Friday, June 10, 2005

Mountain bikers trade karma for the win

Sun Summit South team takes second in 24-hour relay


Nice guys finish last, so the saying goes.

In the case of Chris Coury and the Sun Summit South mountain bike team, however, nice guys finished second.

Riding in the NORBA (National Off-Road Biking Association) 24-hour Round the Clock Relay, the Sun Summit South team of Chip Deffe, Victor Thomas, Erik Rols and Coury competed in the four-man Elite Male division from noon, Saturday, May 28 to noon Sunday, May 29 at Spokane, Wash.

The race drew over 700 cyclists from the western U.S. Deffe said it was a throwback to the days when mountain bike racing was more about just-getting-out-there than winning.

The eccentric event began with a fittingly eccentric LeMans start, a car-racing practice that originated in France with drivers racing on foot to their idling roadsters. At Spokane, the Round the Clock relay thinned out the starting field as racers ran 600 yards to their waiting bikes.

With two members over 40—Deffe, 44 and Thomas, 40—Sun Summit South was one of the oldest teams competing in its division. This brought the news that they were in the lead heading into the night laps as an even greater surprise.

With only a few good training days "under their butts," the team was in better condition than they realized.

Mentally, they had been broken in from a brutal ride from Hailey to the top of Trail Creek Road that caught all four in a torrential, freezing cold "hurricane," as Deffe remembered their hellish night practice ride of Thursday, May 5.

By the time the four got home to Hailey through the torrential rains they "were all fully hypothermic," he recalled somewhat proudly.

With such character building behind them, the team headed into Spokane with a relaxed mindset. No matter how tough it got, it couldn't be "anywhere near as bad as that Thursday night," Deffe said.

"We went up with no expectations, just to have fun," said Deffe.

Once the four learned that they had a chance of being national champions, "all the game faces came on." Deffe, a former world-ranked professional mogul skier, said the entire team has a high capacity for competitive zeal.

By 9 p.m. that night, Sun Summit South had increased its lead to 20 minutes over the next closest team, a group whose oldest member was in his early 30s.

A Good Deed Done

With the sun down, the team sparked its halogen head and bike lamps and hunkered down for night laps.

As each man rode four laps at a time (1 lap equaling 15 miles with a 900-foot gain), the other team riders could snooze roughly three hours between turns. Amazingly, and a credit to riders and lighting alike, Sun Summit's night laps averaged only three to four minutes slower than their afternoon times.

In the middle of the night, Coury found himself chasing a "very fast girl" from an elite women's team. As she attacked Devils Down, a particularly "nasty, rocky downhill that was sketchy even during the day" with Coury on her heels, she crashed hard, badly injuring one arm and losing one of her tires.

Coury's compassion overpowered his competitive drive as he stopped to calm the injured racer, whose arm was possibly broken, and fix her flat tire. When he eventually told her that he was currently in first place, she demanded he leave and carry on racing.

Roughly 15 minutes outside the main camp, Coury's lamp ran out of batteries, forcing him to "crawl" along the last stretch. By the time he made camp, Sun Summit South had lost its 20-minute lead and, despite battling all morning, would eventually lose the national title by nine minutes.

"We got good karma points," said Deffe.

For its second-place finish, Sun Summit South also received a bottle of wine, medals, and "a bunch of good stories."

At race's end, the entire finish camp was "lit up like a Christmas tree" as some teams had to comb the forest for lost teammates, a couple of whom had wandered into the woods, delirious with fatigue.

From the entire experience, Deffe was most impressed by the two solo riders, masochistic individuals who completed the 24-hour race alone.

The winning man, Cameron Chambers, rode the same 21 laps as the entire Sun Summit South team; the solo woman, a Spanish racer, rode 19 laps in the same time.

To Deffe, endurance races are at once the exciting future and the glorious past of bike racing. The racers "are out there for fun and camaraderie and swapping lies at the end of the thing," he said.

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