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Southern Arizona racer to vie for gold at Maccabi Pan Am Games in Mexico

David Tannenbaum at the 2018 Three Bears time trial in Eloy, Arizona. [Sam Almesfer)

David Tannenbaum has proven that riding a bicycle is indeed “like riding a bicycle.” After 23 years out of the saddle, Tannenbaum entered the 2014 annual Cochise County Cycling Classic in Douglas, Arizona, and pedaled 27 miles to second place in one hour and 20 minutes. He’s been riding high in the saddle since.

In April, he completed his longest off-road mountain bike race, in preparation for riding for Team USA in the Maccabi Pan American Games in Mexico City, July 5-15. “It was the longest and highest I ever rode in North America,” he says of the mountain climb in Cananea, Sonora. The location is about an hour across the Mexican border from his Southern Arizona home in Hereford.

“I’m not terribly interested in off-road racing, but this was an opportunity to ride to 8,000 feet,” says Tannenbaum. “I needed to ride as high as I can to prepare for Mexico City. I was darn near the last man to finish, but 24 men didn’t finish. I was proud to have won a medal for reaching the summit, and I have a newfound appreciation for the skill involved in mountain bike racing. My focus was exclusively road racing, and primarily time trials (a race against the clock.)”

At the games in Mexico, he will have three races: a time trial, 20 to 25 kilometers (12.5 to 15.5 miles) on a Formula 1 racetrack in the city at 7,200 feet; then two mountain road races, each 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 62 miles) starting at about 9,000 feet and going as high as 11,600 feet. “The two road races, two days apart, will be hard. I think the Mexican hosts of the Maccabi Games did this to play to their strengths, and to disadvantage everyone else.”

Now 58, Tannenbaum began bike racing as a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York from 1979 to 1983. Work, life, travels, and back injuries interrupted his racing habit for nearly a quarter of a century. During that time, he spent 13 years overseas as his wife was posted to six countries with the United Nations. He traveled to some 45 countries on five continents, and only bicycled recreationally.

Since returning to the states in 2014, he has been a foreign cultures and languages teacher at Fort Huachuca, outside Sierra Vista, Arizona. By 2016, he was in two events in one day — a 20- and a 40-kilometer (12.5 to 25 miles) race with only 10 minutes between. He won the first by 28 seconds and handily took first in his age division in the second race. That same afternoon, he caught an 18-hour flight to Italy.

Since then, he placed third in state individual time trials in his age group in 2017; first in a two-man time trial team in his age group last year, and started participating in Senior Olympics locally and at the state level. Last year, he medaled in every Senior Olympics event he entered, taking five gold medals this winter at state and qualifying for nationals. Besides bike racing in Mexico, he also will participate in power lifting and track and field. Recently taking up velodrome racing, on a banked oval bike track, he won three silver medals at state.

The Pan American Maccabi Games are a high-level athletic competition for Jewish athletes all over the world, aimed at connecting Jews from the Diaspora. The games require master athletes like Tannenbaum to pay their own way, some $6,000, to the events. He was able to fundraise about 20 percent of that burden. Taking two racing bikes to the game as oversized luggage — a 2014 Cervelo P3 for time trials and a 2014 Bianchi Infinito CV for off the road — “will cost as much to get there and back as it will cost for me,” he adds.