By Chris Kostman
Despite freezing wind, bone dry air, and 35,000 feet of climbing, the 21st edition of the Furnace Creek 508, held October 19-21 from Valencia to Twenty Nine Palms, CA, was a record-breaking success. The non-stop 508 mile race pits solo riders, tandems, four rider relay teams, and eight rider tandem relay teams against one another, the elements, and the best that Death Valley and the Mojave Desert can offer in the annual test that brings together a competitive field of the world's best distance cyclists, USCF racers, and triathletes. In the end, Germany's Rainer Klaus bested the solo course record by 37 minutes, becoming the first international winner of the prestigious event with a time of 28 hours, 9 minutes, and 34 seconds, an average of 18.04 mph. Seana Hogan won the women's division for the second year in a row, placing sixth overall in the process, in 31:24:53. The mixed tandem pair of Cindi Staiger and Mark Patten broke the mixed tandem record with a time of 32:28:12. The most competitive team race ever brought Team BLST Cougar of Bakersfield, CA, over the line just eight minutes ahead of Team Sasquatch with a time of 24:45:05.
Experience paid big dividends at the 508 this year, given the intensely well-fought race and freakish weather conditions that included forty mph winds from every direction and temperatures ranging from the high 30's at night to the mid-80's during the day. Solo winner Klaus, 33, benefited from his experience as an alpine ski racer, daily cold weather bike commuter, and his snowstorm victory two years ago in the 580 mile Tour of North Texas, reminiscent of Andy Hampsten's now infamous Giro d'Italia win in a snowstorm. This tenacity, along with a steady diet of marshmallows, gummy bears, cookies, and Coke, enabled Klaus to take the lead by mile 100 and hold onto it until the finish. His lead over a trio of RAAM racers was two full hours by the finish due to even steeper climbs later in the course which favored Klaus's Alpine training background. Second place was recent RAAM finisher Peter Pop of Malibu, CA, just five minutes ahead of Adrian Harris of Somerville, NJ, followed 16 minutes later by Team RAAM finisher John Williams of San Clemente, CA. Women's champion Seana Hogan, the four time RAAM winner and 1995 overall 508 winner, was two hours, 48 minutes off her course record, but handily beat USCF racer Kathy Simko of Tucson, AZ, and the rest of the women's field. 1988 RAAM winner Cindi Staiger of Los Angeles came out of retirement to team up with 1994 508 finisher and 1996 Bicycle Across Missouri winner Mark Patten of Saratoga, CA, to best the mixed tandem record by over five hours.
This was only Klaus's second bicycle race in the United States, making his U.S. career record two for two. He benefitted at the 508 from an outstanding support team headed up by noted UMCA racer Merial Jackrabbit Jackson, along with Barbara Jackson, and Olympic bike mechanic Bill Ron. Klaus's sponsors included Harry's Bike Shop in Lenningen, Germany, as well as Ero and Centurion. Said Klaus, "Thank you very much for this wonderful race. We had a very nice team and the weather was great for me. I enjoyed the great scenery while riding and told my crew to take many pictures for me to take on my journey home. The idea of the animal totems is so much funny that I could not help but to take lot of pictures before the race of all of the vans and the teams. The best idea was Team Snail Darters "faster than farm equipment". I still laugh when I think of this. Thanks to the officials; they did their job and they were present all the time and everywhere. This race has such a good atmosphere and it should be made more public in Germany. I will do what I can to help."
Team ultra racing is fast becoming one of the most popular and competitive forms of road racing available, as illustrated by the brutally fast 1996 Team RAAM, which found two Bakersfield, CA, teams battling neck and neck across America this past August. This trend continued at the 508, with yet another Bakersfield team dueling with a neophyte composite team and five other teams for the title. The teams of four racers traded off riders every 15 to 30 minutes, always riding at their anaerobic threshold in a blazingly fast race that featured men's teams, 50+ teams, women's teams, coed teams, and a first ever eight women tandem team.
Team Sasquatch featured Keith Kostman, 33, a Master Spinning® Instructor from Paris, France, who had never been in a bicycle race before, Steve Ilg, 34, the Wholistic Fitness™ creator from Durango, CO, Roy Wallack, 40, editor of Triathlete Magazine in Los Angeles, and Ron Jones, 36, the two time Team RAAM winner of Team Kern Wheelmen in Bakersfield, CA. The four riders and their support crew had never met or ridden together before the race. Sasquatch's main competition was BLST Cougar of that town crazed with team ultra racing, Bakersfield, CA. The riders, mostly Cat3 racers, were Ted Ahlem, 40, Scott Garrison, 42, Lance St. Pierre, 40, and Bob Smith, 44. Their support team and vehicles were polished Team RAAM veterans with Mike Wracher of the 1995 Team RAAM winning team as their crew chief.
Sasquatch took the lead handily at the start of the race, but made a simple, and costly, mistake almost immediately: their rider failed to stop at a stop sign obscured by a downhill blind curve and numerous support vehicles and crew standing around. Their mandatory 15 minute penalty would later be served hockey-style by sitting on the side of the road at the last race checkpoint, just 13 miles from the finish line. With this understanding, Sasquatch raced even harder, eventually building a 15 minute lead over BLST Cougar. But even 15 minutes, which effectively put the two teams neck and neck, was not enough to hold off the well-oiled Bakersfield machine. Rookie mistake after rookie mistake, from sloppy transitions to mechanical and navigational errors, eventually brought Sasquatch back to a mere five minutes ahead of BLST Cougar. Finally, 13 miles from the finish, after dominating the race for just shy of 500 miles, Sasquatch had to pull over and serve their time penalty. Sitting on the side of the road, defeated literally but not spiritually, they watched BLST Cougar ride by into victory. Later, Team Porpoise of Ojai, CA, would best their own coed team record by a full hour.
Of special note was Team Tarantula, featuring eight women on four tandems from around the country with numerous Paralympic medals amongst them, who established a tandem team record of 28:00:05. One of the most unique teams to ever race an ultra event, Team Tarantula was third overall, finishing cloe behind behind Team Susquatch and Team BLST Cougar. They were the first tandem team to ever race Furnace Creek.
But Team Tarantula's uniqueness comes from the fact that three of the stokers and one of the captains represented the United States in the Paralympics this past August and each of them won silver medals (and also two bronze medals) in cycling events for the blind and visually impaired. Another reason that team captain Marlee Sondgeroth organized the Tarantula women to do the race was to gain exposure for this unique, but talented, population of cyclists. Six of Team Tarantula's members have held or are currently holding National cycling titles, most of those on tandems with blind and/or visually impaired stokers. Said Marlee, who went she's not racing these events serves on the Kern Wneelmen crew, "We decided to make a tandem team a necessity rather than a choice by racing with visually impaired stokers and giving them a chance to race a tough, exciting race so they could get off of their trainers and out of their living rooms!"
In other race notes, two athletes became the first to collect the "Death Valley Cup" by completing both the Badwater 146 running race from Badwater to Mt. Whitney and Furnace Creek 508 in the same calendar year. Charlie Lizard Liskey completed Badwater this past Summer in the walking division, while Marshall Unicorn Ulrich, the reigning king of ultra running, won Badwater for the fifth time this year. The two placed 17th and 16th respectively, and respectably, at Furnace Creek. This was Marshall's first bicycle race, so watch out, Kish!
1. Rainer King Crab Klaus 28:09:34 (new overall course record)
2. Peter Penguin Pop 30:08:85
3. Adrian Hog Harris 30:13:01
4. John Walrus Williams 30:29:19
5. Justin Panda Peschka 30:55:39 (1st not previously RAAM-qualified)
6. Charlie Mandrill Miller 31:31:17 (RAAM Qualifier)
7. William Bull Brown 32:35:59 (RAAM Qualifier)
8. Rick Amoeba Anderson 33:42:37 (RAAM Qualifier)
9. Mikael Hippo Hendrikkson 34:37:37 (RAAM Qualifier)
10. Les Dragon Drake 34:54:06
11. Jeff Dalmation Dewey 36:35:28
12. Dana Brittlestar Bradshaw 37:10:14
13. Gary Kudu Kliewer 37:46:30
14. Scott Snake Smith 38:04:05
15. Michael Rooster Ross 38:15:35
16. Marshall Unicorn Ulrich 38:32:45 (Death Valley Cup Finisher)
17. Charlie Lizard Liskey 39:32:08 (Death Valley Cup Finisher)
18. Stefan Seagull Schlett 39:56:22
Clayton Grasshopper Gardinier DNF
Jeff Bluejay Born DNF
Hugh Mad Dog Murphy DNF
Leonard Ferrett Fieber DNF
Tim Kinkajou Kinkeade DNF
Arvid Leopard Lowewn DNF
Bernie Cow Comeau DNF
Ron Sparrow Shepston DNF
Larry Goshorn Grouper DNF
Perry Swan Smith DNF
David Monkey Moore DNF
Del Spider Scharffenberg 34:06:01 (RAAM Qualifier)
Erik Newt Nordensen 36:55:58 (RAAM Qualifier)
John Mallard Mickey DNF (fatigue / cramps)
1. Seana Hoopoe Hogan 31:24:53
2. Kathy Sabertooth Simko 38:45:05 (1st non previously RAAM
Marie Hornet Handrahan DNF
Sheherezade Albatross Adams DNF
Men's Oriole Tandem
George Thomas/Mike Kloppel DNF
Mixed Pitsnake Tandem:
1. Mark Patten/Cindy Staiger 32:28:12 (new course record)
1. Team BLST Cougar 24:45:05
Ted Ahlem, Scott Garrison, Lance St. Pierre, Bob Smith, Bakersfield,
2. Team Sasquatch 24:53:01
Keith Kostman, Steve Ilg, Ron Jones, Roy Wallack, Paris, France, Los
Angeles, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Rio Rancho, NM
3. Team Barracuda 28:25:38
Doug Kipperman, Wayne Westling, Jim Blauer, Jeff Davis, Coronado, CA
Mens 50+ Team
1. Team Whippet 29:41:51
Jerry Wildermuth, Jewett Pattee, Bob Walz, Ron Byrum, Los Angeles, CA
1. Snail Darters 30:51:38
Sue Gishi, Marcia Gibbs, Anne Schneider, Lois Springsteen, Davis, CA
1. Team Porpoise 28:55:45 (new course record)
Pablo Fennell, Robert Stone, Rosemary Stone, Traci David, Ojai, CA
Eight Woman Tandem Team
1. Team Tarantula 28:00:05 (set course record)
Marlee Sondgeroth, Joyce Knochel, Susan Hall, Ali Waechli, Tiffany
Tretschok, Juli Haft, Kathy Urschel, and Cara Dunne, AZ, CA, NY, MD
Special thanks to the Furnace Creek 508 Sponsors:
Hi-Tec Sports USA - Footwear.
Atlas Snowshoe Company - Snowshoes.
Endura/UNIPRO Performance Nutrition - Nutritional Products.
Hugh Murphy Productions - $100 cash to first solo man and woman.
Aussie Racing Apparel - Finishers jerseys.
Cycle Design - Graphic Arts / T-Shirt and Jersey Designs.
Ranch House Inn - Starting Line Host Hotel.
Gardens Motel - Finish Line Host Hotel.
Valencia Country Club - Banquet Facilities.