The prestigious WEMBO 24 Hour World Championship was hosted in the USA for the first time with locations like Scotland, Italy, and Australia in its past. Weaverville, California hosted the event boasting one of the most challenging 24 hour courses on record. 6 time World Champion Jason English noted, “This was the hardest 24 Hour course I’ve ever done, and I’ve won more than 23 of these races! The climbing was extremely difficult.”
Sonya Looney has three 24 Hour USA National Champion victories to date, all being in the coed duo or 4-person team format. It was her first attempt at a solo effort for 24 hours. “I always wanted to take a swing at the solo category and I figured the best place to do it would be at World Championships. There were a lot of logistical unknowns going into the race, but I had some great veterans on my side giving me invaluable tips.”
The course consisted of roughly 13 mile laps with 1600′ of elevation gain per lap. Sonya steadily completed 18 laps with a total of 234 miles and 29,000′ of elevation gain. Most of the elevation occurred in the first 3 miles of the course.
The field was extremely competitive with veterans from all over the world. Sonya recalls, “I didn’t know what was going to happen. On the first lap, one of the ladies rode away from me on the first climb and I had to be strict with myself and just let her go. I caught her on the downhill and we went back and forth that way for 2 laps. At dusk, both 2nd and 3rd place were a mere 7-9 minutes behind me. I knew that I needed to ride an unwaveringly hard pace through the night with no mistakes. I managed to open up a gap of 32 minutes by dawn. Persistency was key; some laps I gained 2 minutes while others I picked up 5 minutes. I actually had the most fun at night! There’s something to riding at your limit following a short tunnel of light. I didn’t even need that much caffeine!”
Photo: Russ Baker
Photo: Russ Baker
At 11:50 AM, Sonya crossed the finish line claiming her first World Champion victory 50 minutes ahead of 2nd place. “Everything went right for me and I executed my laps with almost surgical precision. I was so thankful to have my husband, Matt supporting me in the pit. It was also his first time supporting me in a race like this and we had to have an organized plan. Of course, there were some things I could have done to be more efficient in the pit, but I could not be happier! The women charging behind me pushed me to ride at a very high level! I am happy to say I had no stomach or eye problems like some of the elite men, my equipment was stellar, and my attitude was stronger than my physical state. That is so important in endurance racing.”
WEMBO offers equal payout for both men and women with a $13,000+ USD prize purse paying 10 deep. The male and female World Champions also receive a free plane ticket and entry fee to the following year’s World Championship event. WEMBO is a leader in setting equal payout and media coverage as a standard in cycling.
Sonya’s final thoughts on her season: “Winning World Championships was a great way to end one of the most tumultuous seasons of my career. I had some great results with several NUE 100 mile wins including winning the biggest 100 miler in Latin America, winning a 6 day stage race across Patagonia, and a top 4 result at a UCI stage race in Spain with national teams seeking Olympic points. I was off the bike for 6 weeks in the late spring due to knee tendonitis and broke my arm a month after being back on the bike. Those injuries were a major damper on some big plans I had this summer. However, it was breaking my arm that motivated me to register for Worlds! There is always something positive that comes out of a seemingly disappointing situation! I’m looking forward to some big Fall rides in BC, honing some of my Enduro skills (hint, hint) and enjoying some local CX races.”
Photo: Vic Armijo
Photo: Russ Baker