Mountain biking star finds county a challenge

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

September 12, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

DRIVE THE fringes of Patapsco Valley State Park even occasionally and from the number of cyclists around, you can't help but conclude someone in Howard County has to be into competitive mountain biking.

But, naw, we heard several times in recent weeks from people we figured might know. Lots of riders traverse Patapsco's trails, but only a couple guys try an occasional local event; so no one is what you'd call seriously into racing.

We unexpectedly got an e-mail Thursday saying an Ellicott City man was indeed into mountain bike racing seriously. He won his second national endurance title in Spokane, Wash., in June.

Last Sunday, he won his fifth-straight world endurance championship in the sport in Whistler, British Columbia. There have only been six such races.

Meet Chris Eatough, 29, who makes a living out of mountain bike racing as a member of the professional Trek Bicycling Factory Team. Trek calls him "the world's most successful 24-hour racer."

It's work that takes him all over the world, not to mention over every inch of the trail's Patapsco Valley's Avalon section.

Mostly, he said, he trains alone - four hours or more a day on a bike, sometimes in that park, in the Catoctins or Gambrill State Park in Frederick County, or sometimes on county roads. Sometimes he works out with a Trek teammate from Baltimore who makes his living as a bike messenger.

What Eatough's most recent victory means is this: He's five-for-five in what's billed as the toughest annual challenge in all of mountain biking - how many laps can riders pile up during 24 straight hours of riding?

In Eatough's case at the "24 Hours of Adrenaline World Championships," the answer was 21 - 231 miles. Doing so took him almost 25 hours, because once you're into a lap when 24 hours has elapsed, you have to finish.

Did we mention that a single lap was 11 miles ... and that each time around meant pedaling not only rough, off-road terrain, but also a 1,500-foot change in elevation?

Eatough outlasted 179 other entrants, male and female, from around the world in a race that began on sunny Sept. 4 with a Le Mans start - each rider running a half-mile before climbing onto bikes. It went through the night with temperatures dipping into the 40s.

But by 11:40 a.m. Sept. 5, it was clear that Eatough's closest challenger wasn't about to begin a new lap and that he had won again. Not that it was easy. He and a Canadian pro who was once an Olympian broke out early and did the first six laps in less than an hour each - before the Canadian dropped out.

Ham sandwiches, pasta, fig bars and fluids kept Eatough rolling through pit stops, the longest of which was a minute, although most lasted about 10 seconds.

His pit crew was his father, Mike Eatough; his manager, Jonathan Posner; his mechanic, Steve Borkoski; and his fiancee, Allison Foreman.

Eatough, born in England, came to the United States with his family in 1990 because of his father's work. He attended Fallston High School in Harford County.

He got into mountain biking after finishing at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he was a soccer defender for four seasons. His father, a life-long motorcycle enthusiast and entrepreneur who works for Harley Davidson in York, Pa., was a mountain-bike racer.

The younger Eatough started with cross-country racing, the most popular form of mountain-bike, or off-road racing; events take about two hours. He branched into endurance racing, first with a team of four in relays, later solo.

He moved to Ellicott City about a year ago, he said, mainly because of its access to Patapsco Valley State Park and its good roads for training. The hills of Ilchester, he said, can stretch any cyclist's muscles and lungs.

And Gambrill State Park, with its steep, rocky, tree-rooted trails, offers mountain bike riders world-class challenges, he said.

Despite mountain biking's rough-and-tumble image to non-riders, Eatough said, he's had little trouble with injuries, "mainly because you're not traveling that fast."

His worst injury, a broken ankle, occurred during a workout on a regular bike - it slid unexpectedly on a wet road.

Racing with Trek and representing corporate and personal sponsors who pay his way has taken Eatough to Europe, Puerto Rico and New Zealand, and across the continental United States, especially to Colorado and California.

He's planning to compete in South Africa in April. You'll find him at regional cross-country events most weekends.

Except for next weekend. That's when he and Foreman, who sent us the e-mail pointing out that someone in Howard County takes mountain biking seriously - will be getting married.

Know some interesting stuff about fall sports you think others might like too? Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@ baltsun.com.

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