Mighty Moab bike race to offer test of a lifetime | SteamboatToday.com

Mighty Moab bike race to offer test of a lifetime

— Kris Cannon pedaled slowly up a rise behind the rodeo arena in downtown Steamboat Springs. Fall appeared to have come and gone from the dusty trail that led up Emerald Mountain. Although it was far from cold Tuesday, the air was crisp even in the early afternoon, and the trees that lined the road had shed more golden leaves than they still clung to.

There was plenty of room as another pair of riders zipped past, hustling up the road toward the mountain’s rewarding single track. And there was plenty of room minutes later when those same riders – a child and a parent, taking in the afternoon together – stopped and dismounted. They pushed their bikes up a short but particularly steep section.

“That used to be me, too,” Cannon said.

And she said it would be her again. Cannon is no newbie, but where she’s going, there’s no shame in pushing.

Only four days remained before she launched from the starting line in the solo division of the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race in Utah.

Just deserts

Ask a regular rider, “Why Moab?” and the answer usually amounts to, “What else is there?”

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That’s true in terms of the competition: 1,300 of the country’s best endurance mountain bike riders will swarm to the southeastern Utah site for the race, which begins at noon Saturday and continues to noon Sunday.

“It has the strongest competition, that’s for sure,” said Steamboat’s Kelly Boniface, a Moab veteran who will return this year to serve on Cannon’s support team. “For people in Kris’s arena, the ultra-endurance riders, this is the biggest race and the hardest competition.”

Only seven racers were signed up for the women’s division as of Wednesday evening, but registration will be open through Friday. Already in the field were several experienced solo competitors and Liz Baumgardt-Kays, the leader in the 2008 Suzuki 24 Hour National Points Series. Jari Kirkland, the 2005 and 2007 solo champion, is expected to be joining, as well.

“It’s the original 24-hour race. It has the biggest prize money, and you can expect to see a lot of pro racers,” said Nate Bird, who will make up the other half of Cannon’s pit crew. “People mark on their calendars, ‘Be in Moab.'”

Experienced racers don’t just show up for a reunion. Moab’s usually dry and always spectacular single track made the race a can’t-miss in the first place. The course consists of 15 miles of bobbing and weaving through the Utah desert.

“There are rocky technical sections, fast downhill sections, open road and soft sand,” Steamboat rider Rob Peterson said. “There are a couple sections you have to hike a bike. That variety of terrain is one of the things that brings people out.”

No slowing at night

Peterson plans to ride Moab for the second time this weekend, and he will again do it as part of a four-person team.

One other four-person team and a two-person squad also will trek from Steamboat to the desert.

Peterson will be joined by Nathan Johansing, Doug Demusz and Mike Sharkey, all experienced local riders.

“This will be completely different,” Peterson said, comparing his previous trip to his looming one. “This will be my 17th 24-hour race. That was my third. We’ve learned a lot on what to bring, what to have and what kind of shape you need to be in.”

Regarding the last point, Peterson said he and his team have been canvassing Colorado this summer to prepare. Several of the members rode in August as part of a team at the Rio Stampede 12 Hours of Steamboat, then again at a race in Gunnison.

“We don’t have a specific place in mind, but we want to ride as hard as we can and finish as high as we can,” he said. “We love to ride at night. That’s where we will try to really push it, because some people take it easy, then aren’t used to it and don’t go as fast. We think we can go just as fast.”

The big step

Cannon isn’t so sure about the night. She managed just fine when she won a 24-hour race in Gunnison, but her helmet lamp flickered as that night went along and burnt out entirely last week, when she got it out in preparation for Moab.

Everything else has gone smoothly, Cannon said. Bird’s truck nearly overflowed with supplies, enough for camping the several nights before the race and for nearly everything that could go wrong during the crucial 24 hours.

It took plenty of planning, long lists and several meetings for Cannon, Boniface and Bird to map out the entire event. But it took far more for Cannon to get to the point where sitting on a bike from high noon to high noon seemed like a good idea.

Ever-active while growing up in New Jersey, she rowed for Ohio State University before moving to Steamboat in 1995. She’s tried to master nearly everything outdoors since arriving in the Yampa Valley, especially several years ago when she got waist deep in adventure racing.

One particularly wet event – a Florida race that she said took place almost entirely in deep swamp water – extinguished that ambition. It wasn’t until early this year that her competitive fire reignited, and the admittedly crazy idea of riding Moab solo took hold.

Cannon, 35, said she doesn’t know what to expect. She rode the race once before but only years ago as a part of a four-person team.

She’s prepared to be exhausted to the point where she barely knows what’s going on, and she’s prepared – with the help of a new headlamp – to fight alone through the darkest sections of the course.

And she said she’s prepared, when bogged down in the harsh sands of the lonely desert, to hop off her bike like a child on Emerald and push to the top.

“The caliber of women that will show up for the 24-hour solo race, it’s massive,” Cannon said. “I want to see where I stand among these women, the top ones in the field.

“If I can actually get through this race, I’m going to be pretty damn proud of myself.”

– To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253

or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

Local competitors

Steamboat Springs will be well represented at the 14th annual 24 Hours of Moab

– Division: Women’s Solo

Kris Cannon

– Division: Men’s Expert

Team Healthe-HoneyStinger-Boa

Nathan Johansing

Rob Peterson

Doug Demusz

Mike Sharkey

– Division: Duo Pro/Expert

Team Cotton Kills

Karen Tremaine

Clint Ball

– Division: Men’s Sport

Team That’s What She Said

Brent Boyer

Jesse Demmel

Matthew Haarman

Jeff Raymond

If you go

What: 14th annual 24 Hours of Moab

When: Noon Saturday

Where: The race course is about 15 miles south of Moab, Utah, on U.S. Highway 191. Signs and flags will mark the entrance, on the left side of the road.

On the ‘Net

Track local riders at the 24 Hours of Moab by visiting http://grannygear…