Race report: Local mountain biker gets second at nationals
Special to the Sun
Finally, my dream season is over: Five local races, six state races, nine national races, one world championship race and one national championship race, plus the countless hours of training.
I can finally rest and recover.
My last race was a dandy. Everything was falling into place for me ” my physical strength was at its peak, my bike was working perfectly and my confidence was at an all-time high.
Two weeks ago, I finished second in a National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) state race in Truckee, which really boosted my spirits; one because it was my best NORBA finish of the year, and second, I only lost by nine seconds. Coupled with a fourth-place finish in the worlds, I was ready for the U.S. nationals.
Mammoth is such a great venue for a race of this magnitude. Cars were parked all the way past chair 4; there had to have been 10,000 racers and spectators. The weather was clear, warm with a slight breeze.
As I was called to the line, I didn’t feel nervous. I knew what I had to do. There is a great camaraderie and respect that has developed over the season with my competitors, and we all knew that barring any mechanical problems, the best man would win. The gun sounded, and we were off.
We started on a paved road in front of the lodge and headed up toward the Minarets. I quickly jumped behind Billy Newmeyer, from Durango, Colo., the favorite to win. Just before the 9,000′ marker, we turned left onto a dirt road and started climbing to red lake. Another rider, Mike from Missoula, Mont., who had beaten me by six minutes in Idaho, got in front of me and stayed on Billy’s wheel.
I wanted to keep both of them in sight, but I did not feel it was smart to push too hard on the first climb. We had 16-plus miles and over 3,000′ of climbing yet to do. The first climb was all on a fire road, and about two miles long. As we neared the top, I saw Mike start to falter, as he allowed Billy to get away.
I made my first move, with 500 yards to go to the single-track, I got out of the saddle and sprinted to the top, catching Mike off guard. I passed two riders right before the single-track, and that gave me a nice cushion. The single-track was fast, and parts of it were very loose volcanic rock, the size of peas. I managed to get down safely, and started looking for Billy. He was already on the second climb, which is a single-track that traverses Fascination.
A steep drop greeted me with a dangerous rut and up and over a bridge, then I started the second climb. At the first switch back, I glanced back and saw Mike back about 30 seconds. I looked up and saw Billy. I pointed at him; he saw me and pointed back.
I started to charge. My legs felt strong; I knew that there would be no slacking on this course. My lungs were burning, but I just told myself that everyone else’s would be burning more. As we got to the top of this second climb, we traversed back toward chair 4 and the second descent. Billy was pulling away, and Mike was closing in.
Again I got up and sprinted to the descent and took off down a fast fire road. In training, the road was one of the most dangerous parts because of the loose rock and big sweeping turns, but for the race, they ran a water truck on it and I was able to grab a little more traction and get more speed.
Then you had to make a hard right turn onto a single-track, and I felt my back tire just start to slip, but I held my line. I knew that Mike would have trouble there.
After a short descent on single-track, we started the steepest climb of the course. I dropped into the smallest chain ring and settled in. I saw that Billy was halfway up and pulling away, and looking back, Mike was not in sight. As I got halfway up, I saw Mike, and he was charging up the hill. I remained calm and focused. As I got near the top, I heard and saw someone on my left. I jumped out of the saddle and sprinted to the top and jumped into the next descent.
Again, the strategy is to not let anyone get in front on the descents, so I could gain ground. This section, called 7 bridges, was very technical with a couple of good drops, and I nailed it. Once out of that section, it was a two-mile fire road back to the start/finish. There were two short climbs on this road, and I could not help but think that there would be a sprint here on the final lap. I looked back and saw that I had put a huge gap on Mike, but Billy was nowhere to be seen.
I pushed hard on both hills, but I stayed in the saddle. Lap 2 started and I knew that Billy would win, but my focus needed to be on defending second place. As I neared the top, I looked back and saw Mike trying to do to me what I did to him on Lap 1. He was sprinting. I got up and beat him to the single-track.
As I got to a really bad corner, I lost control of my back tire and came off the bike. I screamed, grabbed my bike and ran out of the gravel and jumped back on; somehow Mike didn’t catch me.
I quickly descended the rest of the single-track, and as I started the climb up Fascination, I saw that I had again put a big gap on Mike. This is my kind of race; I owned the descents, I just needed to climb as hard as I have ever climbed. As I traversed Fascination, I thought of all the ski races held on this run, all the hours us parents stood and watched our Far West kids run Giant Slalom and Slalom.
All of that effort that went into ski racing, I just drew upon all of that energy from all of those memories and started pushing harder. They only had 30 seconds to perform, and I had 90 minutes to make my whole season mean something.
Lack of oxygen makes you think of strange stuff!
Once again I saw Mike. He kept gaining on these climbs. I was first to the fire road descent and went even faster this time. The final big climb, I pushed as hard as I could, knowing that this was it.
I passed a woman walking her bike, it made me want to get off, I was suffering now. I looked back, and Mike was not going away. I knew that whoever got to the top of this climb would control the rest of the race.
Once again the last 100 yards was a mad sprint, and as I got to the top, the race official there commented on my sticker, “Powered by God,” that fueled me down the descent.
I had the best descent ever, and left Mike way behind. As I hit the fire road, I got in my big ring and hammered. Up the first hill, I couldn’t see Mike. Down the other side, up the second hill, a friend was cheering me on, I was yelling, “Is he behind me?” Suddenly I heard my friend yell, “Paul, get going, get out of the saddle. He is right behind you!”
It took everything I had, but I said to myself, “This is the last hill of the season. Don’t hold back an ounce of energy.” And I did just that. We sprinted all the way, but I prevailed, winning second by 6.9 seconds.
Wow, what a finish. There were so many races that I lost by 10 seconds or less. This was sweet. Although I did not win the national title, I had beaten the best of the best minus one.
I hope that I have been able to encourage you through these writings. Achieving goals is not always easy, but to those who persevere, the rewards are great!
* Paul Zarubin, a Tahoe Donner resident, competes in the NORBA national series in the Men’s 50-54 Expert Division. Read about his fourth-place finish at the World Championships here:
For complete Mammoth Mountain Bike Championship results, visit: