Terry Lentz of Templeton smiled as he recalled a moment during the grueling 500-mile bicycle race he won last week.
His crew members — three friends and training partners who followed Lentz through most of the ride by car — cranked up Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” and they all sang along as Lentz pedaled on a solitary stretch in the middle of the night.
Several hours later, Lentz, a 52-year-old engineer who commutes most days by bicycle from Templeton to work in San Luis Obispo, won the Furnace Creek 508 on Oct. 3 after 29 hours and 19 minutes of cycling, with an average speed of 17.38 mph and almost no time off the bike.
He also set a course record for the 50 and older age group and for the “classic bike division,” in which Lentz rode a steel-frame bike that he built with gearing, pedals, cleats and other components, using pre-1983 technology.
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“I’m kind of an endurance nut,” Lentz said one morning last week after riding to work in his new 508 jersey. “The only talent I’ve claimed to have is stubborn persistence to the point of stupidity.”
Furnace Creek 508 is actually a 509.5-mile race that crosses 10 mountain passes. It starts in Santa Clarita, crosses the Mojave Desert and Death Valley and ends in Twentynine Palms.
Riders face a total elevation gain of more than 35,000 feet, and they endure wind, thunderstorms and heat. Riders are identified not by numbers, but totems: Lentz called himself “Chesapeake Bay Retriever,” after his pets.
Fifty-seven of the 82 solo riders who started the race finished; as did 35 of the 39 teams that competed, according to the race organizer’s website.
Lentz completed Furnace Creek in 2007, finishing third in 30 hours, 13 minutes and setting a course record for riding a fixed-gear bike.
“He demonstrated three years ago that he’s definitely one of the top competitors in this type of cycling event,” said Chris Kostman, founder and president of AdventureCorps, which produces Furnace Creek 508. “And to come there three years later and win overall and do it on a classic bike really underlines what a phenomenal athlete he is.”
Lentz has been cycling for years but didn’t start racing until he was in his 30s. He has completed about 15 Ironman triathlons — which include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon — and competed in the world championships three times, held in Hawaii each October.
The Furnace Creek race provided Lentz with his favorite terrain.
“I love the desert,” Lentz said. “(I’ve) spent many weekends in Death Valley with a camera.”
To prepare for this year’s race, Lentz trained for about a year, not only commuting 51.4-miles round trip to work, but also riding a 160-mile loop on Fridays. During the past few months, he’s ridden 450 miles a week.
Lentz’s finish time could have been even faster, but he had to serve a 30-minute penalty for crossing train tracks when the signal guards were lowered. He still finished nearly an hour ahead of second-place finisher Chris Ragsdale, 33, of Seattle.
Lentz passed Ragsdale while climbing the Jubilee Pass, elevation 1,285 feet, at mile 300. Riders climb 1,000 feet in five miles, then descend a mile before climbing about 2,300 feet in 9.5 miles to Salsberry (elevation 3,315 feet).
Louise Comar, one of Lentz’s crew members, said the pass was the most exciting moment of the race.
“You’re in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness,” she said. “There’s no cameras, no helicopters; this is just for us. We are experiencing the competitive moment in this race.“That was the last time we saw any other riders.”
Lentz said he concentrated on managing his pain while cycling, trying to alleviate the pressure his toe-strap pedals put on his feet and focusing on his form.
Lentz said he might take a break from the 508, though he won’t stop cycling.
“My goal in life is to motivate others to ride a bicycle and have fun doing it,” he said. “I guess I also wanted to prove that it doesn’t matter what you ride.” Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929.