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Cyclists start 508 mile race

Participants face major test of endurance

Posted: October 4, 2008 8:30 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

First leg riders take off from the Hilton Garden Inn on The Old Road Saturday morning for the tandem and relay event of the Furnace Creek 508. Riders are given 48 hours to complete the 508-mile ride to Twentynine Palms. Saturday was the 25th anniversary edition of the event.

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Two colorful crowds of cyclists commanded the attention of passerby drivers on the Old Road and Rye Canyon Road as they embarked on the Furnace Creek 508 mile race to Twentynine Palms on Saturday morning. Solo cyclists took off at 7 a.m. and the first riders of the relay division left at 9 a.m.

While Furnace Creek 508 is known as an endurance challenging race, local Gordon Zabrecky of Saugus showed no signs of nervousness.

“I feel prepared,” said Zabrecky who put in some practice time on the local route while training for the race. 

The annual race, which brings competing cyclists out from all over the state and even the nation traverses through Death Valley, and leads the riders up a total elevation gain of 35,000 feet, according to the race Web site.

Zabrecky competed with a team of four in the relay division. The team’s name was Western Mojave Tortoise but the T-shirts they sported promoted a different name.

That name is Tom Bolewski of Saugus, a close friend of the teams, who is now a recovering quadriplegic after suffering a dirt bike accident earlier this year.   

Our shirts say “Game On” to promote awareness for Tom’s recovery, Zabrecky said. Tom was an avid rider and is dedicated to getting better every day, he said.

Zabrecky and team, Rod Garcia, Ron Sarchian, and Jeff Cross, set a goal for themselves to finish the race in 36 hours.

“But hopefully we can go faster,” said Garcia.

Tim Skipper of Castaic also rode amongst the sea of relay cyclists.

“I’m feeling good,” said Skipper who raced on a tandem bike with Brenda Barnell of Dallas, Texas for team “Two Can.” “This is my fourth Furnace Creek race.”

But despite being an experienced cycling competitor, Skipper said 508 miles never gets old.

After training with his 14-year old triplet sons three to four times a week, Skipper comments that he hopes it was enough to get him through the race.

Once the riders geared up, they gathered under the Hilton Garden Inn’s entrance overhang. Despite dark, cloudy skies, most riders did not seem to bothered by the potential of rain.

“Why check the weather? We’re going anyways.” said Jeff Martin of Antioch, quoting what he referred to as a popular aviation phrase. 

Family members, friends, and support teams gave their last kisses, best wishes, and encouragement to the cyclists just minutes before take-off.

Before ready-set-go was shouted, the cyclists welcomed famous Bill Walton, retired NBA star and father of current NBA player Luke Walton, who stood tall with a large supportive smile on the sidelines.  
Walton was not the only celebrity at the event.

John Marino, whom Walton referred to as the “father” of the cycling sport, is the founder of the Furnace Creek race and two-time Guinness World record setter for cycling.

“I’m impressed,” said Marino, referring to the cyclists. “The race director, Chris Kostman has really turned this into a great race.”

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