning national marathon MTB champion Payson McElveen will continue with the Orange Seal team for 2019, and he’ll be joined by two new teammates.

The team, sponsored by tire sealant manufacturer Orange Seal, will bring on Raylyn Nuss of St. Louis, Missouri, as well as Kye Cordes. Nuss is a cyclocross rider who was 12th in the elite women’s race at 2018 cyclocross nationals in Louisville. Cordes is an up-and-coming junior rider who was third at marathon nationals in the 17-18 category.

The team will focus on endurance events, such as the Epic Rides series, as well as Dirty Kanza 200 and marathon mountain bike nationals.

Roadies gone wild at Cape Epic

Freire in the 2018 Cape Epic. Photo courtesy Absa Cape Epic

As we’ve reported for months, the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race attracts a who’s who of top mountain bike racers. But there are also some notable ex-pro roadies taking the start in South Africa for the March 17-24 event.

Alessandro Petacchi, winner of 48 grand tour stages, is coming out for his first run at the eight-day race. He will team up with another former road racer, Francesco Chicchi.

“We are training without the methodology and the stress of when we were in professional cycling,” Petacchi said. “Our goal will be to try to finish the race, because we never competed in an MTB race before and we do not have the technique of others.”

Three-time world road champion Oscar Freire will also venture onto dirt with Natalia Fischer Egusquiza in the mixed category.

“I’m really excited about racing the Absa Cape Epic this year,” Freire said. “Last year I didn’t train as much as I wanted to, but this year I’m racing with the MMR Factory Racing Team and I have raced a few stage races like the Mediterranean Epic to prepare the Absa Cape Epic. I’m more like a diesel car now.”

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