Back in the bike saddle | SierraSun.com

Back in the bike saddle

Paul Zarubin
Special to the Sun

I am back on the race circuit once again. I moved up into the 55- to 59-year-old class and really want to get that elusive national title this year.

To help accomplish this, I hired a coach, Marcus Nash, and joined the Northstar Mountain Bike Team. So I feel confident that I can do it, and now it is time to get to work.

My first National Mountain Bike Series race I must say was a disappointment. We were in Fontana, which is a suburb of L.A., and the course is on the only piece of rock and sand that cannot be built on or paved. Incredibly steep but short climbs, broken glass, concrete culverts and deep sand makes for a very technical and weird course.

Of course the local guys grew up riding their bikes in these patches of rocks and sand, and they loved it. There was a great turnout, so the competition was stiff. My main competitors this year will be Jon Miller and Roger Gillespie. Both are strong riders who have been racing most of their lives, and typically have beaten me most of the time.

The weather was nice and cool for the 8:18 start and right away the leaders took off rather fast. I stayed back knowing that a sprint start only leads to a major bonk later in the race. We start by climbing a nasty hill about 500 feet in a mile and a half. I got on the back wheel of the guy in third and hung with him on most of the climb.

As we neared the top, he started to pull away and I realized I was in trouble. I did not have a lot of energy and needed to conserve for the next hill. As we hit the first descent my hopes rose as I caught No. 3 and was able to pass. My handling skills felt great; things were looking up. I climbed the next hill with a comfortable pace knowing that my No. 3 guy was just behind me and gaining. As we hit the next descent, I put a big gap on him and started the next climb. This was a fire road and not as steep, but it took a lot of effort.

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At first I did not see him, but about halfway up he caught me. He made a big push to get to the single-track first and from there it was a lot of rollers. I would gain on the down and he would pull away on the ups. I hit the culvert, which had a steep drop down to the next fire road, and he was just in front. As he got on the road, he started to pull away. I just could not get close to him. It was pretty much over at that point. We made one more lap, and although I could see him, I could not get any closer.

The second lap was a suffer-fest. I was all alone trying my best but feeling horrible. The only thought that kept me going was thinking about some of my friends who have cancer and the pain and suffering they are going through, and how they would gladly trade places with me. I suddenly felt very fortunate and blessed that I could be out there racing, when so many people have real problems and are unable to do their thing. I know it is no comparison, racing to cancer, but I needed to tell myself to stop being a wimp and finish strong.

I ended up in fourth place, losing to the third-place guy by 2 minutes. But the good news is I finished sixth in Fontana last year, and I felt good on the descents. I just had a bad day, and will work on being better rested for the next race, which will be a three-stage race in Arizona next weekend.

But probably the best news is that my two friends with cancer had a really great weekend in their battle with the disease, and that means so much more to me than a medal. Keep fighting Jamie and Kit. We love you and will be waiting at the finish line to celebrate your victory.