Kicking up dust: Local racer takes top spot in endurance Ironman race

For the first four or five laps of the Colorado Off-Road Championship Series’ 12-hour endurance race, 13-year-old Riley Bender took in the course and his mostly much older competition.

Once he had an idea of the seven mile loop he’d be riding for several more hours, Bender said he tried to think of anything but riding.

“Luckily, I had the best crew team,” Bender said, recalling race day. “My mom shoved peanut butter and jelly in my mouth and Chris fueled up my bike.”

Eventually, the clock struck 8 p.m. on Aug. 1, ending the 12-hour endurance race with Bender leading 13 other riders, all older than him, in the Ironman class. To win the first place spot in the Ironman class, Bender looped the track 43 times for a total of 292 miles in the 12-hour timespan.

Even once the scores for the teams of up to four came in, Bender landed in fourth place overall.

“My goal was finishing and I didn’t think I’d do too well,” Bender said, “so it was extra cool to get first place… I led every lap of the race.”

One of Bender’s pit crew members, and likely his biggest fan, mom Tara Bender said it was fun to watch Riley race for 12 hours, but equally as fun to watch as the crowd started to favor the youngest rider on the track.

“I was shouting ‘That’s my boy, watch out,’” Tara said. “I love to just be in the background and listen to what people are saying about him.” 

She was less surprised by her son’s success than he was, noting Riley technically started riding in the womb.

“I was still riding my bike when I was pregnant with him,” Tara said, while Riley noted his first bike he got at two-years-old.

Aside from his endurance race, Bender has also competed in Grand National Cross Country races all over the country, as well as statewide competitions so far this year. He rides at least every Wednesday night at the track off Highway 125.

He accomplished his goal for this year when he finished the endurance race, but ultimately Bender said he wants to ride in the Baja 1,000, a prestigious off-road race that draws international interest.

Per the Baja 1,000 race rules, Bender won’t be able to compete for another three years, so in the meantime he continues to challenge himself.

“I try to ride with fast people and watch them, also just get a lot of seat time,” he said of his training. 

So far, he’s already ridden more hours this year than last with no plans of slowing down.

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