November 23, 2015/ Guest
Let me just start by saying riding 24 hours on the asphalt is something I thought I would never do. In fact I’ve refused the idea on several occasions in the past. For me, the thrill of slamming my MTB wheels into a rut, carving a nice smooth berm or catching a little air off the lip of the jump is why I ride. Or so I thought. This adventure all started two months ago while racing the 12 Hours of Weaverville in preparation for the 24 hour MTB world championships the following month. A chance conversation with Vic Armijo, the race director of the Weaverville race, sparked his interest to see if he could get me to compete in the road 24 hour world time trial championships held two months later. I told him something along the lines of, “There’s no way you’d ever get me to ride a road bike for 24 hours because I don’t think my ass could handle it unless I got to ride one of those lay down recumbent bikes.” Fast forward a few weeks and I get a call from Vic saying he had just talked with Jim and Maria Parker over at Cruzbike. He claimed the Parkers were intrigued by the idea of a mountain biker competing on a recumbent in the Borrego Springs 24 hour time trial world championships. There seemed to be a bit of skepticism about whether I could actually be competitive on a bike I had never ridden before with only 6 weeks before the event. I basically told them that if it had two wheels, I could ride it and with a little practice, I could ride it farther and faster than just about anybody else. A week later the world’s biggest cardboard shipping box arrived with a fully assembled Cruzbike Vendetta V20 inside.
If the first ride on the Vendetta V20 taught me anything, it was that this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. I basically had to relearn how to ride a bicycle from scratch. For the first half dozen rides I stuck to a bike path so I could focus on riding without the distraction of cars passing me. After a week, I jumped into my first group ride and started to stretch my legs a bit. I spent the next four weeks riding the Vendetta V20 at lunch with a group of local road racers that consisted of a one hour sprint session. Short fast one hour rides is hardly the best way to get ready for a 24 hour race but I still had two 24 hr MTB races and one 12 hr MTB race in the weeks leading up to the 24 hr road race, so time on my legs was an issue. I also used any spare time I had to make some minor tweaks to the V20 to make it more 24 hour race ready. With the race fast approaching, I was able to squeeze in one long 108 mile ride which was anything but flat like the Borrego Springs race would be, but at least it was time on the bike. There were a lot of unknowns going into this race about what was going to happen after 100 miles but I figured I would just have to adapt as I went.
Thursday evening, I loaded up the V20 and all necessary gear, tools and spare parts and headed south to Simi Valley to pick up my best friend Jon Rock who would be acting as my chief mechanic and nutritional support for the weekend. Jon is that friend I probably don’t deserve, but he’s been the keystone to almost every one of my motorcycle racing efforts since the early 2000s when I started racing motorcycles. It felt good to have him back in my corner for our first bicycle race together. We headed out Friday morning at 5 a.m. to Borrego Springs to hopefully get in an early lap on course and set up our pit spot early enough to sleep a few hours before the 6 p.m. start time. The pre-ride lap went well but we found out our two way radios only worked for about a mile at best when mounted directly onto the handlebars, so the pit crew wasn’t going to get much of an early warning before each pit stop. The pit area was also all coned off and inaccessible till 1:30, so we couldn’t set up early enough to get a decent nap before the start of the race. I was going to be 13 hours into my day before putting in my first pedal stroke. We did get to meet several of the other racers as we all waited to setup and, as expected from a group of endurance racers, the atmosphere was very relaxed. The late morning entertainment consisted of watching people attempt to parallel park on the Christmas Circle roundabout which was pure comedy.
Jason and Jon in the pit before the race.
Maria Parker and Lucia Parker from Cruzbike stopped by to say hi before the start of the race. This was my first chance to meet any of the actual Cruzbike team. Maria had also brought out a disc rear wheel for me to use and after some shenanigans with someone else’s crack pipe and a leaky inner tube, it was ready to go. Even though I was 7 hours early to the venue, I still felt rushed in the final hour before the start.
Jason's pit setup and the Vendetta V20 glow in the early darkness before the race start.
With only a few minutes before the start, I sat back and chilled at the start line discussing race and pit strategies with Maria.
" With only a few minutes before the start, I sat back and chilled at the start line discussing race and pit strategies with Maria."
I’m no novice when it comes to racing so I was rather calm before the start. Maria seemed a little more on edge which is understandable considering she just met me an hour ago and didn’t know if I could walk the walk. The recumbent class would be starting in the second wave, one minute after the first wave, so already the overall leaders I’d be gunning for would be out of sight before I got started. A one minute deficit at the start isn’t a big deal in a 24hr race. I’d call it a logistical annoyance if anything, so I didn’t let it bother me. We watched the first wave take off then I lined up with the second wave riders for our start. 3, 2, 1, GO and with a little wobble, I was on my way for the next 24 hours.
I settled into about 5th or 6th place in the first 1/2 mile while I shifted my body around to find a comfortable position. After checking my heart rate was at a relaxed sub 140 BPM I settled into my 24hr pace which saw me cruise passed all the riders in my wave and into the darkness that lay between the first and second waves. At the start, the sun had been set for more than an hour, so it was completely dark. All I could see ahead was a glimmer of flashing red lights. After a few miles, I started to pass the slower riders from the first wave. One by one the little red light slowly falling back to me felt almost reminiscent of something you’d see in a Star Wars movie. Six miles into the 18.6 mile loop, I had passed half a dozen first wave riders. But the glimmer of the main group remained as distant as ever, as if a dessert mirage just lingering on the horizon. At the halfway point of the lap, we cross the only stop sign on course. The additional lighting at the intersection gave me my first real judgment of distance between me and the leaders and it was clear I was closing the distance. At the bottom of the course, I finally caught the leaders who were all riding in a group drafting each other (which is legal to do on the first lap only). I hung at the back for a moment then thought it would be more fun to shake up the group since after this first lap we would have to maintain 30′ minimum between us per the no drafting rule of the race. I easily passed the group around the outside of the sweeping corner and took the lead heading into the main climb. When I say main climb I mean the 1-2 mile long 1-2% grade at the bottom of the course which I scoffed at going into this race since I’m used to much steeper climbs. I focused on keeping my pace relaxed and I could see the lights behind me shifting about for position. About half way up the climb one rider came flying passed me as if in a hurry to break away from the group, a minute later several more riders worked passed me as a group. The last 3 or so miles of the course is slightly down hill so I knew my aerodynamic advantage on the Vendetta over the other riders would become more apparent when we reached 30+ MPH. With little to no effort, I cruised passed the group of 4 riders who passed me and I could see the leader out ahead about 100 yards. I know starting out slower than you think you need to is key to finishing endurance races strong but my odds of winning overall on a new bike were kind of slim, so I thought if I could lead the first lap it would at least be a cool highlight for the Cruzbike team. I went ahead and let myself bring my heart rate into the 150s which is still lower than any MTB race I’ve ever done, but was enough to start closing in on the leader. I passed for the lead with about 1/2 mile to go and finished lap one in first place.
Starting the second lap I backed my pace off until about 6 riders passed me. I figured lying in wait behind them would be a good pace for a while. After the first lap, rules stipulate a minimum of 30 feet between each racer to prevent drafting. Apparently the group of 6 riders ahead of me didn’t get the memo because they were nose to tail in a very tight group. I choose to follow them about 50 feet back through about 2/3 of the second lap before nature’s call could no long be left for voice mail. Going into this race, I knew the balance of hydration and pee breaks was going to be a factor. What I didn’t know was how big of a factor it would become. With a large gap behind me, I made a quick stop on the edge of the road to answer the call but as I went to hang up, the front end of the bike got away from me and I dropped it on its side. I quickly picked it up and tried to get going but the brake caliper had been bumped and was now dragging on the front wheel. With my only light source mounted to the very front of the bike, I couldn’t see the caliper at all. I quickly guessed left and shifted the caliper a guessed amount and tried spinning the wheel. It spun around with no drag on the first try so I remounted and was back on my way with the lead group about a minute ahead. Me being a thrill seeking MTBer in his first road race, I found the course to be rather unremarkable. Clean though maybe a little rough in spots but unremarkable all the same. One cool aspect of riding a recumbent bike that only occurs at night is that your’re facing up at the stars the whole time. Because Borrego Springs is in the middle of nowhere, I was seeing a lot of stars. I must have seen more than a dozen shooting stars during the race. I wished for the pain to end with every one.
Over the next few hours, the temps continued to drop and the colder sections of the course became more apparent. I watched the temperature on my computer unit fluctuate almost 10 degrees during each lap and the overall average got lower and lower with each passing lap. I only made it a few laps before I needed my vest and a few more before I needed my lightweight jacket. Now around 1-2 am I was fighting off sleepiness with sodas and I was eating more solid food then normal to make up for my lack of drinking due to the constant need to stop to pee. While on the long straits of the course I would remind myself to pull off one hand at a time and flex the fingers to keep them loose enough to brake and shift when needed. By the time I started to see temps in the 30s I was having trouble shifting to a larger cog, having to rotate my whole arm to get the job done which was causing stability issues with the bike. I pulled in for my cold weather gloves just in time because the next few laps I saw the temperature get as low as 28 degrees on the back side of the course. The knuckle joints of my hands were killing me but I couldn’t tell if it was the ergonomics of the bike, my death grip or the sub-freezing temps. To make matters worse, my tailbone had been on fire since the third hour of the race and it was making it hard not to keep shifting around. The tailbone issue was known going into the race but I had made some changes to the foam padding in the weeks leading up to the event to solve the problem. It would seem I missed the mark. Getting the bike up to 27mph on the long back strait and cruising passed other riders with little effort always brought a smile to my face which helped with the boring laps.
Jason entering Christmas Circle as the sun climbs early in the morning.
Around sunrise, my tailbone stopped hurting and my hands started to warm up which made some of the joint pain subside. But with each pain that faded, I gained a new pain in its place. One of the vertebrae between my shoulder blades was suddenly now in a lot of pain and over a few laps it became so bad I was having trouble focusing on anything but it. On a positive note, during the high point of my neck pain, I seemed to suffer less from sleepiness. After all, who has trouble staying awake with a knife in his neck? While shifting around on the bike, I thought of a solution to my neck problem but it would require a knife and all the foam that was lying back in my truck down pit road. I radioed ahead about the foam and knife so they had it ready to go when I rolled in. I quickly spit out my plan to Maria and Jon so they could get to work attaching the needed extra layer of foam. The idea was to raise my shoulder higher up to keep my vertebrae from touching the neck rest. The changes worked perfectly and for the first time since the first two hours, I was pain free and able to focus on just riding.
It was sometime after sunrise and the neck issue was solves when the crew told me I was closing in on some of the top 10 overall positions. I was walking away from second place in the recumbent class so we switched our focus on climbing up the overall solo ranks. With the warming temps, I was able to drink more and pee less which helped my lap times. For the next 8 hours, every time I’d finish a lap my pit crew would yell at me to keep pushing, and that I was catching the guy in front of me.
Maria, Kenny and Jon keeping Jason fueled and cool.
Every time I’d ask how far ahead the next rider was they never really gave me a clear answer so in my mind it was like I was just chasing ghosts. When I’d roll in after a lap, they’d tell me I passed the rider I was catching. You’d think I could relax a lap and regroup a bit. Nope. As soon as I had made the pass, they would tell me I was also catching the next rider so I needed to keep pushing. At one point Maria said I was third American and if I kept pushing I had a chance to take the top American honors which would be huge for our little last minute racing effort. Everything looked to be going our way then it happened, mid lap hot foot struck out of nowhere. I thought I could block the pain and push through to the end of the lap but my stubbornness made the pain so bad I had to ride about a mile with one leg unclipped and dangling so it would cool off. The solution for hot foot is simple, just douse the front half of the foot in water and it’ll stay cool for about an hour. We did this for the remainder of the race with not further issues other than soggy feet. At one point, I felt awake and strong enough in the final hours to string two laps together but sure enough on the second lap sleepiness took hold and I couldn’t keep my focus which resulted in a lap 4 mins slower than one with a pit stop. A quick stop each lap to consume anything I thought would keep me awake for one more lap was the best I could do in the final hours. Every one of those last 7 or 8 laps, I rode hard like it was my last because I knew I had more potential than I had shown so far and I needed to dig deep if I wanted to get there.
The town of Borrego Springs swept the roads the morning the race started. In a desert, sand creeps in from the shoulder rather quickly.
During the race I was passing people at a pretty constant rate and aside from a couple faster team riders I never really got passed myself. There wasn’t a single rider who I passed while on the large course who I didn’t say a few words of encouragement to. I find it’s too rare these days for a riders to take the initiative and tell others good job, or you’re looking great. I feel just by saying the words to others it somehow lifts my own spirit to keep on going which is just an added bonus in my opinion. We need more riders to cheer each other on because spectators are far and few between. At one point, I saw Vic out of course getting ready to take a picture of the rider I happened to be catching. I timed it perfectly a yelled out photo bomb as I went zipping passed. I think photo bombing is normally done in silence but hey I never said I was good at it.
Jason chasing the iconic Borrego Springs Dragon into the desert.
Finally with about 3 hours to go, I had caught the first American in the pits and as much as my team wanted to just kick me in the ass and right back onto the course I had to eat something first. When I got back on course I was now the lead American and now in 4th overall with yet again another unknown distance between me and 3rd. About 30 seconds into the lap my team radioed me that the rider I had just passed just headed out behind me. I tried looking back a few times to see if anyone was trying to stick with me but I was having a hell of a time turning around to look so I opted to just go extra fast that lap to open a gap. With that lap finished and in a pretty quick time I was rewarded with, “You need to hurry, we think you can catch third”. After a quick battery swap on my headlight I headed out for my final long lap before switching to the shorter 4 mile short laps in the final 90 mins of the race. When I finished the next lap my team was franticly shoving mini pickles and soda down my throat and all the while yelling about how I could still catch third even though they had no idea how far ahead he was. This was it, the final 75 mins, it’s like having a 4 corner crit race in the dark at the end of a 24hr race. Half the riders were just limping it home the other half were still battling to keep their paces fast and it seemed everyone was afraid of the tighter corners in the dark. Then you had me who was in what felt like a dead sprint on every strait away to pass as many riders as possible before diving around more riders through the next corner to keep my momentum up. I knew whoever I was behind I had to be catching them because I was just flying passed riders at an alarming rate and I didn’t need to stop for any more pit stops before the end. It was true I was catching third place but it was also true he was about 10 miles in front of me, which meant he was impossible to catch with only 30 minutes remaining. In the end, I did have the fastest final short lap of all riders 6-12-24 hour, team or solo. I also had the fastest long lap of the day when I finished my first lap in the lead. I won the Recumbent class by more than 100 miles, finished 4th solo overall and first American among a field of riders who I’m told was quite strong. I broke the existing recumbent course record but fell short of my original 500 mile goal. Overall a good weekend of racing and hanging out with friends which is all I can ask for.
Rob DeCou (16th overall), Maria and Jason (4th overall, first American) pose at the finish line.
I’d like the thank Cruzbike for giving me the opportunity to race the Vendetta. I want to thank Robbert Holler for assembling the bike and shipping it to me on such short notice. I want to thank Jim Parker for giving me a shot after just one short phone call. I’d like to thank Maria Parker and Lucia Parker for coming out to the race and offering some valued in person support. I’d like to thank Jon Rock for supporting me in yet another racing endeavor all contrary to his better judgement. I’d like to thank Luke for giving us a cozy spot of floor to crash on in Borrego Springs and Kenny for more awesome pit stop support as well as some fun four-wheeling the day after the race. I’d like to thank Vic Armijo for making the connection between Cruzbike and me because it’s a well known fact I’m a MTBing hermit. As always I have to thank my family for their continued support in everything I’ve ever done because without them I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.
Kenny and Jon back to work after a quick congratulations at the finish line. Someone has to break down the pit area…
Maria congratulates Jason on a job very well done.
Suiting up in official Cruzbike colors to receive the finisher’s medal.
First it’s time to switch gears and get back on the dirt and prepare for my final 6hr race of the year in a few weeks. People have asked me if I’ll do another road race on the Vendetta. It’s a real possibility and for the time being I’ll continue to refine the fit of the bike to myself for future events. Right now I just want to get off the asphalt for a bit and have some fun in the dirt with my friends. The endurance race season starts as early as January so a few weeks of fun and food then back to pushing limits.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”
Jason accepts his award while Vic Armijo, who started it all, snaps a photo.