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Biking the road less traveled

Despite torturous winds, finger-numbing chills and the federal shutdown, Saugus man rides for finish

Posted: October 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Saugus resident Nabeel Atique poses at Spunky Canyon Road, a 40-mile loop he practices, on Oct. 16. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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When he first started riding, Saugus resident Nabeel Atique swore he would never do this. But two weeks ago, he stood poised on his bike, staring down the start of a 350-mile-plus race.

He was aware of the danger, of the physical demand – of the grand commitment he would need to succeed.
But he loves the ride.

“Some call it the toughest 24 hours in sports. Regardless, it was my first race, and it was an extreme one,” Atique said Wednesday, recounting the Furnace Creek 508, a 48-hour endurance race that starts in the Santa Clarita Valley and courses through Southern California.

Originally from Bangladesh, Atique is the first person from his country to finish the race.

Moving to the U.S. to go to school, Atique began work as an engineer in San Jose, and he eventually decided to change his career and move to Santa Clarita, teaching at Antelope Valley College.

For 12 years, Atique was a mountain biker; he swore he would never ride a road bike. But eventually curiosity and the joy of the ride wore down his resolve.

Three years ago, on a particularly productive ride, Atique decided not to quit when the dirt road ended. He continued onto the paved road, and never looked back on his doubts about road biking.

He bought a road bike and picked up cycling.

“That was it,” he said.

About a year after discovering cycling, the two-wheeling enthusiast had completed his first “century,” a 100-mile ride and another challenge he swore he’d never attempt. Leading up to his most recent race, Atique completed four more centuries – earning the California Triple Crown for finishing three separate centuries.

The 508-mile race was the next logical step.

 

The race

With only 48 hours, difficult time cut-offs and a grueling number of miles, the race is one of the hardest rides out there, Atique said.


It can be completed alone, by a two-rider team or a four-rider team. Atique and his partner Jeff Mullins decided to split the task, calling their team the Fire-Breathing Ducks.

“Jeff chose the name,” Atique said with a chuckle. “Most of us don’t take this too seriously.”

In preparation for the race, Atique completed 70-mile rides a few times a week. He learned the amount of food, water and energy he needed to succeed. He was ready.

But he did not expect the partial government shutdown to derail his race before it even started. Because national parks were closed during the shutdown, the course of the ride was re-routed to a 356-mile ride with more demanding time cut-offs to compensate.

With the altered course, Atique would take two of the four total stages. His partner rode first. After following Mullins in the support vehicle for hours, Atique was anxious.

He hit his first stage hard, climbing 4,000 feet in about 4 hours, only stopping for stop signs.

“The winds were horrendous,” he said. But Atique came off it feeling strong.

 

The second stage

Exchanging the baton, a yellow rubber duck, Mullins passed the final leg of the race off to Atique.

“I didn’t sleep at all because I was anxious about how my body would feel after riding so hard the first time,” he said. “I’d also never ridden at 2:30 a.m.”

Climbing several thousand feet, the exhaustive work kept him warm in low-30s temperatures.

“People were tired, and at that point, I started passing people,” Atique said.

After moving through the Mojave Desert and approaching the Antelope Valley, however, his fingers went completely numb from the cold.

“I was miserable. I started to go faster to keep warm. The cold was fueling my race, but I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I kept looking at the horizon, waiting for the sun to come up, but it wouldn’t.”

The sun did come up. And Atique fell back into the rhythm, passing a female solo competitor dubbed Raging Bull.

“It was a fast section at that point. We played leap frog. We were really going for it,” he said.

But approaching Sierra Highway to finish at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, Atique was on familiar ground.

He passed her. He was barreling down Sierra. He was five miles from the finish.

And then he got a flat.

Waiting for the support crew to swap him for his back-up bike, Atique watched Raging Bull flash by.

“Even her support crew was cheering me on,” he said.

Once the damage was fixed, Atique got back on the bike and entered main streets. At the end of a race, riders need to be very careful when merging with cars. And as a sign of respect for position, no one passes at that point, he said.

“Its not a mad dash to the finish. The point is to finish the race. The camaraderie among the cyclists is what people care about,” Atique said.

Finishing with about 5 hours to spare, Mullins joined Atique to cross the finish. Placing 20th in their.
“After 112 miles, 5,000 feet of climbing and riding through the night with temps in the 30s, I felt pretty good,” Atique said. “I’ll consider trying it again next year – I won’t rule it out.”

kirsten@signalscv.com
661-287-5593

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