Coach was wrong. Nice guys don’t finish last.
And when everything’s just right, they beat living legends.
Dana Weber, an Aliso Viejo, Calif., resident who turned 31 on Wednesday, April 18, got an early birthday present the other week.
He won one of the toughest mountain bike races in the nation — Orange County’s Vision Quest put on by the Warrior’s Society. The race covers 55 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation in the Santa Ana Mountains.
But Weber didn’t just win the race. By one of the narrowest margins in Vision Quest history — 1:11 in a five-hour race — Weber nosed out Tinker Juarez, a professional mountain bike racer who has dominated the sport for two decades.
Understand that last year, Juarez, a two-time Olympian, won Vision Quest as well as several other endurance races.
The really cool thing? Juarez just happens to be a nice guy as well. With Weber pushing on his tail midrace, the pro allowed the amateur to pass.
Weber’s day job is director of operations for Irvine, Calif.-based Winspire, a travel agency of sorts for nonprofits seeking to raise funds. Time-pressed — his wife, Beth, is due with the couple’s first child in August — Weber blends commute times with training and turns what would be a short drive into a 40-mile bike ride.
I talked to Weber after his accomplishment on April 7 and traded emails. The Texas A&M graduated offered, “It’s not so much about racing the other riders, but much more about challenging yourself to your absolute limits.”
Here’s Weber’s race in his words:
I can’t wait for tomorrow and the Vision Quest! It’s been a nice Good Friday with the office closing early, a solid spin on my road bike, and a little nap. The 3:30 a.m. wake-up call will be here before I know it …
I believe God has a good day in store, but no matter what happens I’ll be at church Sunday full of thanks and praise. Happy Easter!
As I climbed Blackstar Canyon in the dark early hours of the morning, going pretty much at my limit and watching Tinker and a couple others ride away, I had no idea it would be my day.
But I did know I was riding the pace I should be and that there were five hours of really tough mountain biking to go.
After 1:40, my wife, Beth, was at an aid station and gave me much needed moral support.
Fifty minutes and 4,000 feet of elevation later, I was told the gap to Tinker was 3:30. The peak was only about 30 minutes away and I started thinking anything can still happen …
From Santiago Peak it was 3,900 vertical feet down on one of the best single tracks in all of Southern California — Holy Jim Trail. I thought that if I rode it perfectly I might be able to get Tinker in sight before heading into the last third of the race.
Halfway down, I spotted him and my day started taking on a whole new meaning. Tinker and I rode the lower half of Holy Jim and went through a checkpoint together.
From there it was out to West Horse Thief, a single-track climb so ridiculous that everyone considers it a hike-a-bike. But two weeks before, I rode through it. That built some confidence for the most decisive part of the race.
I led Tinker into that last third of the race so I was able to set the pace. But I was having pretty severe cramps off and on. Still, I told myself that every minute I was able keep leading was another minute closer to possibly winning.
Tinker and I crested the Main Divide Road together. From there we had about 10 minutes of fire road before dropping down the rugged Trabuco Trail. I was expecting Tinker to attack.
But I kept forcing my pedals over. We rode side by side until the last few meters where he pulled away into the descent.
Before long I was back on Tinker’s wheel and he let me by. It was all or nothing — get a gap and hold it — or get a flat or crash trying.
The gap opened up pretty quick and the adrenaline took over. I came out of the Trabuco loop in one piece and out of sight from Tinker. The final 10-15 minutes of pedaling on the fire road to the finish involved a lot of praying and cramping, but there was no slowing down.
Finally, I crossed the finish line about a minute ahead of Tinker. Exhausted, relief washed over me.
It’s still crazy to me that we went under five hours. But I believe God showed me a lot of grace and gave me the strength to have one of the best rides of my life. I’m super thankful to have a ride like that and to have amazing friends and family to enjoy it with!
Six differences between pros and amateurs
Without mentioning his 45-hour work weeks, Dana Weber lists:
1. Pros: Riders put clothes in mesh bag, leave outside hotel room door. Weber: “Awesome wife” does most laundry.
2. Pros: Bike mechanics wash and prep bikes daily. Weber: Washes his own bikes when has time.
3. Pros: Each rider has 3-6 bikes. Weber: One mountain bike, one road bike.
4. Pros: When training, change clothes when cold or wet. Weber: Wears layers and removes jackets.
5. Pros: Coach. Weber: No coach.
6. Pros: Vehicles follow for protection, carry supplies and replace wheels with flats. Weber: No vehicles.
©2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)