Cyclists prep for 24-hour bike race in Gunnison

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— There's nothing easy about a 24-hour mountain bike race, and Steamboat Springs riders hitting the road this weekend for the 24 Hours in the Sage race in Gunnison stopped short of using the "e" word to describe the challenge.

But it's a course without the punishing sand of Moab, Utah, and it's a smoother ride than the trail at last month's 24-hour world championships in Canada. The 24 Hours in the Sage race has longer circuits than the 18 hours of Fruita, which signaled the start of the season for local endurance riders.

"It's a fun course that won't wreck your body. It's a course that lends itself really well to singlespeed racing," said Steamboat resident Nate Bird, heading to compete on a four-person singlespeed team.

Not easy, but fun, was the consensus. A strong local contingent will head south for the race, which stretches from noon Saturday to noon Sunday. Local riders will be looking not just to have a good time but to extend their dominance at the event.

Kris Cannon will try to defend her title. She smashed the solo competition in the race a year ago. She finished 14, 15-mile laps on the course - five more laps than any of her chasers.

Last year's triumph was more than just another race for Cannon. It was a starting point.

She went on to finish second at the 24 Hours of Moab, win this season's 18 Hours of Fruita and finish sixth in July's 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Championships in Canmore, Alberta.

"Fitness-wise, I'm definitely better this year," Cannon said. "I started prepping so much earlier this year, with the 18 Hours of Fruita. Last year I didn't even have my first big race at this point. Now, I have two under my belt."

She'll be joined on the course by Dereck Fish, who has spent the summer riding in Steamboat. Fish is the reigning Gunnison men's champion and was third in the singlespeed division at the world championships.

Local rider Jaimie Zelkin also will tackle the course, attempting her second endurance solo ride after finishing third at Fruita.

Bird will ride on the singlespeed team with biking endurance regular Rob Peterson, Orange Peel's Tad Huser and Vail cyclist Ryan Sullivan.

"I don't want to jinx our chances, but I want to win our division," Bird said. "We can do pretty well overall, too. I'm at a really strong point in the season, and the team is all feeling strong, too."

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