An uphill battle at Snowmass |

An uphill battle at Snowmass

Tom Beckering/Courtesy photoPaul Zarubin, 51, races in the NORBA National Mountain Bike Series.

Snowmass is a ski resort located in Colorado and is a part of Aspen. The base area is at 8,600. This race was the highest this year in altitude, and it really leveled the playing field. I had my best race, but I was only able to get third place.

The initial climb was practically straight up the mountain. We climbed about a 10 percent grade. I started in the lead group, being careful to not burn up all of my energy at the beginning. The course was 12 miles, but because of the altitude we were only doing one lap.

Soon those who went out too hard fell back. I was in third place on the climb, with the second place guy in sight. Near the top, I started to gain on second, but much to my dismay, fourth was also gaining on me. I wanted to stay ahead of fourth, only because once we started the descent, we would be on single track and it would be hard to pass.

Pretty soon I could hear his breathing. With just 100 feet to the descent he attacked and I countered. I could see his front tire coming up on my right side, but I was able to beat him to the single track and off we went. By pushing hard at the top, I gained more ground on second; I was only 10 seconds behind. I still could hear fourth behind me; he was not falling away.

I knew that I had to have a perfect descent ” fast and no mistakes. The problem was the climb took so much out of me, it was hard to see straight. Then we came to a part of the course that I loved: Twisty rollers with lots of roots and rocks. On one dip, there was a sharp uphill off-camber turn that I had remembered to downshift before I went in to it, and to my relief, I hit it perfect, but the guy behind shifted too late and I could hear his chain drop. That was the last time I saw him.

Next, I caught up to second. I needed to beat this guy, or else I would drop behind him in the standings. I sat on his back tire and waited for a wide turn and blew past him without making contact. He said something; it sounded like he was surprised. We descended a little more, and then came to a steep fire road descent. I can go fast, but I’m not crazy, so I let this guy pass on the straight. I think he took a giant risk because he pulled over in the rough grass to pass. I realized how much this race must have meant to him to pass at that speed.

I knew that I could take him once we got back into the windy roller section. Again, I sat on his back tire and waited for this one creek crossing. It also had a steep uphill off-camber rocky left turn, and I had already decided to get off and run.

Sure enough, I was quick to get off, and I passed him running as he was struggling to get off his bike. Once back on the bike, I took off and started to put a huge gap on him. I checked my heart rate, and I was not recovering fast enough. There was a lot of quick short sprints out of the saddle on this section, and again I felt like I was riding perfectly.

But as I got to the bottom of the descent, there was another hill climb. As I started to climb, I looked back and saw no one. I knew that I had to push hard, but I was spent. With 4 kilometers to go, he caught up with me and passed me like I was standing still. I put everything I could into the counter attack, but I could not gain at all. I ended up in third, 30 seconds out of second.

But as I look back on the race, first place only beat me by 4 minutes; he beat me by 8 minutes last week. I was only 10 minutes behind the fastest semi-pro and 15 minutes behind the fastest pro, who will be competing in the Olympics next week. So I know that I gave it everything I had, and I had my personal best race.

As I get ready to go to the final race in Durango, Colo., on Aug. 26, I can only place third in the series, but more likely will place fourth. I will then go to Montreal right after that to compete in the World Championships during Labor Day weekend. I am training as hard as I can now to prepare for those two races.

[Paul Zarubin, a Tahoe Donner resident, races under the motto “Powered by God.” He competes in the NORBA 50-54 Expert Division of the 2004 National Mountain Bike Series.]

[A story on Zarubin appeared in the July 30 Sierra Sun:

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