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Race big draw despite move

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

Moving to a whole new neck of the woods hasn't curbed the number of entrants for West Virginia's nationally known, 24-hour mountain bike relay race.

The 24 Hours of Canaan race drew about 500 teams of cyclists and thousands of spectators to Timberline last year in Tucker County. Cyclists came from all over, especially from East Coast states like Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

About 450 teams of cyclists already have signed up for this year's event, which has been moved to Snowshoe Resort in Pocahontas County. It will be held June 10-11.

"We're almost full," said promoter Laird Knight. He plans to cut off entries at 500 teams, or about 2,000 cyclists.

Knight announced the move to Snowshoe in December after a ruling by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that riders no longer could cross sections of public land at Timberline.

It was the second time since the event began in 1992 that it has had to move; in 1994, it went to Timberline after a power company ruled cyclists no longer could ride on its land near Davis.

The race's popularity blossomed about the same time as the move to Timberline, with Knight and his Granny Gear Productions Inc. of Davis landing national sponsors and starting similar, 24-hour mountain bike relay events in California and Utah.

Knight acknowledges he was apprehensive about another move of the West Virginia race.

"I was afraid that people would really be disappointed," Knight said. "But the general consensus I'm getting from people is excitement. People are excited about the new venue. And they're really excited about getting a new race course to race on."

Morgantown's Gunnar Shogren, who has led teams to the 24 Hours of Canaan title, doesn't think the move will "matter a whole lot."

"People are saying, 'Ohh! it's going to leave Canaan!' Well, when it left Davis and went to Timberline it left Canaan proper. ...

"If Snowshoe's enabling it to grow, who wants to stop that? There have been a lot of teams that have been unable to get in because of the lack of resources down (at Timberline). If Snowshoe can enable them to get in, I'm all for it," Shogren said.

Tyler Wells, a junior racer whose family operates Fat Tire Cycles in Buckhannon, said the move will make somewhat of a difference.

"I personally don't think it's a good thing because Snowshoe is sitting on top of a hill where Canaan was on the bottom. This just looks like it will change the whole gist of the 24 Hours of Canaan. But they haven't set the course yet, so it's just going to be one of those things that pan out."

Wells also believes the terrain will be different.

"It's going to be a whole lot rougher," Wells said. "From not personally riding at Snowshoe, but from other people riding there, they say it's real, real rocky, kind of gnarly stuff."

Still, Wells said most of the riders he has talked to will ride in the 24 Hours of Snowshoe despite the move. And Wells will ride in it again, too.

One change could be in lodging.

Snowshoe has lodging for 9,700 people, according to Snowshoe Communications Manager Joe Stevens. That is much more than at Timberline, according to Knight.

"Booking has been extremely active," Stevens said. "As soon as the word got out that we were hosting the 24 Hours of Snowshoe, our phones started to ring, and we're continuing to get calls."

There will be camping at Snowshoe, as at Timberline.

"We've had some camping with some of the mountain bike events we've had here at Snowshoe at our Silver Creek area, and we're going to expand on that," Stevens said. "We know it's an outdoor event, and a lot of people really enjoy the outdoor exposure of it."

Stevens said it was a no-brainer for Snowshoe to host the event.

"Heck, this is the largest mountain bike relay event in North America," Stevens said. "We'd be crazy not to want to host it. ... We just thought it would be a great way to showcase the mountain bike terrain we have here at our 11,000-acre resort."

Knight and members of the Snowshoe staff will begin designing the course as soon as the weather permits.

"I want to set up a world class mountain bike course," Knight said. "That's the first and foremost task we have and it's very important for me. ... I'd like to have the course roughly set ideally by the end of April, then be able to begin construction by mid- to late May."

Holding the event at Snowshoe may eventually permit Knight to expand the number of teams beyond the standard total of 500. He said he turns away racers each year.

"But, we're not going to do that this year. We're going to wait until we have a year under our belt and then decide if we're going to accommodate any more teams," Knight said.

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