Handicapping the 2000 Furnace Creek 508

By Steve Beaver Born, 1994 champ and 1999 runner-up

(Scroll down to see Steve's post-race analysis of his predictions!)

Just for fun I thought I'd make some predictions on this year's Furnace Creek 508 race. Unlike last year where there was a clear favorite (Justin Peschka) I believe this year's race will be the most competitive of all time. These are just educated (if you consider me educated) guesses.

Here's my top twelve:

  1. Fabio Biasiolo: Even though he'll be a rookie at Furnace Creek, with a third place finish in this year's mountainous RAAM, I have to consider Fabio the favorite. Because RAAM ended a month earlier this year, he'll have had a chance to fully recover.
  2. Kaname Sakurai: Finished in the top five in the 1994 Furnace Creek 508 and has multiple RAAM finishes under his belt. Kaname is also trying to complete the Death Valley Cup, finishing the Badwater Ultramarathon running race and the Furnace Creek 508 race in the same year.
  3. Peter Pop: If Peter is fully recovered from his victory at the Badwater/Durango race he'll be a definite favorite with several Furnace Creek 508 and RAAM finishes in his resume.
  4. Andrew Bohannon: I haven't heard much from Andrew in the past year or so but he sure rode strong in RAAM '98. If heat is a factor in this years 508, his experiences with it from RAAM '98 (The Nightmare From Hell) will definitely be a bonus.
  5. Istvan Makk: The first rookie. He rode some of the triple crown doubles so fast that I have to consider him a contender even though he's never done this race before.
  6. Dean Crothers: 5th place in 1999 (under abysmal conditions...I know, I was there!) in an excellent time of a bit over 35 hours. Should go even faster if conditions are better.
  7. Sam Beal: 7th place in 1999, less than an hour behind Crothers. Another rider who should improve if the weather conditions are better.
  8. Kurt Rieder: Swiss rider who gave the 508 a go a couple years ago but did not finish. I've ridden with Kurt (or I tried to) during PAC Tour. Very fast, excellent climber. Could finish in top three to five if all goes right.
  9. Rick Kent: I would probably place Rick higher but since he's using the 508 as a training ride (that's some training ride!) for a double Ironman race later in the season, I'm not sure how hard he intends to race it. But with a 508 and several RAAM finishes under his belt he knows what doing the distance (and doing it fast) is like.
  10. Greg Giltner: In the front in last year's 508 before having to drop ("not ready to meet God"). Strong and fast though and should have a better race this year.
  11. John Williams: Multi 508 finisher, RAAM experience, team experience...lots of experience! John will do well this year and may crack the top 7.
  12. Tom Davies: I don't care if he were 80 years old, this guy is tough. Masters record holder in RAAM says an awful lot about he can do on a bike.

There are sure to be many rookies, most of whom I don't know, that will have excellent races and will surely displace some of my picks. At any rate, this will be a fascinating men's race this year.

I don't have any picks for the women's race simply because I don't know enough about the four riders entered. If I had to hazard a guess I would pick last year's entrant Jeannie Barnett as the favorite.

This morning in beautiful (and indeed it is!) Whitefish, Montana it was well below freezing. It may even snow sometime next week! So I am especially excited (not ready for snow yet) to be making the trip down to the desert for this year's race as a representative for E-CAPS/HAMMER NUTRITION. I will also be helping officiate this year's 508 and will write an article for the Ultra Cycling forum when I return home.

And Now, After the Race:

What a weekend! I flew out of Whitefish, Montana early Friday morning to attend this year's Furnace Creek 508 as a representative for E-CAPS and Hammer Nutrition as well as to help officiate and of course to see my friends. I arrived in Valencia, California mid day Friday, and starting at 7:00 AM Saturday (the solo rider start), drove the course (some of the sections several times) until late Sunday night. After a three-hour sleep I drove back to Los Angeles to catch my flight back home where I arrived around 1:00 PM today (Monday). Whew!

But what a great race, another year of the 508 and another fantastic race. I took down lots of notes and hope to write a longer article sometime soon about this year's race but wanted to share a couple thoughts at this time.

Kudos once again to Chris Kostman and his staff who put on another superb race. The organization of the 508 is impeccable and it shows in the quality of the race. In my mind, while taking absolutely nothing away from the other ultras, I feel this is the premier ultra cycling race in the country. Again, a good deal of that has to do with the quality of the race organization and officiating, but it mainly has to do with the race itself. Finish this one and you know you're in a very select group.

It's hard to accurately gauge the weather conditions when you're sitting in a car (like I was this year) but it appeared to be superb conditions, at least as far as temperatures were concerned. Daytime highs throughout the race rarely, if ever, got over the mid 80's. It did get quite chilly at night, dipping into the low 40's. The world's largest thermometer in Baker, CA (Time station #4 at 381 miles) registered 55 degrees at around 6:00 AM but it felt a good ten degrees cooler. The riders I talked to mentioned that there were some definite headwinds during the race, primarily in the first 200 miles. This may account for the slightly slower finishing times this year. I had earlier believed that with the quality of this field, several riders could dip under 31 hours, a couple under 30 hours. That was not the case though, again probably due to the headwinds.

Good conditions or not, this is one tough course, arguably the toughest 500+ mile stretch of cycling terrain there is. Unless you've done this race it's just so hard to describe how difficult it is. And again, finishing this race is simply an awesome accomplishment. Congratulations to everyone who made the entire 508 miles from Valencia through Death Valley to Twentynine Palms.

I had originally handicapped the race so let's see how I did. Here are the current results compared to my handicapping...

  1. Andrew Bohannon: 31 hours 17 minutes. Stayed in the top three through the first 250 miles but simply crushed the field with an absolutely insane split from the time station in Furnace Creek (#3) to the next time station in Shoshone. This is a 75-mile stretch over two tough climbs, Jubilee and Salsberry Passes. Andrew arrived at the Furnace Creek time station in a tie with then race leader Kaname Sakarai but put on the gas and never looked back. Fantastic effort.
  2. Kaname Sakarai: 32:32. Held the lead until the Furnace Creek time station. Fell to third place until sometime after time station #6 at the 430 mile mark but rallied and finished another stellar race. Most impressive though is that Kaname finished in 3rd place in the Badwater ultra running race less than a month earlier and won a 100-mile running race two weeks prior to the start of the 508! The guy's an animal!
  3. Istvan Makk: 33:45. I originally had "Ish" picked to finish 5th. He was among the top finishers in the Cal Triple Crown series of 200 milers but had never done anywhere near this distance. He was never out of the top three the entire race. Rode one of the best rides ever by a rookie and could definitely win it with what he's learned with this experience.
  4. Dan Jordan: 34:19. I had never met Dan nor did I know too much about him prior to this race but I sure do now. Dan rode an intelligent race, pacing himself flawlessly. He arrived at the first time station in California City in 8th place, moved up to 6th place at time station #2 in Trona, dropped back down to 8th by Furnace Creek, but arrived at the Baker time station back in 6th place. By the last time station (#7) near the summit of the grueling Sheephole Mountain pass he had positioned himself in 4th place with a 22-minute pad and increased it to the finish. An excellent tactical race.
  5. Peter Pop: 34:50. After a victory at the Badwater to Durango race under horrible conditions I wasn't sure if there would be enough time for Peter to recover completely. Well, I was wrong about that. As far back as 11th place in the early stages of the race, 508 and RAAM veteran Pop rode his usual consistent race, focusing on his strengths as a climber to complete another top five 508 finish.
  6. Valsesia Nico: 35:09. For awhile a couple of the race officials and I were calling him "the other Italian" simply because we had no previous knowledge of his abilities. Every time I saw him though he looked strong and remarkably fresh. Another consistent performer, always in the top seven throughout the entire race.
  7. Sam Beal: 35:39. Finishing a place higher than his previous best the year before (an excellent 8th place finish overall), Beal is the epitome of consistency. This year's time was very close to last year's...only a three minute difference between the two! Was in the top five all the way to Townes Pass and maintained a strong pace to record another top finish.
  8. Jeff Martin: 36:49. Another rookie in the field, Jeff was of particular interest for me in that we spent a lot of time over the past few months designing and fine tuning a supplement and fueling strategy for this race. It's always great to see a rider who starts the race with fairly conservative goals and eventually goes beyond his previous expectations. When I think of the word "focus" Jeff definitely comes to mind. Climbed the Sheephole Mountain Pass faster than anyone I've seen before to move from 10th to 8th maintaining it to finish to become the 4th qualifier for RAAM in this year's race.
  9. Steve Winfrey: 37:10. Steve is now three for three in the 508 and although his time was a bit slower this year, he looked very strong and fit, climbing extremely well. His strengths on the flats was quite impressive as well. Has a great attitude to go along with his abilities and could do well in RAAM should he ever decide to give it a go.
  10. John Williams: 37:33. A Team RAAM veteran, solo RAAM veteran, Team 508 veteran, and solo 508 veteran, John's done it all. Rode strong throughout the first 400 miles, faded slightly, then came back strong with another top finish.

Top female this year, Jeannie Barnett was consistent with a capital "C". Every time I saw her she was steady and fluid and always enthusiastic about the whole experience. Her excellent time of 39:08 placed her in 12th place overall.

Now About my Predictions...

Based on his RAAM finishes I had picked Fabio Biasiolo to win. While he always rode in the top four, it didn't seem to me to be the same guy I've competed against in RAAM. That little extra strength and speed he possesses didn't seem to be there. Due to severe cramping (this is what I had heard anyway) he was forced to withdraw before reaching the time station in Shoshone, while climbing the seemingly endless Salsberry Pass somwhere around 1:30 AM.

Based on his 5th place finish in last year's race, I had picked Dean Crothers to finish in 6th place this year. I was officiating in the vicinity of the top 10-15 riders and I never heard what was going on with Dean throughout the race or why he eventually had to drop.

Kurt Reider from Switzerland would had been a definite contender this year but he didn't make it to the starting line.

I had picked Rick Kent to finish 9th based on his RAAM and 508 experience. Admitted to me late in the race that his fitness was not at the level it needed to be to achieve a top ten finish. He still rode an excellent race (he is using it for training for a Double Ironman distance race in November) and finished 13th overall.

Greg Giltner is a strong rider and, as I had expected, had a better race this year. Still, he eventually had to drop at the Furnace Creek time station this year, citing "burn out" as his reason.

Tom Davies is still one tough cyclist. You don't hold the masters record in RAAM if you aren't. Didn't have one of his better races this year though and DNF'd.

That's it for now, more later. Again, congratulations to all the riders in this year's race.

Click here to read Steve's overall 2000 race report

For an excellent interview / profile article of Steve Born, click here.