By Dan Woll
Jessop Keene, a 24-year-old rider from Ellsworth, Wis., won the National 24 Hour Challenge on June 18. This grueling endurance bike race attracts riders from every state as well as international riders. Jessop rode a mind-numbing 516 miles, breaking the race record in the process.
Held every year since 1983 in Middleville, Mich., the race begins with a grand loop of 121 miles. Once completed, all riders are shifted to a 24-mile loop. As dusk approaches, they finish at night on a 7.6 mile rural loop. By sunset, the enervating effect of hard riding all day in scorching temperatures makes the final 12 hours of night riding a crucible of endurance and skill.
Early on, it became apparent that Jessop and Ohio’s Billy Volchko were the strongest riders in the field. About 70 miles in, Volchko picked up the pace and began to shatter the lead group. Jessop remembered thinking, “Here we go,” as he followed Volchko. In a show of sportsmanship that makes cycling such a great sport, the two riders worked together throughout the long night, pacing and encouraging each other.
Although the top speeds of ultra cyclists do not approach the speed of a road race pack, Jessop emphasized that over such a long time, concentration is critical. Crews are important for that reason. It’s dangerous when tired and riding more than 20 mph to have to fish around in a jersey pocket. Jessop’s mother crewed and was always ready to hand him water bottles and food. The race attracted riders of all abilities and temperments. Seventy-six-year-old William Ingraham of Scituate, Mass., approached Jessop and his mother and asked, “Can you help crew me? I’m an orphan.” Ingraham went on to ride a remarkable 306 miles to win his age group. A well known eccentric figure on the ultra cycling circuit, he revealed that he does no training on the road. Living on the East Coast, and fearing traffic, Ingraham logs all of his ultra training on a wind trainer in his basement and only rides outdoors in races.
Jessop had other supporters besides his mother. A racing wheelset was loaned to him by Crankworx Bike Shop of River Falls, and the Michigan crowd was full of fans who remembered his breakout performance last year. In that race, he challenged then champion Scott Luikart, and amazed race officials by clocking a final seven-mile lap at 27 mph.
The time between midnight and 3:00 a.m. is the death zone for ultra athletes. Jessop and Volchko kept each other awake, talking and “howling at the full moon.” Jessop kept going on a modest, no-meat diet. He ate peanut butter, granola and many cans of pinto and black beans. Chocolate-covered coffee beans helped keep him alert in the waning hours. An indicator of the stress the two athletes were under in the 89 degree heat is their time off bikes for the bathroom. Jessop urinated 3 times in 24 hours and Volchko did not go at all for the first 18 hours.
Toward the end of the race, they became separated at a checkpoint when Volchko disappeared for a minute to get food or make an adjustment. Jessop made a decision and went on, saying “I felt like I had been to war with him. That was the worst part of the race for me, leaving him, but I did not know where he was and I had to go.”
That break may have been the difference. Jessop went on to win by one lap, but the two riders shared a hug and mutual admiration at the finish.
Here’s what I gather from seeing pictures and video from this Cavs parade… “great leaders.” Great leaders influencing children to drink and smoke. Irving with his shirt off and pants down too low drinking straight from the bottle. I think it was JR Smith with a big cigar hanging out of his mouth. So sad. These are not role models and I hope my son never looks up to these people. I’d rather my son look up to someone like these two pictured below. They just raced over 500 miles in 24hrs. They didn’t get paid to train, didn’t get paid to race, didn’t get paid to travel, and didn’t get paid to win, yet they bust their butt training to do something they love and excelled at it. They were two competitors competing against each other for 24hrs and never smack talked, never tried to take the other out, only worked together, and at the end of their journey, this is what true sportsmanship looks like, true winners. The type of athletes that deserve to be paid and watched and admired by children. Thank you Jessop and Billy for being a true example for people to aspire to be!