World 24 Hour Report
Unstoppable Eatough still a favorite for world's 24-hour title
By Fred Dreier
VeloNews associate editor
This report filed October 5, 2006
A mountain of pressure sits on Chris Eatough's back this week, as the six-time solo 24-hour mountain-bike world champion prepares once again to defend his title. The 31-year old Eatough, who has made a career of dominating 24-hour events, knows he is expected to bring home number seven as he and others ready for this weekend's world championships in Conyers, Georgia.
Methodical: Eatough's success often comes as a result of meticulous preparation.
The 2006 24-Hours of Adrenaline's solo world championships are slated for this Saturday and Sunday in Conyers, the site of the 1996 Olympic cross-country race. Eatough's primary sponsor, Trek Bicycles, would like nothing more than to have another seven-time champion in its hands. Trek is dishing out big bucks to drag a trailer and full pit crew to support his stab at number seven.
Allison Eatough, who has long served as head of that support crew, organizing food and clothing while her husband races through the night, is pregnant with the couple's first child.
Interestingly, Eatough's attempt at number seven will be captured on film for a full-length documentary to be released in 2007. Titled "24-Solo," the film is the creation of Jason Barry, who shot and produced 2004's "Off Road to Athens."
"It's been fine," said Eatough about the pressure. "I've been doing easy rides and just getting the body ready. I try to keep my mind off of the pain of the race, but I know it's going to hurt and it's daunting if I dwell on that. I just focus on logistics, packing and preparing."
In the admittedly small subculture of solo 24-hour mountain-bike racing, Eatough is a rock star. His first world title came in 2000, which was also his first attempt at a solo 24-hour mountain-bike race. He has since dominated the discipline, easily beating some of the biggest names in the sport, including Tinker Juarez, John Stamsted and Rishi Grewal.
In 2003, Eatough's primary challenge came from the rain and mud in Whistler, British Columbia. Back to Whistler last year, Eatough again fought through the rain to fend off a challenge from Ernesto Marenchin, who finished 30 minutes in arrears. Eatough's narrowest margin of victory was in 2001, when he beat James Dover by a scant 10-minute margin in the 104-degree heat of Idyllwild, California.
"He finds a way every year to win, even in the bad conditions," said race founder Stuart Dorland.
Along the way, Eatough has all but written the book on the proper preparation for and winning 24-hour mountain bike races. Eatough stresses organization and meticulous planning, not to mention setting an early fast tempo. He also believes in limiting his 24-hour efforts to two a year.
"I read a lot of articles on Chris when I was first getting into racing," said Marenchin, who will again challenge Eatough this year. "I basically tried to mimic him and what he does. I organized my food in small [Dixie] cups like Chris. It even came as far as using the same lights and bike setup he was using. I don't have the manpower that he has, but I have a mechanic, and along the way you develop your own way to organize and do things."
Reigning U.S. champion Cameron Chambers is one of the few to have beaten Eatough at his specialty.
But Eatough's record also adds to the already considerable pressure to win. Eatough knows he is far from invincible. At last year's 24-hour national championships in Spokane, Washington, Eatough, racked by diarrhea and vomiting, eventually conceded his national title to Cameron Chambers.
"There is an incredible amount of pressure on Chris to win every year, and each year it's even more important that he wins," said Barry, who has filmed Eatough throughout the 2006 season. "It's his performance at this race that defines him. Now he's got a baby on the way and with the lack of money in mountain-bike racing right now, this is what keeps him going."
If Eatough does lose, the victory could likely go to Marenchin, Chambers, veteran Mark Hendershot or Australian marathon champion Craig Gordon.
"Gordon is one to watch," Eatough said. "He used to race the World Cup and NORBA races so he's got good speed."
Win or lose, Eatough is hell-bent on keeping his focus on 24-hour racing. While he also competes in 100-mile endurance mountain-bike races and the NORBA National Mountain Bike Series marathon cross-country races, Eatough wants to maintain his 24-hour focus.
"I don't plan on stopping any time soon, I love being able to ride my bike for a living and it's what's paying the bills," he said. "I want to keep going as long as my body will let me."
Haywood Trying for First World Title
Eatough will be joined by Trek-Volkswagen teammate Susan Haywood in Conyers, as the West Virginia native tries to earn her first world title. Haywood said she chose to do the race because it is just a day away from her 35th birthday on October 9.
U.S. short-track champ, Susan Haywood is giving a new discipline a try... on a really long track.
Haywood, the reigning U.S. national short-track champion, is better known for her exploits as a cross-country racer on the NMBS and World Cup circuits. Haywood has some experience as a 24-hour solo competitor - she won the women's solo category at the 24-hours of Moab in 1999 and 2000.
"Well, I think it took that long for the memories of the pain to fade, so I'm going to try another one," Haywood said. "I remember it being really hard from 2 a.m. until 5 a.m. because your body temperature starts to drop. I actually got bored at the monotony of riding around the same lap. And my body felt like I had been hit with a jackhammer."
In preparation for the race, Haywood raced the Shenandoah Mountain 100 epic mountain-bike race, which she won on September 3. Haywood also picked Eatough's brain for useful strategies.
"Chris told me some really cool ways to eat and get food, and how much food you really need to keep going," Haywood said. "He puts regular food in little Dixie cups that he puts in his jersey pocket and he can either shoot it or munch on it. I think the key for me is to not go overboard at the start and just have a good pace."
Haywood will face off against 24-hour specialist Louise Kobin, Australian 24-hour champ Katrin van der Spiegel, and adventure racer Rebecca Rusch, the reigning U.S. 24-hour solo champ.
Haywood's toughest challenge will likely come from marathon specialist Monique Sawicki, who finished second at last year's 24-hour worlds despite suffering several mechanical calamities. Sawicki missed much of the 2006 racing season after suffering a nasty crash at the June 17 marathon World Cup in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec. But Sawicki bounced back at the August 26 Endurance 100 in Park City, Utah, where she set a new course record by nearly two hours.
"I'm excited to have Sue out here racing with us, but I can't really judge how she'll do," Sawicki said. "She's such a strong rider but 24-hour racing is really a whole other world. You have to deal with nutrition and exhaustion and other things that you don't have to deal with in a two-hour effort."
2006 24-Hours of Adrenaline Solo World Championships
Conyers, Georgia - October 7-8, 2006
Riders to Watch
Chris Eatough (Trek-Volkswagen)
Mark Hendershot (Santa Cruz-Syndicate)
Cameron Chambers (Subaru-Gary Fisher)
Ernesto Marenchin (Asylum Cycles)
Craig Gordon (Cannondale)
Susan Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen)
Katrin Van Der Spiegel
Rebecca Rusch (Specialized-Red Bull)
Monique Sawicki (Team Mata)