Best of 2015: Mountain’s Revenge 24-hour race revives the spirit of Montezuma’s Revenge
December 31, 2015
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the July 30 edition of the Summit Daily.
Sometimes, cash and trademarks can ruin a good, old-fashioned bike ride.
For old-school mountain bikers, the Montezuma's Revenge ultra-endurance race was the epitome of their beloved underground sport. It was launched in 1986 — a good decade before anyone cared about riding on singletrack — and fast became Summit County's rebel event of the summer.
By the time the Revenge fizzled out in 2007, it was known as the toughest mountain bike race in the world — and with good reason: The route took as many as 54 riders on a 24-hour tour of the highest, burliest singletrack in the Montezuma and Keystone area (hence, the clever name). Local endurance veteran Josh Tostado won twice in the final three years, while former adventure racer Monique Merrill holds the female record for most wins with titles in 2000 and 2003.
Montezuma's Revenge was Adam Shaw's introduction to the torturous realm of 24-hour racing, so when founder Rob Ilves moved to Florida after taking a financial hit every year for two decades — the cash problem — Shaw and a small corps of faithful Revengers mourned the loss.
"I personally missed the event a great deal, and after talking with other riders over the past few years everyone had the same sentiment," he said. "They really missed it because it was such a cool, totally different event. Everything today seems to be so commercialized and expensive. This is just a return to that original concept."
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New race, same spirit
Last August, about seven years after the final Montezuma's Revenge, Shaw decided to try his luck at reviving the race, or at least its spirit.
Here's where the trademark problem comes into play: Founder Ilves no longer held the copyright, and Shaw couldn't get in touch with the former race organizer, Byron Swezy, for permission to re-purpose the catchy name. In its heyday, the original was filmed several times for sports documentaries, including a series on the now-defunct Lifestyle Network.
"Out of respect and not wanting to cross any lines, I just changed the name," Shaw said. Simple enough.
So rather than bring back the original Montezuma's Revenge, Shaw instead opted to launch a brand-new event, dubbed Mountain's Revenge. He also opted to skirt the hassle (and expense) of permits by hosting the event as a 24-hour challenge, not a formal race, meaning everyone got to ride for free.
SRAM pro Jesse Jakomait "won" the first revival event in 2014 by covering 156 miles in a single day, tying Tostado's record from 2005.
The first event drew about a dozen riders, including a handful of longtime locals with ties to the original race. Even Shaw got on the bike to ride the nine singletrack loops he borrowed from the first Revenge and tweaked for his event.
"There's nothing cooler than riding under that full moon in August, where you're on top of the Continental Divide, and you catch that moonlit blue," he said. "There's a wicked glow, and, when you're all by yourself, it really sticks to the nature of what this race was always about."
On Aug. 1, right in time for the full moon, the new Revenge is back for round two.
The 'unfinishable' course
Like the 2014 revival, this year's event gives riders a choice of nine loops for a total of 225 miles and 35,741 vertical feet. Shaw rode it all to craft GPS maps for competitors (available on the event website), although he hardly expects anyone to finish the entire route.
"Every single year, with the original Montezuma, the course was just a little different," he said. "We had 20 different versions for the 20 years it was around. I have a few of the same loops, some that were adapted and changed and a few others weren't even a part of the first."
Not only is his version deviously long — it takes place almost solely on singletrack — he estimates more than 90 percent of the course is trail, with only brief spurts of paved road and recpath. It's a major departure from typical 24-hour racing, and, again, sticks to the spirit of the original.
"I think trail keeps this in the nature of racing in the mountains," he said. "There are so many races where you hit the same loop over and over, but, with this, you're on the continental divide several times, staying in an environment away from traffic and even other people. There will be many times you're alone on the trail, and that's really the coolest part of this."
His favorite loop? All of them. He simply enjoys reliving a race from the wild, early days of mountain biking. Like it was then, anyone and everyone is invited to come out for a few loops. Just show up at the corner of Ida Belle Drive and Montezuma Road, and the Revenge will take care of the rest.
"Other 24-hour race experience is helpful, but I tell people that if you've done 200 miles in another race, that won't happen here," he said. "You're crossing over gnarly trails and covering tons of vertical. But when it's over, all you see are ear-to-ear grins."
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