When 12 Hours of Mesa Verde – then known as Ride the Lightning – started in spring 2003, few could have predicted the annual mega-event the endurance cycling race would become.
With another year of nearly 1,000 cyclists treading over the single track of the Phil's World mountain bike trail system, the 2023 edition carried on the tradition of pushing both professional athletes and weekend warriors to their limits over the 16-mile loop.
At the same time, the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde mission has remained steady since the early days of the race – to raise money for local youth organizations. After topping $87,000 a year ago, race director Nic McDonald and the all-volunteer race board hopes to continue to see another banner year for the various organizations benefiting from the race.
Dozens of sponsors threw their support into an event that has generated tremendous windfall for the community, making Montezuma County the epicenter of the cycling world each year in mid-May.
“It's a great event for the county,” said McDonald. “It's not just the 1,000 athletes, but also their families and support teams – eating in the restaurants, staying in the hotels – it's a humongous benefit for the community.”
Divided into 10 competitive categories, the race includes teams of two, three, or four in various age and gender divisions, vying to complete as many loops as they can in a relay format. Solo riders look to push themselves to tackle as many loops as they can on their own, with many individual competitors often eclipsing 100 miles in a day’s work.
A late afternoon storm tested the perseverance of the athletes out on the course, but could do little to dampen the mood of another festive year, headlined by Cap’s Kids Race – named for longtime 12 Hours board member Cap Allen, for whom the youth races are his passion.
“Cortez BMX took the kid's races over for us this year,” added McDonald, “and they've really put their heart and soul into making it into a special event.”
It’s a full team effort to compile an event of this magnitude, according to McDonald, and the contribution of over 200 volunteers helped make all the components of the event come together.
McDonald recognized how Montezuma County has embraced the full-day event that draws athletes from all across the country.
“We couldn't do this without all the people involved,” he said, “and we couldn't have a better setup than having the fairgrounds right next to one of the best trail systems anywhere.”
“Everyone from the volunteers, the board, the BLM, and CDOT all working together have helped us put on one of the best races in the country,” he added.
Although weather limited the last couple of hours out on the course, the competition yielded plenty of impressive solo and team performances.
Ezekiel Hersh of Breckenridge posted the top solo performance in the men’s field, completing six laps in 8:49:13, 15 minutes in front of runner-up Wesley Sandoval of Leadville.
In the women’s solo division, Amy Lawton of Steamboat Springs produced the only five-lap effort in her division, posting a time of 9:16:55.
Durango’s David Howard won the solo geezer race by nearly half an hour, completing five laps in 9:19:03, in front of Sedona’s Jon Maule (9:48:06).
Howard Redd from Las Vegas took the single speed solo division, as the only competitor to complete six laps (9:43:39).
The team divisions yielded plenty of tight competition, including a 1 minute, 11 second separation between the top two teams in the male grommet (U19) division, with a team of Hudson Seeman, Jackson Haftel, Jonathan Azbell and Benjamin Garmany winning the division over Sam Free, Grayson Taylor, and Tate Larrabee by the narrow margin.
In the duo geezer division, only 32 seconds separated winners Todd Varra and Brian Hollister (6 laps, 8:53:04) from Paul Solomon and Ryan Clayton (6 laps, 8:53:37).
The male duo division went to Oliver and Gabe Gibbons, who edged Ethan Shirey and Brennon Pena by 2:28, after both teams had completed seven laps.
In the duo female race, Joey Lythgoe and Nicole Tittensor completed six laps in 9:46:15 to win the division by 15 minutes over Kelli McCall and Christy Lindh.
The coed duo race went to Samuel and Deidre Morrison, who raced seven laps in 9:32:28, while Chris and KC Holley finished a close runner-up, 3:29 behind.
With the weather-shortened conditions, only a couple of teams managed to complete eight laps, with the fastest overall performance coming from the 3-4 male team of Nathaniel Vacura, Mason Lawrence, and Logan Connell, who required 9:56:11 to race the eight circuits – good enough to win their division by a lap.
The only other team to accomplish the eight-lap barrier was the 3-4 coed champion team, which included Cortez’ own Max Johnson, along with Durango’s Kai Lokey, Chase Connors, and Riley Huston. The quartet won their division by a lap.
In the 3-4 family division, Dan, Bri, and Caleb Hoopes, along with Calvin Smith raced through six laps in 8:49:47, winning by 24 minutes.
Four Durango women collected top honors in the 3-4 female classification, with Rachel Ross, Kathy Waage, Blair Matlock, and Brittany Cowan taking 8:58:23 to race six laps.
Dolores’ Ross Delaplane and Shawn Gregory contributed to the 3-4 geezer division winning group, joining Durango’s Bettina Mills and Ryan Hentz in the winner’s circle, racing seven laps in 9:40:55.
The coed grommet division went to Alex Fisher, Madeline Niesen, Bowdie Parker, and Pierson Vagts, running six laps in 8:59:37 to take the division by 21 minutes.
Meanwhile, Durango’s quartet of Ellie Shaw, Rowan Lott, Tilia Clausen, and Betty Holcomb won the 3-4 female grommet group, requiring 9:13:57 to complete six loops.