Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ketchum gals bike, all night long, to Moab win

24-hour mountain bike race no big thing for Wood River locals


"Team Ketchum If You Can" winners, from left, Anna Keeling, Karoline Droege, Muffy Ritz and Rebecca Rusch. Courtesy photo

For Karoline Droege and the rest of "Team Ketchum If You Can," winning was a secondary concern as they prepared for the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike marathon.

When Droege decided to join friends and teammates Rebecca Rusch, Muffy Ritz and Anna Keeling for the round-the-clock endurance classic in southern Utah this past weekend, fun was her main objective.

Fun appeared to be the most they could hope for as Saturday's first laps finished on the tough 15-mile course that featured a 1,360-foot climb per lap. That's because the Ketcnum-based team fell further and further behind the main competition, Team JANS of Park City.

As dawn to turned to day, though, split times revealed that a down-to-the-wire battle was brewing between Ketchum and the Park City team in the Expert Women's division.

Team JANS had come out of the gate on fire and had developed an overnight lead. But Ketchum's consistency kept chipping away at the lead in the mid-morning sun.

With only one lap remaining, Ketchum had a three-minute advantage. Under pressure, the women turned to Rusch, the team captain whose endless resume of adventure and endurance racing makes her a formidable foe in most athletic contests.

Ultimately it was Rusch's final lap—a blistering 1.17:57 pace that was also the fastest lap biked by any expert woman—that propelled her team to victory.

"I knew she was close behind, so I just had to put the hammer down and go for it—I didn't want her to catch me," said Rusch of her final lap against Team JANS rider Roxanne Toly.

With Rusch flattening back her ears and digging in for that final push, the competition didn't stand much of a chance; Rusch was a full 11 minutes faster than Toly.

Though it was clear that her extensive experience racing through distant locales in the dead of night had helped Rusch, she was also surprised that her final lap was her fastest. Overall, it was the third fastest lap biked by any female at Moab this weekend.

"Rebecca was instrumental in our victory," said a characteristically modest Droege, who is the only team member who holds down a "real" job; she is a physical therapist in Ketchum.

Ritz has several years experience with endurance racing, including years spent on the U.S. Nordic Ski Team, and Keeling is, like Rusch, a professional adventure racer who is also a mountaineering guide.

"They have jobs, jobs as athletes," said Droege of her teammates.

Despite the relative lack of endurance training compared with such elite teammates, Droege made up huge amounts of time with effortlessly fast downhill attacks.

According to Rusch, Droege's alpine ski experience explained how she zoomed past many men and dropped off ledges and cliffs that had her teammates off their saddles and walking.

"I did my job and kept us in the race and then let the pros win it," said Droege.

Droege, Ritz and Rusch weren't the only Wood River Valley riders punishing themselves at Moab this weekend. Greg Martin of Hailey was one of the truly brave, a solo rider with only his two legs to depend on for the 24-hour race. Martin finished tenth in the solo division with a total time of 12:47:50 on 14 laps.

Todd Johnston of Ketchum rode in the duo division with former Hailey schoolteacher Randy Berner of Menlo Park, Ca. The two completed 16 laps in 12:47:13 and their team, "Number Six, Ogie Oglethorpe," finished sixth in the class.

Forming "Team Can't Ketchum," was Greg Stock of Ketchum and the three Hagues: Jim, 49, Jimmy, 14, and Davis, 12, all of Hailey. The team finished ten laps in 11:29:28.

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