Time for Montezuma’s Revenge
MONTEZUMA – Most people have had some sort of run-in with Montezuma’s Revenge, but not like this.
Not only was Montezuma’s Revenge the first-ever 24-hour bike race when it was inaugurated 16 years ago, but it is considered by most who have been involved throughout the years to be the toughest 24-hour race anywhere.
The course is 200 miles, gains more than 35,000 feet of elevation, crosses the Continental Divide 10 times … and has never been completed by anyone.
“It’s definitely the most difficult 24-hour race,” said Montezuma resident Cullen Barker, who will begin his seventh Revenge Friday, and who’s other athletic feats include attempting to bike the 1,150-mile Iditarod trail in Alaska in the dead of February. “Just the combination of the high altitude, and the strange weather you can get makes Montezuma’s tough,” he said. “Most of the race is above 10,000 feet.”
The highest point of the race is the summit of Grays Peak, at 14,270 feet. In past events, it has snowed at the top of the peak, which racers must reach by hiking with their bikes, as the route to the top consists mostly of scree and no obvious trail.
Although most of the other loops and trails on the course are a little easier to see, the course is not marked. If a racer goes astray this weekend, it won’t be the first time it’s happened in the history of the event.
“Every other race in the country is one singular loop; we refer to them as gerbil tracks,” said Revenge organizer Byron Swezy. “We’ve got 13 individual loops, and none of the course is marked. Orienteering is not an issue on the gerbil tracks. For this race, every now and then, people get off course. There was a situation a few years ago when David Pickett-Heaps accidentally descended all the way into Bakersfield off of Grays. For lots of races, there has been snow to make finding the course that much harder.”
The deliriousness that comes with racing for 24 hours straight doesn’t make finding the course any easier.
“I don’t know if you ever get used to it,” Barker said. “I guess I’ve figured out some good ways to function when I’ve been awake and racing for so long. I know now how my body works with that lack of serotonin in my head.”
Pickett-Heaps won the race in 1998, but the course record-holder is Rishi Grewal, who won last year after completing 10-plus loops, 166 miles and 27,100 feet of climbing. Breckenridge resident Monique Merril holds the women’s record with her 2000 performance, when she finished eight-plus loops, 124 miles and climbed 20,780 feet. Women didn’t begin racing in the Revenge until 1996, and this year, the women’s field features a record seven participants. About 30 racers are registered altogether, and registration closes at noon Friday, before the 4 p.m. race start.
The first three loops of the course start out easy, winding around the town of Montezuma. After that, the Revenge kicks into full gear with a 66-mile loop to the top of Teller Mountain and over Radical Hill across the Continental Divide. This is followed by the huff up and over Grays Peak and shorter loops with no less than 2,000 feet in elevation gain.
Why would anyone do this? Organizers say people do it because it’s important for some individuals to get their Revenge.
“We like to bill it as a local, community-based celebration of what we do,” Swezy said. “Every town, every village in the world has a day where it celebrates its culture. Mountain biking in Summit County is a significant subculture. This is our celebration of it.”
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