Scott Countryman reports from the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo

Racing the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is one of my fondest mountain bike racing memories of all time. I don’t remember exactly when I first raced the 24HOP because it was so long ago but I think I was 15 years old. A riding buddy asked if I wanted to be on a team with him and it seemed like the cool thing to do so I said yes not really having any idea what it was or would be like. I bought some lights, went night riding a few times, and then had an incredible time at the race.
The event is like nothing else I’ve ever done. Held on private ranch property in the middle of the desert, mountain bikers descend on a normally empty plot of land and create a city. 24 Hour Town has a population of over three thousand and exists less than one week per year. There are streets, vendors, a local radio station, and a non-stop party. Whether you are there to throw down or just have a good time, you can’t help but partake in the shenanigans.

I went to 24 Hour Town this year as part of a four person team made up of some local shredders that are also part of the Enduro racing community. We usually prefer to get rowdy on big squishy bikes but also enjoy some good hard pedaling from time to time. And having just started back on the training schedule, I had no expectations for the weekend of racing. My only goal was to beat my course personal record of one hour and two minutes.
Race weekend kicked off with a lot of unexpected rain. From when I left home Thursday night to Saturday morning, it seemed like it rained more than it didn’t. The 12 miles of dirt road to get to 24 Hour Town became a mud bog and ended up getting closed to vehicles without 4wd. Luckily my little van and I made it through before it got too bad but it was looking like the race would be a sloppy mess. When the sun finally came out Saturday morning, you could literally hear cries of joy all around camp. The clouds burned off and the dirt started drying out leaving crisp clean air and the most heroic dirt any desert has ever seen.

As most 24 hour races do, the Old Pueblo begins with a Le Mans start. The lucky first lap riders, like myself, line up there bikes at the exchange tent and walk up the road a quarter mile to the start line. At 12 noon, a shotgun blast starts a stampede of racers awkwardly running to their bikes in XC mountain bike shoes.

I got a good start position near the front of the pack before the run began and as I was nearing my bike to jump on I noticed a familiar looking fellow running next to me. Lance Armstrong! Say what you want about him but he will always be a legend. And I just passed him. While running. At a mountain bike race. Odd. But that didn’t last long; a few minutes later ripping across the first dirt road section called “The Bitches”, Lance zoomed past me. I jumped on his wheel and tried to hang on but was quickly popped.
After the first couple miles of dirt road, the race course is mostly single track. Twisting and turning around every kind of pokey cactus you can imagine, it can feel like a high speed slalom of impending death. Though it is not rough, this is where having mountain bike skills can pay off. Carrying speed around corners with confidence you will not end up getting acupuncture can save you a lot of time; and a little after the halfway point I caught back up to Lance. Surprisingly as soon as he heard me behind him, he pulled over and let me by. “Thanks Lance!”
I buried myself to finished the lap coming in just under an hour. Passed the batton off to my teammate, and as I was exiting the exchange tent I saw Lance roll in. Not trying to brag or anything, but I beat Lance Armstrong at a mountain bike race! At that point I felt like I could throw in the towel. My goal for the race was to beat my personal record of one hour and two minutes which I just did. And I beat Lance Armstrong while doing it so I could chill out for the rest of the race, right? Nope. If I have a number plate on my bike, I’m going hard.

Each lap after the first felt like it would be my last and there was no way I could hold the pace I was pushing. I was feeling muscle twinges on lap three, my first night lap; managed to keep the cramps at bay but came in with a much slower time. After changing my electrolyte intake, my lap times started falling again and they kept falling all the way to my last lap, number six, which ended up being my second fastest lap of the race.

My teammates had similar experiences. Crushing first laps, dark times around half way (no pun intended), and a resurgence after sunrise with killer final laps. We had worked our way up to fifth place and held it all the way to the finish. For a couple enduro racers at a cross country race, we were stoked!
First race of the year and first podium of the year! As I have said before, this time of year can be a little odd; I am putting in a lot of work to get in shape for race season but with no real gauge on how the fitness is coming along. A preseason race like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is a great test and I think I passed with flying colors. With new motivation to train hard I am looking forward to kicking off the Enduro race season at the South American EWS races in a month. Wish me luck!