The Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race that starts at noon Saturday will be much more than a bike ride for Damion Alexander.
The Tucson Realtor, spent the past three weeks securing more than $25,000 in pledges destined for charities.
The full amount will be contributed if he can complete 165 miles – 10 laps of the challenging 16.5-mile off-road course – within 24 hours.
This would make Alexander by far the most prolific charity fundraiser in the event’s history, said race organizer Todd Sadow.
Riders have collected about $100,000 for charities over the race’s nine-year history, Sadow said.
Alexander, who last year as a neophyte rode three laps as part of a four-person team, is concerned about more than just the sore legs – and sore butt – that come from long hours in the saddle.
“The ride will be the easy part,” he said with a laugh. Contacting the more than 200 people who made pledges – after he finishes riding for 24 hours – will be a daunting task, Alexander said.
He originally planned to do four or five laps this year as a solo competitor, but after he started his fundraising effort he upped the goal to 10 laps, or 165 miles.
“That’s longer than I’ve every biked before by a long way,” he said. “You take one pedal after another.”
He hopes long hours spent training on-road and off-road have given him the endurance, and savvy to allow him to reach his goal.
Navigating a winding dirt single-track trail on a speeding bicycle can be challenging during the day, but even more so during the inky blackness of the desert night.
Last year both of Alexander’s headlights failed with four miles to go on a nighttime lap. He finished the lap, but not without crashing.
Cold and damp conditions add to the challenge of riding through the night.
“It looks like we’re not going to be dry. That adds a whole new dimension,” he said. “What I’ve really worked on is trying different clothing combinations, and looked at what you eat and how do you stay comfortably clothed during the ride.”
But neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night should keep Alexander, 36, from his planned laps.
“Now that I have so much pledged per mile it’s going to be very hard to stop if the weather is nasty,” he said. “I’ll try to ride straight through. I don’t think I’ll go to sleep.
“I have motivation to go as far as possible. The worst case scenario is not making as much money for charity. There are too many great people and causes I am riding for.”
Dave Wiens’ legs may be in for a rude awakening when he pedals away from the starting line at noon Saturday.
“It will be a bit of a shock,” Wiens said Monday from his home in Gunnison, Colo. “I haven’t ridden my bike since mid-December.”
Wiens, 44, who spent almost 20 years as a pro mountain bike racer, saw his fame rise when he beat seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong to win August’s Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Colorado.
“I’m an older athlete with a lot of experience in my legs,” he said. “It will be a difficult race, but I hope I can hang in there and be consistent.”
Wiens, who retired as a full-time racer in 2004, will race on a four-person team, with riders taking turns riding laps of the course.
The race is so popular that entries closed Jan. 11 when the field cap of 1,650 was reached, said Sadow, president of Epic Rides and self-described “chief plate spinner” for the 24-hour event.
Wiens and a number of world-class athletes will ride, but many of the cyclists are local amateur riders, Sadow said.
Competing in the solo category – where one rider covers as many laps as possible during the event – will be 27 female and 172 male riders.
The remainder of the 1,650 riders will make up 580 teams ranging from two to 10 riders, Sadow said.
Teams have one rider on the course at a time, while the others rest, and switch off in the exchange tent where event officials keep track of race standings, he said.
Night riding requires lighting systems so cyclists can follow the trail, he said.
Eighty portable toilets will dot the site, he said.
The event kicks off with a Le Mans-style start, where cyclists sprint about 400 yards on foot to where their bikes are parked and jump on and start the race.
“It’s like a human stampede,” Sadow said. “Hundreds of people are looking for their bikes.”
He said spectators hoping to see the start should plan to arrive by 10:30 a.m. Saturday because the competitors run across the road to the site, which will temporarily be closed to traffic. The event features a temporary “24-hour town” that sprouted Thursday featuring tents and campers to house resting riders, their families and support crews.
Vendors selling food and drink and cycling-related exhibitors will be on hand, Sadow said.
The event is spectator friendly any hour of the day or night, he said.
“There is a lot going on. It’s really fun to go out there and get a feel for the event and watch the race,” Sadow said. “Upwards of 3,000 people stop in during the race.”
CHARITIES DAMION ALEXANDER’S RIDE IS SUPPORTING
• National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Arizona Chapter
• The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
• National Alliance on Mental Illness
• Southern Arizona Chapter Red Cross
• Community Food Bank
• Casas De Los Niños
• KOTO-FM Community Radio, Telluride, Colo.
• Long Realty Cares Foundation
• Civano Community School
• Rose Petal Foundation
• The Glassman Foundation
• Humane Society Of Southern Arizona
• Telluride Ski And Snowboard Club
• Water For People
• Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
• Habitat for Humanity
• Tu Nidito
• The Nature Conservancy
• American Cancer Society
• Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson
• The Hearth Foundation
• MD Anderson Cancer Center
• Literacy Volunteers of Tucson
• Arizona Blind and Deaf
• New Beginnings for Women and Children
• Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson
• Jewish Federation of Tucson
• One on One Mentoring Partners.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of hours: 24
Number of riders: 1,650
Number of portable toilets at race site: 80
Bike expo exhibitors: 25
Miles per lap: 16.5
Record number of laps ridden by male solo rider: 19
Record number of laps ridden by a female solo rider: 15
Record number of laps ridden by a team: 24
Number of years the event has been held: 10
IF YOU GO
What: Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race
Where: northwest of Oracle (see map, Page 13A).
When: noon Saturday through noon Sunday
Venue admission: $5 and two cans of food for the Mammoth Community Food Bank
Food and beverages available for purchase at event site.
Dress appropriately: the venue could be cold, damp and muddy.