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Local firm tries to retake title in 24-hour mountain bike race

S.D. rivals took division last 2 years; 1,600 to vie in cycling marathon

Matt Blair, a sales director for Cirrus Visual, competes in last year's Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race.

Matt Blair, a sales director for Cirrus Visual, competes in last year's Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race.

It’s local mountain biking’s Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa; it’s Red Sox vs. Yankees.

A grudge match between a bunch of computer-tapping office executives from Tucson against a San Diego invader will be on display this weekend.

More than 1,600 riders will compete in the 10th Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike festival, with cyclists in 13 divisions taking on a twisting, 16.5-mile course.

It starts at noon Saturday and teams and solo riders will go as many laps as they can.

Hundreds of volunteers and the organizing and promotional genius of Todd Sadow and his local Epic Rides have made the event the most popular race of its kind in the nation. Riders and their families camp out, and there’s a “24 Hour Town,” featuring bike and food vendors and music.

Matt Blair, 33, a sales director for Cirrus Visual, is a veteran rider for Hosie Cow/Cirrus Visual. He and everybody else – no place for soreheads – demands that everyone involved, including the San Diego Adams Avenue Bikes team, get the main rule straight.

“We’re a bunch of happy-go-lucky guys,” he said, “and that stays. We totally, absolutely enter this out of fun.”

But . . .

“We’re normally guys who aren’t normally that (athletically) competitive, but there is a great pride involved in this,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of competition. We all make sacrifices – leave work early to train, ride at night, not be home with wife and kids . . .”

Speaking of which, a funny thing happened after Blair’s team won the Corporate Division championship in 2004, took third in 2005 and then won again in 2006.

They beat “Adams” in 2006 by four minutes, but the San Diego team has dominated since, winning titles in 2007 and last year while the Hosies fell to 21st, then eighth.

“A lot of riders started having kids and the (competitiveness) sort of fell off,” Blair said. “But this year, we’re coming back to play . . . Talk a little smack and sit around the campfire with them and have a beer or two.”

One of the Hosie team founders, Chris Carls, recalled how he once was fascinated by the Hosie Cow, a cow-shaped lawn sprinkler that shoots water out of its tail. It became a running joke with comedians and made a David Letterman Top 10 list.

In the spirit of matching fun with good-willed inner rage, Blair will play a didgeridoo and some will beat drums in front of a “fire sled” – “a gigantic fire with pallets and pallets of wood” – then try to grab a little sleep and do his first lap at about 2 a.m. – right when the forecasted weekend rain and/or snow is supposed to hit.

“Some riders are better at night,” he said, “and some prefer slots where they can ride the best. It’s the captain’s job to figure what is best for the team, the puzzle that ultimately wins.

“You never know who will be able to go if things don’t go according to schedule. There are broken bikes – our 2004 winner came running carrying his – food poisoning and sometimes (you have) a guy who is just isn’t feeling right.”



What: Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race

When: Noon Saturday to noon Sunday. To see start, fans should show up by 10:30 a.m.

Course: 16.5 miles

Where: Willow Springs Ranch area, north of Tucson. Go north on Oracle Highway (77), left on Willow Springs Road (before Biosphere).

In Saturday’s Citizen: Local Realtor raises $25,000 for race; Lance Armstrong rival to compete.

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