2015 sees the 24 Hour Solo World Championships return to North America for the first time since 2009 and the first visit under WEMBO’s stewardship. Every year the debate rages about the quality of field and the riders missing but arguably this year sees the greatest breadth of quality riders with the top Aussies facing off against the best US and Canadian racers. There’s also no shortage of quality Europeans to make it a truly international field.
[caption id="attachment_13266" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Mountains & Redwoods for the WEMBO Weaverville course[/caption]
The Northern Californian town of Weaverville on the edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is hosting the event with the course running through the Weaver Basin Trail network. The town have been preparing for the event for well over a year with the steering committee putting in a huge amount of work to ensure racers from all around the world have everything they need. They’ve arranged some innovative initiatives such as local host families providing accommodation and a warm welcome, on site mechanical and light charging support and a week of festivities kicked off on the preceding weekend with the 4 and 8 hours of Weaverville races where racers can familiarise themselves with the course and support crews can also get some time on the course.
[caption id="attachment_13265" align="aligncenter" width="796"] Plenty of climbing makes this one for the mountain goats[/caption]
The course itself is classic Northern Californian mountain biking; a mix of singletrack and jeep roads, well buffed trails flowing in and out of the trees. With a course length of approximately 12.5 miles the leaders should be lapping in around an hour and it will be interesting to see if the winning rider can maintain that sort of pace and complete or even exceed twenty four laps. The course seems straightforward; straight up, straight down with a bit of flat in the middle but with over 600 metres climbing per lap this is definitely a course for the mountain goats who can also descend efficiently. Our local expert warns against underestimating the nature of the climbing. From the profile the main 3.1 mile climb looks to be a manageable 9% average gradient but this belies the reality; starting off gently over the first mile the hard pack shale and gravel kicks up relentlessly over the final 2/3rds. Effort and traction management will be crucial and racers who pace this effort early on will have an advantage later in the race. The downhills are less technical that previous World 24 Hour Solo Championships but will still require a high level of skill to carry speed and preserve energy.
[caption id="attachment_13264" align="aligncenter" width="790"] Laps are expected to take around an hour for the leaders[/caption]
Entries closed around thirty six hours prior to race start so let’s look at the contenders, starting with the Elite category. The big news is the absence of defending Women’s Elite champion Kim Hurst who is giving her body a break from the rigours of 24 hour solo racing. She’s looking ahead to more XC racing next year with the Oceania Champs in March and the World Cup in Cairns, Australia in April. Don’t write off an appearance at the 2016 WEMBO Worlds as these are being held in her adopted home country of New Zealand.
With Kim missing we’ll be crowning a brand new World Champion on Sunday afternoon. Coloradan Sonia Looney looks to have good form with recent stage race and 100 miler victories. As does fellow American Christy Olsen who recently won a round of the NUE series at the Pierre’s Hole 100 miler. Canada’s Julie Kelly brings recent 24 hour solo form into the race with podiums at the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo earlier this year and the recent 24 Hours Round The Clock. The biggest question she’ll have to answer is whether she can recover sufficiently to race so many 24 solos in such a short period of time.
[caption id="attachment_13273" align="aligncenter" width="639"] Canada's Julie Kelly is a contender[/caption]
Other racers with 24 solo credentials include Morgan Hill’s Rita Borelli who bagged bronze at the 2013 US National 24 Hour Solo Champs and Australian Kate Penglase who placed a highly creditable 8th at the 2013 WEMBO World’s in Canberra against a very high quality field. She’s making the trip to California and looking to step up to the next performance level.
Watch out for Myriam Guillot-Boisset who could spring a surprise. Not well known in endurance MTB circles but she’s accomplished on the Xterra scene and an Adventure racing World Champion. Mari Chandler is another Adventure racer who could convert her endurance and resourcefulness into success. Sadly there will be no British representation in the Elite Women’s filed as Amanda Brooks has withdrawn having lost the last four months to illness.
[caption id="attachment_13263" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Multiple World 24 Solo Champion Jason English is going for his 6th title[/caption]
The Men’s Elite race is shaping up to be an intriguing battle with both renewed rivalries and new showdowns on the menu. The most important question is whether anybody can challenge multiple world champion Jason English’s six year domination of the sport. He has not been beaten in a 24 hour solo since finishing 2nd at the 2008 World Championships and this year sees him going for his sixth rainbow jersey. He’s completed fewer 24s in 2015 but has still taken victories including the Jet Black 12 Hour in July and has clocked a phenomenal amount training time as usual as last weekend’s 445km training ride proves. You can’t fail to admire his motivation and be assured if he is on the start he’ll be racing for the win.
A trio of Americans will be aiming to topple the Australian champion and claim the stripes for themselves on home soil. Arguably the most remarkable challenger is 2007 World 24 Hour Champion 54 year old David ‘Tinker’ Juarez who despite is advancing years has elected to race Elite rather than Age Category citing age as being no obstacle to performance. Tinker will be able to call on experience, climbing ability and proven performance in the heat with top temperatures over the race weekend potentially reaching the high 20s. The biggest challenge he’ll face will be lack of preparation with a broken pelvis interrupting much of his 2015 season.
Renowned fast starter Kelly Magelky will be aiming to avenge a bad experience at last year’s WEMBO World Champs in Fort William. The technical rocky course was not to his liking but he’ll be right at home on the smooth Weaverville circuit. Magelky is likely to gamble on a fast start and if he can build a big enough lead and recover sufficiently on the extended smooth descents, he could hang on for the win. English is unlikely to be drawn into a suicide start so it will be interesting to see which of the other contenders take the bait and how it impacts their race.
[caption id="attachment_13268" align="aligncenter" width="1382"] Josh Tostado has never raced English - can he upset the champion?[/caption]
Third of the US contenders; Josh Tostado has never raced Jason English prior to Weaverville so in my view this is the most intriguing battle on the cards. Tostado has great credentials with multiple victories at the US National 24 Solo Champs and legendary event 24 Hours of Moab. Recent wins including the Vapour Trail 125 show he has form but commentators have suggested the Weaverville course won’t suit him with a lack of elevation. If he can stay in the mix until the final lap showdown experience and determination will provide him a shot at the top step of the podium.
Eleventh hour entrant Canadian Cory Wallace knows the competition well having contested the 2010 and 2013 24 Hour Solo Worlds in Canberra. On both occasions mechanical and other problems took him out of the hunt for victory but with access to strong support and a smooth run up to the race he is possibly the greatest threat to Jason English’s domination. Although the course isn’t technical, descending prowess will be critical to the end result if a group is contesting the final lap, especially as English is such an accomplished technician. Wallace is potentially an equal to the Australian in terms of skills and the Weaverville course lacks the puncture risk which undid his previous Worlds challenge.
As for the British contenders; after filling two steps on the Elite podium at both the WEMBO Worlds at Finale Ligure in 2012 and Fort William in 2014, the British team is a mix of old hands and growing talent. Jason Miles is hoping to avoid the problems that plagued last year’s race and capitalise on what he has described as a near perfect build up. His silver medal in 2012 demonstrates he has the ability to podium and if the North American’s risk it all on a fast start Jason will be ready to clean up the debris.
Growing talent Matt Jones has stepped up both category and performance in 2015. The course doesn’t play well to his technical strength but he has great support and has put the work in this year so if he can put together a good race his goal of top ten is certainly feasible.
[caption id="attachment_13272" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Rob Friel shook things up in Fort William - can he improve on his result with more experience?[/caption]
For real Rob Friel is likely to scare the established names after the Scottish firecracker caused carnage with his early pace in Fort William last year. Spectators at the 2014 race were witness to the impressive lap times he was dishing out but few are aware that he was stopping to heat and consume soup each lap during the night. With more experience, a better feeding strategy and hopefully a more controlled approach to pacing he is my outside bet for a medal or even better.
The Brits have strong medal contenders in other categories as well. Singlespeeder Steve Day is looking to overturn recent Australian domination and some big wins in the UK show his ability. He’ll have to beat one gear legend Brett Bellchambers who himself has been beaten this year by compatriot David Speering. Lisa Cross is looking for a good result in the Women’s Singlespeed race, Richie Scott faces a highly competitive 40-44 category while John Pitchers is looking to build on a great run of WEMBO results in the 55-59 age group.
[caption id="attachment_13271" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Dry weather but a wide temperature range[/caption]
The latest weather forecast calls for dry mostly sunny conditions with temperatures ranging from 7 to 28 degrees Celsius. Action commences at 12 Noon Pacific Daylight Time on Saturday 3rd October. Followers from the UK will need to remember that Weaverville is eight hours behind so follow UKXCNews.com on Twitter from 8pm UK time. Live race timing can be found at the following link:-