Cyclists ride past the defaced image of singer Justin Bieber as they approach the rock drop during the 16th annual 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo presented by Tucson Medical Center at the Willow Springs Ranch north of the Oracle Junction. The bicyclists compete in a continuous 24-hour period by riding laps on a rough desert course that is 16.1 miles long as an individual or as part of a team. The rider who completes the most laps in the allotted time is declared the winner. The 2015 winner in the individual female class was Alison Kinsler from El Paso who rode 16 laps. The male winner was Kurt Refsnider from Prescott who rode 18 laps. There were about 1,850 participants in the event, said a race official. For more race results, see epic The photo was taken on Sunday, February 15, 2015, near Oracle, Ariz. Photo by A.E. Araiza/ Arizona Daily Star

A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star

By day, Cody Martin is an engineer for Raytheon, a member of the Advanced Programs team.

During fall weekends, he is a coach for the Oro Valley High School Mountain Biking Club, which is made up of student racers from Canyon del Oro, Ironwood Ridge and Pusch Ridge Christian Academy.

This Saturday (and Sunday), however, he’ll be competing with some of the best riders in Tucson, and perhaps the world, in the 18th annual 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race.

Among his competitors? None other than Lance Armstrong, the legendary cyclist whose record seven consecutive Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005 were wiped away because of a doping scandal.

Martin and Armstrong are among the 1,850 competitors who filled the sign-up list in just 37 hours after registration opened on Oct. 1, vying in teams of one to 10 people for prizes and glory after a grueling 24-hour race, which begins on Saturday at noon.

“I think this is the coolest mountain bike event in the state,” said Martin, who has been coaching the Oro Valley high school team since its inception four years ago. “It’s a huge group, 1,850 riding in it, and 300 of them are racing their asses off. Then you’ve got 600 who’ve never done something like this, and then you’ve got 400-800 who are having fun and drinking and partying.”

Martin said he got into mountain biking in high school in Texas, where he wasn’t quite big enough to make the football team. Back then, there were no high school teams — certainly nothing like the Arizona High School Cycling League — and road races were scarce.

Now, he says, kids have “an avenue to be competitive if they want,” and he added that his athletes with the OVHMBC get specialized training plans and the opportunity for regular practices.

“I don’t know if the whole sport is moving that way, but youth have the outlet now if they need it,” Martin said of the OVHMBC, which has seen its membership grow from 12 four years ago to 27 this year.

The 24HOP caters to all levels of competitors, even Armstrong, who, race organizer Todd Sadow said, “called and asked if he and his friends could ride in the event.”

This will be Martin’s “third or fourth time racing,” he says, after he first volunteered in 2012 and was surprised how big the event was. Typically its common to have a five-person team ride the 24HOP as a relay race, with someone always on the course and the rest “drinking Gatorade or beer, depending how seriously they’re competing,” Martin said.

One of Martin’s fellow coaches for the OHVMBC, Kit Plummer, will attempt to complete the 24-hour race solo, along with a group of other intense competitors.

None are racing for the prize money, which is not significant, though with race sponsors and local bike shops offering their wares, there will be plenty of swag.

Instead, Martin said, they compete for personal achievement.

“I feel like the only time I’ve ever reached my full potential — whatever that is — is in one of these races,” he said. “If I go out with a friend and ride, I can never push myself as hard as I can. Here, you’re in a position where your body has given up but you don’t want to let your team down and you find a way to do it. Unless you push yourself to do this, you never know if you can.

“I did it once and I realized I didn’t die, so that meant I had to do it again.”