CORY WALLACE WAS EXCITED TO RETURN TO FINALE LIGURE, ITALY, IN LATE MAY.
That’s where, in 2017, he earned his first victory at the World Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike World Championships, besting seven-time World Champion Jason English. Since then, Wallace has defended his title twice—in Fort William, Scotland (2018), and in Costa Rica, Brazil (2019). As the three-time winner, Cory returned to Finale Ligure with a target on his back, competing against a deep field. But his experience and steady pace prevailed in the competition where racers ride through the night, looking to complete the greatest number of laps in a 24-hour period.
Just six days after Cory earned his fourth title as World Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike World Champion, he was in Emporia, Kansas, to compete in the Unbound Gravel 200, a race where he’s twice placed in the top 30. We caught up with Cory the day before Unbound to learn how 24 Hour Worlds went and what he expected for Unbound.
JULBO: To start, how did 24 Hour Worlds play out?
CORY WALLACE: There were 150 of us—a bunch of young guys, a bunch of Europeans. We didn’t know who the competition was, but pretty early on we had a group of eight, including seven-time World Champ Jason English, a couple of young guns, these two Europeans out in front.
We rode together for a while, and then I put in a little effort in lap three to try and see who was for real. That split it up a bit. I rode around in third or fourth for six straight hours with Jason English, and then eventually, it was like, “Hey, who’s in the lead?”
JULBO: And who was that?
CORY WALLACE: It was Marcello Ugazio from Italy. No one knew about him. So we’re like, “OK, probably hour 10 or 12 he’ll come apart.” It always happens—guys show off, go for it and blow up. We kind of kept an eye on him, and around hour 10 he had eight minutes on me, and I had to stop for a while to fix a small problem.
Then he was 16 minutes up, and I was like, “OK, the race is half done. This guy’s for real.” So I put in three hard efforts—three hard laps—and caught him. Then I attacked him in the best spot of the course for me and put in another hard lap. He never fell apart, and I gained 10 minutes. Then he started clawing back, and he got within five minutes again with eight hours to go, and I was like, “OK, now we’re in a dogfight.”
JULBO: Day broke and what happened next?
CORY WALLACE: Coming out of the night, it was going to warm up again into a scorching day, and that was hard on me because Canada’s been pretty cold this month, training in snow and rain. So the heat was definitely a factor. The closer we got to noon, the more it would be in his wheelhouse again. But, thankfully, he kind of fell apart. In the end there was a 15- or 20- minute lead. But it was a good battle.
JULBO: So 10 minutes is a really tenuous amount of time in an event like that?
CORY WALLACE: It’s not enough.
JULBO: What were your totals on the event—mileage, elevation, etc.?
CORY WALLACE: It was an 11.8-kilometer lap with 350 meters of climbing per lap. In the end I rode 32 laps—380 kilometers and just over 10,000 meters of climbing. It was a proper mountain bike course.
CORY WALLACE: Yeah, it was.
JULBO: Going into the race as the three-time winner, do you have a target on your back? What’s the vibe like when it comes to being the returning champion?
CORY WALLACE: Once you’ve won it three times, guys are watching you. At the start, the group kind of circled around me. It was eight of us from last year, and it seemed like a couple of the guys didn’t respect the speed we were going, and they actually attacked the group.
JULBO: Tell me about the emotional highs and lows. Racing at your level, do you go through the same things the rest of us battle while during an event of any substantial length?
CORY WALLACE: Oh, for sure. But you’ve got to have an even keel for those races. If you’re down 16 minutes, it’s easy to get down on yourself. But I just knew that nobody was going to come to save me, and I needed to stay even for the whole race. Even when I retook the lead it was a long way to go. You’ve just got to keep a level head, because if you get in an emotional roller coaster, it just burns energy.
JULBO: Coming off that, what’s the turnaround like leading up to Unbound?
CORY WALLACE: It was hard to leave Italy. But it was straight to Milan; two days in New York to hang out; and then I hopped a flight to Kansas. Six days turnaround is pretty tight. If it was two weeks, it would be ideal, but that being said, the body feels pretty good right now.
JULBO: And how are you feeling about Unbound?
CORY WALLACE: I’m ready for tomorrow. Unbound is always a wildcard race with mud and everything. So I’m just going to give it my best shot, and I think it could be a good day.