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By E. Andra Whitworth*
As the moon shone over the 12 Hours of Oleta endurance race held Saturday, December 1st in Miami, Fla., mountain bikers were cranking up the last lap of a competition so fierce that "Naked Man" Dave Williams didn't even have time to get bare in the woods.
"I couldn't this time," said Williams of Straightline Racing, who is known in MTB circles for his tendency to strip down and streak to the finish line. "It was too intense. We had been in third and then we had our chance for second place. I just couldn't this year. There wasn't time."
Before the race, Williams had given every indication that he would repeat the memorable ritual which has stunned crowds, park officials and race directors across the American Southeast and which he performed for the Oleta crowd at last year's inaugural race. Williams clearly stated that he was not afraid to be naked amidst Florida's tropical insects; furthermore, he said he was likely to carry the team's number plate across the finish on a stick.
But streaking is only one of the surprises likely to occur in endurance racing, where athletes may respond to unusual physical demands in unusual ways, say sport veterans.
"I have seen very disturbing things," said Melvin Lugo of Orlando, Fla., who provides support and training assistance for John Moorhouse of Team 24, a team specializing in 24-hour solo mountain bike competition. "Especially at night, you are likely to see weird things - especially with food. I have seen a man eat butter. It was very disturbing. I couldn't sleep after that."
There really is no predicting what you might see at an endurance MTB race; although, ironically, the sport requires rigid consistency. "Endurance, 12 and 24-hour mountain biking races are mental. They demand more maturity. The winners in these races are older than cross-country," said Lugo. "You have to be mature enough to understand what you need. Most of the younger cross-country guys who come here die somewhere around lap four. These races need patience."
Patience is a word John Moorhouse must understand. Moorhouse, 31 of Orlando, directs Team 24 and is also a competitor. He entered the 2001 12 Hours of Oleta as defending solo champion. On Saturday, Moorhouse rode the 12-mile course 11 times to maintain his first-place status.
"It feels really good to defend the title successfully," said Moorhouse, who said the mental exhaustion was worse than the physical exhaustion of riding roughly 132 miles along the very technical, predominantly single-track course. "Having to concentrate and keep going is hard. My energy level fell a little bit, and it's hard to keep going when you feel tired."
Moorhouse suffered a flat tire early in the first lap, passing the men's solo lead to Nixon, 30, of Fort Lauderdale, with Rich Mularski in second. Nixon flew through the single track, leading many to believe that he might be the next solo champion. Mularski, who was said to have suffered severe dehydration at the 2000 12 Hours of Oleta race, abandoned after noontime.
Nixon was still riding strong, but by the fifth lap Moorhouse was in the lead and kept it until the end. In men's relay, team Broken Spoke Bicycles/Jamis made their MTB debut. It was the first race for the Broken Spoke/Jamis team, which comprises the former Dirt Daubers/K-2 expert racers. The team was riding under an hour each daytime lap, with night riding times hovering just above one hour. They ended the evening after 12 laps.
According to Kevin Lanford of Broken Spoke/Jamis, the Oleta race is special. He says that he, with other riders and Chris Marshall, owner of Broken Spoke Bicycles, have done much of the trail maintenance and even built the first 5 miles of the 10-mile Oleta course.
"Chris is the originator of the MTB trails in Miami," says Lanford. Park officials have documented that the once-fledgling mountain bike park now entertains more than 100,000 riders each year, making it one of the busiest mountain biking courses in the United States. Lanford says the 12-hour races are good for training during the winter, and the night riding adds a dimension of difficulty.
"Endurance races, when you're on relay, is really good training because you do one hour of all-out fast," he said. "And the night races, I wouldn't miss them for the world."
Opinion was mixed concerning night racing. Either riders loved it or they hated it, but nobody seemed to have moderate feelings.
For Julie Barker of West Palm Beach, the night ride was exhilarating. "Wow!" she exclaimed at the scoring area after she had completed her first night lap. "That was my best lap. Well, not my fastest, but the most fun."
Night riding gets high reviews from Williams, who practices riding at night at least once a week. "I like night riding," said Williams. "Everything's in front. There's nothing peripheral."
Greg Tayon of Miami, has the light set required for night rides, but doesn't use it. Instead, he rode down to the staging area on Saturday from his home in North Miami to deliver his lights to his brother Steve, who was a solo rider at Oleta and recently did the La Ruta race in Costa Rica.
Tayon says night riding and endurance racing is crazy, and he isn't into that. "It's crazy. I don't understand. I want to have fun, not race."
But others at the race had gathered specifically for fun. Team Diabolical, comprising two Miami-area police officers and a fireman, competes together in adventure and endurance races. According to Charlie London, "We're just out today to have fun. There haven't been any adventure races lately, and we're not really in shape to compete. So we're just here to have a good time."
The race staff at 12 Hours of Oleta promises to deliver a good race. This year's production included a live jazz band and bonfire, with plenty of food and good prize incentives. Race officials also encourage people to give mountain biking in South Florida a try.
"We definitely put on a good race, and we are known for good courses," said Ian Rothstein, race director for 12 Hours of Oleta, which is organized by Urban Trails Kayaking Company in Oleta Park.
"We don't have the climbs and drops of the Western states, but the mountain biking here is very challenging and we make a technical course," Rothstein added. "When we go up north, we have trouble on the climbs because we can't practice that well. But the technical racers here in Miami and South Florida can measure up in ability to the best in the country."
12 Hours of Oleta will enter its third season in 2002. Rothstein and Robert O'Shields direct both the 12-hour race and the Ford No Boundaries Mountain Bike Challenge series, which has become a major regional event and draws more than 300 riders.
More information about 12 Hours of Oleta and the Ford No Boundaries spring season for 2002 are available at www.urbantrails.com.
E. Andra Whitworth is a writer in Athens, Georgia. Her work has been published by the University of Texas Press, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review and the Athens Banner-Herald, where she is a cycling and outdoor features writer.
Jay Hendrickson/WRS Racing Team took the following photos.
12-mile laps Men's Solo 1 John Moorhouse 11 laps 2 Eric Stone 10 3 Nixon 10 Women's Solo 1 Kathy Gibbs 7 laps 2 Connie Kuroch 6 3 Karina Kuoll 5 4 (ANDRA WHITWORTH 1 LAP - I KNOW, SHAMEFUL) Men's Relay Elite 1 Broken Spoke Bicycles/Jamis 12 laps 2 Bike Tech 12 3 Village Bike 12 Men's Relay Beginner 1 Jim's Bicycles 12 laps 2 Bicycle Fitness 12 3 2 Cubans and a Gringo 12 Women's Relay 1 Dirt Goddesses 9 laps 2 Lonikimana 7 Coed Relay Beginner 1 2 Guys and An Ass 11 laps 2 Fall 10 3 Barker Lounger 10 Corporate Relay 1 Baja Cafe 12 laps 2 Straightline Racing 11 3 WRS Racing 11
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