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NORBA 24-Hours National Championship
24 Hours of 9 Mile, Wasau, Wisconsin, USA, July 29-30, 2006
Eatough regains National Championship jersey
By Steve Medcroft
The 24 Hours of 9-Mile in Wasau, Wisconsin, host to the 2006 NORBA National 24 Hour Endurance National Championships, was called Sunday morning after twenty hours of racing. Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) became the 2006 Solo 24 Hour National Champion when severe thunderstorms rolled into the region and threatened the safety of competitors, crews, volunteers and spectators. At the time, Eatough had essentially lapped the entire solo men's field. Nat Ross (Subaru/Gary Fisher) was second on the trail.
Staged in and around a nordic ski park, the 2006 edition of 24 Hours of the 9-Mile was Eatough's first visit to the Wisconsin racecourse. "I liked it," he said by phone on Thursday. "It had a lot of singletrack and suited me." Suited him because although Eatough first thought he would race conservatively, the extended stretches of singletrack gave him an opportunity to open gaps on his closest competitor. "I planned to start out conservatively and follow people. But it worked out that I could ride the singletrack quickly without using up a lot of energy."
The only racer who Eatough needed to shake was eventual runner-up Ross. "I wanted to be up front with the team riders in the first lap," Ross said during the fourteen-hour drive home to Vail, Colorado on Monday. "You have to have a good run or work your way through the field to get there though. I had a good run and was top four or five. Chris was ten seconds behind me after the first lap." The pair got together for the second and part of the third lap. Then Eatough upped the pressure. "Chris started attacking me on the singletrack and I never saw him again," Ross said.
From there, the remaining drama in the race came courtesy of the weather. And despite worries that extreme daytime heat and humidity would factor in the outcome, it was a rash of active lightning storms that forced the promoter to halt the action. At the time, Eatough, with his pits, bike tuning, feeding and fitness all well under control, had lapped every solo racer but Ross. "After I went out on a lap at about 5:30, they were directing people into a shelter at the first Marshall point," Ross said. "You could hear the crackling of the lightning and the activity of the storms before the rain even started."
Scores of other competitors were caught in the deluge. "The weather was really bad," Eatough said. "I was riding in the storm and it was okay but you never know how bad the lightning could have been so I think the promoter did the right thing by stopping us."
The race was restarted in the next hour but, after less than a full lap's worth of time, was stopped again. The promoter announced that the race was canceled and the official finish would be timed off every rider's last logged lap (at 5:30, before the first stoppage). “The first concern for all events is rider safety,” said race promoter Kevin Eccles. “Based on the conditions at that time and on the radar images of coming storms, stopping the race was the only way we could ensure the safety of the riders.”
"I don't think the promoter had too many options," Eatough said. "I think he did the right thing."
Not everyone was totally pleased with the announcement. Endurance pro Ernesto Marenchin wrote on his blog that "I felt like I was coming on strong (and could maybe gain a placing), but it was probably the most fair thing for the results."
The win was Eatough's third third national championship; except for last year, he's won the race every time he's entered it. He says he'll now focus on his preparation to extend his streak of 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Championships to seven. "My fitness seems to be at the right place at the right time," he said. "But we have two months to go. I'll let myself recover from this race then resume my training. Try to be ready."
Rebecca Rusch (Red Bull/Specialized) won the women's championship. Defending champion Monique Sawicki (Team MATA/Sho-Air) has seen her fitness suffer after a crash at the Marathon World Cup in Mont Saint Anne, Canada and, racked with pain, had to withdraw mid-race.
Four-person team, Master's and junior-team championship categories were also decided at 9-Mile.
Solo Men 1 Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) 17 laps 2 Nat Ross (Subaru/Gary Fisher) 16 3 Mark Hendershot (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 15 4 Eddie O'Dea (Kona/SSnine Performance) 15 5 Ernesto Marenchin 15 6 Sloane Anderson 15 7 Greg Martin 14 8 Jim Pederson 14 9 Brian Sevall 14 10 Scott Cole 14 Solo Women 1 Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) 13 2 Danielle Musto (Slingshot Bikes) 13 3 Sue Juedes 13 4 Chirstina Betz 13 5 Sandra Tomlinson 12 6 Karen Armstrong 11 7 Tamari Pruis 10 8 Monique Sawicki (Team MATA) 9 9 Holly Forsyth 9 10 Michelle Riley 7