In the pitch dark of the cold desert night on Sunday, Andy Jacques-Maynes was inches away from another rider’s wheel on a single track after racing for more than 180 miles.
“At 4:30 am in the morning, my light died halfway through a lap and so I was thinking I’m going to have to hike out of here, it’s going to suck.” explained AJM on Tuesday.
“Then instead of walking, I convinced another competitor to stick with me for the whole time. I basically just drafted off of him, down the single track, down these rock drops and stuff, I was like literally on his wheel, hugging his tire the whole way. It was kind of scary but I knew the trail really well, I knew where I was going.”
AJM was on his 12th lap at the 17th Annual 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race, an event he entered solo.
“He was going a little faster than I would have gone, he was going a little over my pace and so I finished out that lap and I was just torched, no energy, I was hypothermic.” he continued. “That just cooked me. I had to stop, change my clothes, nap for 20 minutes. I sat by the fire for almost an hour and a half just to try to warm up.”
AJM had been leading the Men’s Solo race from almost the start, more than 16 hours ago.
“I had lost the lead at that point while I was there shivering, the guy in second had gone by, I had to chase him down.” he laughed. “All of a sudden we were racing right as the sun was coming up, ‘oh boy, here we go’.”
His thoughts at that point were simple. “I’ve never ridden that long before and I was like ‘I don’t believe my legs are still working, this is ridiculous’.”
AJM ultimately won the event, completing 16 laps solo for 238.56 miles with 21,760 feet of climbing over an elapsed time of 24 hours and three minutes. He was 40th overall out of 216 teams on his first time of doing an endurance race.
So how did he get there? The idea came up to AJM and his twin brother Ben when they were both pro mountain bike racers ten years ago. “We’d always thought oh it would be cool if we could do a dual pro 24 hour race. And we never got around to it and we never did it, it was one of those wouldn’t it be neat if?”
So fast forward to this year where their road season, with the BISSELL Pro Cycling team, ended early.
“We needed to keep training and have something to shoot for, so I came up with this idea, we’ll do the dual pro race, the 24 hours of Moab. And, I was pretty surprised, Ben was game for it, I thought he would have had this extreme reaction to it, ‘that’s crazy’, but no he was like, ‘yeah sure that would be kind of fun’.”
The two started prepare for the dual event until complications from BJM’s collarbone surgery after a crash at the Tour of California sidelined him.
“I had been training before, go hard for a couple of laps and then rest and then go hard again. All of a sudden, three weeks ago before the race, ‘oh I have to do it all by myself, so shit’. I was like deer in the headlights, my eyes were so big, I don’t know if I can do that. But then I registered for it anyway and decided to just give it a shot. So I started doing super long rides.”
After looking at previous year’s results, AJM’s plan was to stay as steady as possible, with a goal of 1:10 over the 15-mile lap. But then, once he pre-rode the course on Friday, he had to adjust to laps of around 1:20.
The loop started off with a rock garden. “You’re doing this climb on top of rocks where you’re not really touching the dirt at all. And then, there’s this whole series of just straight up, straight down where you’re either descending down a rock top and you’re trying to climb up a rock top so the first 6 miles out of the 15 takes over half the time, you’re just creeping along. It’s so technical and demanding, my hands were really cramped up.” said AJM who added he was glad to be riding a full-suspension bike, the S-Works Epic. “The whole second half of the course was wide open, fire roads, double track, a lot of faster.”
He used the second half to recover and coast when possible. “I usually found somebody to draft off of down these long fire road descents so I didn’t have to pedal and I could still keep going fast. There was a lot of strategy and pacing and trying to squeeze as much speed as you can with the least amount of effort.”
His prep work also involved getting his campsite ready. “I was going full solo so I was the only person out there that I could depend on so I did a lot of pre-planning. Out at the race course, there’s a separate camping zone for solo riders so you can be camped right next to the trail and so all the other solo riders are right next to me and are all looking at my setup, ‘man you’ve got this dialed, you must have done this before?’ I was like ‘no, I’m basically trying to not forget anything because in the middle of the night my problem solving abilities will go out the window’.”
Neighbors were helping neighbors throughout the day and night. “They would oil my chain if I needed it. I bought a bunch of burritos in town and so they were heated them up for me so I had some hot food instead of cold food to eat in the middle of the night. And we made a fire pit so that me and my neighbors would have a fire going and they kept it stoked up all night long, that was pretty nice, it definitely needed that at some point.”
After starting at noon on Saturday, AJM kept a consistent lap time with a break every three laps for food and rest. He had limited information as to the status of the race. Every time he clocked in at the end of a lap, the officials would tell him the status of the gap at the beginning of the lap that he just finished.
“That was the best I could figure on so I was almost always running scared the whole time, ‘I really hope he doesn’t come by me because I can’t go any faster’” he laughed.
Through it all, he had been getting ready for riding at night. “I had been watching the course, even trying out different lines as it was light so that I would know all the different lines once it got dark, I had been doing a little bit of night riding so I knew my light was good and I knew where I had to look in order to be able to ride a single track pretty fast.” he said. “The course got quite a bit easier, it’s in the desert, there’s a lot of sand, the racing line got grooved out so it was actually quite fast.”
Until that lap 12 which did him in. After warming up and resting, AJM got back on his bike to try and take the lead back.
His mind also started playing tricks on him. “You are really diminished mentally. I was riding up the first climb and this must have been on my 13th or 14th lap, I was lost, I was like ‘I don’t recognize this trail, where am I? What’s going on?’ I was just totally turned around. I had memorized the entire trail at that point and all of a sudden I didn’t know which trail I was on and I was super confused and I was like ‘Oh God, am I not on the right trail?’ “
And weird visual effects. “Some people had heat torches up on their website and as I went by, they kind of rotate by you, I had this feeling that I was stationary and that the whole world was rotating past me.”
At 10:30 on Sunday morning, he was back in the lead at the end of lap 15 but facing a hard decision. If he didn’t go back out for another lap and his competitor did, then he would lose his first place.
“I was just completely destroyed and I was like ‘I don’t really want to go out again’ and I was debating with the timers, what should I do? Because I’m so out of it we had the same argument probably four different times.” AJM laughed, “They explained it to me over and over again because I was just not comprehending how the tactics were going to work out but basically it was if I don’t go out, he’d win and if I go out, I’m going to win. So it was like ‘well shit I better go ride one more time then’.”
After 24 hours in the saddle, in the desert, is there any part of his body that doesn’t hurt?
“I guess my earlobes don’t hurt.” replied AJM on Tuesday before starting his second day of driving home.
“My scalp hurts from wearing the helmet for so long, my fingers look like sausages right now, everything is swollen, my toes are numb because there’s so much swelling in my feet that it’s cut out the circulation to my toes. I got a crash on my first night lap so I have all these weird bumps and bruises that are just coming up now. Of course, my saddle area is just destroyed, the palms of my hands feel that they got sandblasted just from gripping the bars over the rocks. I think my whiskers stopped growing.”
The hardest part of the whole thing was leaving the campsite and fire every single time to go for another lap.
“I’m so nice and warm here and I’m going to go out in the desert, in the cold. It was like pulling teeth and you’re doing it to yourself. Every cell in your body is saying ‘don’t go out again, just chill out’ and you’re like ‘no no I have to go out again’. When you’re out on the trail, it was fun but the actual decision to get up out of your seat, move away from the fire and go out on another lap is just torture.” he laughed.
So was it worth it? “The experience was fantastic.” he replied quickly.
“To be able to see the sun set out in the desert and then the sun rise was just fantastic. We really lucked out with the weather, and everything was just so beautiful. And so just the experience of it, the camaraderie out on the trail was just phenomenal. Every single person I passed, I would have a word of encouragement for and they would be like ‘hey you’re doing great, keep it up’. I thought that was pretty remarkable.”
“Everybody camped out, having fun, just the feeling that we’re all in this together. I really enjoyed that quite a bit.”
And what would he say if brother Ben said, ‘hey about we do it together next year?’
“You know, if it’s a month from now, I might just say ‘yeah, that was cool, that was a good experience, I might want to do that again’ but right now, I’m just like I don’t know why anybody would sign up for a second 24 hour race ever.” he answered.
The off season has now started for the 33-year old. As for next season, AJM has not signed a contract and is talking to different teams.