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Sat, Dec. 14

Whiskey Off-Road honors cyclist

Courtesy/Dusty Hiles<p>
Riders in this year’s Whiskey Off-Road mountain biking race on Saturday honored the memory of professional cyclist Mike Janelle, shown here crossing the finish line as the Men’s Open Class winner of the 2007 Whiskey Off-Road in downtown Prescott.

Courtesy/Dusty Hiles<p> Riders in this year’s Whiskey Off-Road mountain biking race on Saturday honored the memory of professional cyclist Mike Janelle, shown here crossing the finish line as the Men’s Open Class winner of the 2007 Whiskey Off-Road in downtown Prescott.

When Mike Janelle unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack in his sleep this past Thanksgiving, the cycling community lost one of its most revered professional riders.

Saturday morning in downtown Prescott, organizers of the fifth-annual Whiskey Off-Road dedicated the endurance mountain biking event to the memory of the 40-year-old Janelle - the local race's 2007 Men's Open class champion who hailed from Avon, Colo., outside Vail.

About 600 riders, primarily from the Southwest, came together for the race, which started at the corner of Goodwin and Montezuma streets and wound through Prescott National Forest trails before wrapping up downtown.

The event's 50-mile flagship race climbs a total of 6,800 feet in elevation, from Prescott to Skull Valley and back.

Janelle, a top-notch endurance racer and ski instructor, was a three-time Race Across America team champion and a two-time U.S. World Championship Marathon Team member.

He also was a three-time U.S. National Championship podium finisher who won the "24 Hours of Moab" in Utah on a trio of occasions.

At the time of his death, Janelle's wife, Maribel, was expecting the couple's first child. She delivered a baby boy, also named Michael, just a few weeks ago, on April 7.

"Mike embodied everything that was good about mountain biking," said Todd Sadow, president of Tucson-based Epic Rides Inc., which puts on the Whiskey Off-Road. "In addition to being a tremendous athlete, he was a friendly, compassionate person."

Friday night on the south side of the courthouse square's steps, Janelle's father, Jack, and former teammate Jay Henry spoke about their memories of Janelle, a 13-year pro, at the race's pre-ride meeting.

"Most of all, it was fun riding with Mike," said Henry, a training partner with Janelle since 1992. "He was friendly to anybody, whether you were a professional or a first-time racer. He had a magnetic, larger-than-life personality."

For the past five years Janelle's parents have lived in Peeples Valley, a small ranching community in southern Yavapai County. On Friday, Jack brought Mike's first bike with him to show to the courthouse crowd.

"Michael loved it here - that's why he came down from Colorado to ride in this race," said Jack, a former racer who rode non-competitively in Saturday's event in memory of his son. "He came down here to visit and train to get out of the snow."

Lynne Janelle, Mike's mother, said her son started walking at 8 months and riding a bicycle when he was 3 years old - without training wheels. At age 5, Mike took his first Century Bike Ride, a 100-miler.

"He always loved cycling and had incredible endurance," she said. "We supported him and never pushed him. It was totally his own idea."

Janelle's Gary Fisher/Tokyo Joe's teammates, Gretchen Reeves and Henry; Subaru-Gary Fisher's Nat Ross; and longtime friend and mechanic Myron Billy also rode in honor of Janelle Saturday.

Janelle was the driving force behind the highly successful Colorado-based Team Beaver Creek-Catlin, riding alongside buddies Jimi Mortenson, Zach Bingham and Ross.

In June the team won the four-person team category at the 2007 Race Across America, their third straight victory in the five-day cross country road-relay race. (They rode as Team Beaver Creek-Vail in 2005 and 2006.)

This past July, Janelle placed fifth at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships. Later that month, he was runner-up in the Breckenridge 100, the fourth event in the National Ultra-Endurance Series.

"His willingness to go out and share the experience with everybody made him special," said Ross, a Race Across America teammate of Janelle's who is a 10-year pro. "It didn't matter that he won. He wanted to challenge himself."

Epic Rides has established a memorial fund to support Janelle's wife and son. Donations can go to: Mike Janelle Memorial Fund, c/o First Bank of Avon, P.O. Box 5270, Avon, CO 81620.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com

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