Steamboat Springs resident Nate Bird turns his back Saturday at the 24 Hours of Moab race in Utah as a fierce gust of wind drives sand through the camp of Steamboat competitor Kris Cannon. Strong winds assaulted the campground and the race through most of the day, finally dying down in the early evening.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Springs resident Nate Bird turns his back Saturday at the 24 Hours of Moab race in Utah as a fierce gust of wind drives sand through the camp of Steamboat competitor Kris Cannon. Strong winds assaulted the campground and the race through most of the day, finally dying down in the early evening.

Sand hinders race

Stormy day, cold night at Moab cycling spectacle

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Competitors in the 14th annual 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race sprint away from the start line Saturday. Racers had to finish a short course on foot before hopping on their bikes, a device designed to help separate the field early in the race.

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Nate Bird clings to a Honey Stinger canopy Saturday at the 24 Hours of Moab race in Utah. Bird, who traveled to the race to help support Steamboat Springs competitor Kris Cannon, had a similar experience the night before, when he had to hang on to the tent he was sleeping in to keep it from collapsing. Strong winds slammed the races early hours before finally relenting Saturday evening.

For results

See Monday's Steamboat Today for more Moab coverage, including race results.

On the 'Net

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

Local competitors

Steamboat participants in 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

— The 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race started Le Mans style, with the entire field sprinting a short foot race before jumping on bikes and tearing into the Utah desert.

The hectic start saw great clouds of dust rise behind the competitors as they left the starting line in one gigantic wave.

The riders of Moab faced their first hurdle 12 hours before that mad scramble, though, when a fierce wind picked up at midnight Saturday morning to slam the sandy, red valley. It sent tents, canopies and anything not tied down soaring through the air, and as it continued into the morning, it defined the first hours of the monstrous race.

"Every tent around us had been collapsed by the time we woke up," said Steamboat Springs resident Marla Bailey, in Utah to support Karen Tremaine's two-rider team. "We slept in the truck and were really glad we had.

Our SmartWool canopy survived, but only thanks to some really fine anchoring."

The sandstorm permeated everything and obscured snowy peaks that loomed just a few miles away. Water trucks spent the entire day driving back and forth across the race venue, showering the ground with water. The effort often blew far from the intended target and provided unwanted but effortless showers to anyone standing downwind.

The commotion had many at the race in a bad mood from the moment their alarm clocks sounded. Race founder Laird Knight struggled to get through a 10:30 a.m. riders' meeting without losing his hat or falling over, and real disaster nearly struck just after the race started. A particularly strong gust slammed into a tall metal tower topped with large speakers, several sponsors' banners catching the wind and billowing out like a sail on "Queen Anne's Revenge."

The tower wobbled, and the crowd sprinted for cover, only returning to stand near it when the banners were taken down and the structure was secured moments later.

All in the attitude

But the race went on. And on and on, and through it all, the festival atmosphere of this great race began to emerge.

As the noon start approached, a team of riders made its way toward the starting line, one member riding a 5-foot tall bike, one riding with a large stereo system attached and two others riding with 1980s-style stationary exercise bikes strapped to their rear fenders.

The competitor who won the foot race and was the first back to the bike racks did so despite running with a large stuffed penguin attached to his helmet.

When the wind finally died down later in the afternoon, grills emerged, fireworks popped and the music blared. And all the while, the race went on.

The 15-mile loop brought its own challenges.

"I didn't notice the wind so much when I was riding," said Doug Demusz, riding Saturday with fellow Steamboat competitors Nathan Johansing, Mike Sharkey and Rob Peterson. "It was pretty sandy out on the course, and it will probably only get worse as the riders keep going through it."

It was the sand Demusz referenced - lying thick on the ground rather than that which was blown through the air -- that caused trouble into the evening. The field thinned quickly after the fast start. Still, sandy bottlenecks on the course forced weaker riders to get off and push, which caused traffic jams in the middle of the Utah desert.

Other dangers loomed as darkness approached. Knight warned about hypothermia at the morning meeting.

Demusz wasn't too worried, however. At least for that, he came prepared.

"I brought enough layers to go skiing for four days," he said.

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