Slick biking at U.S. Nationals
Special to the Sun
Since I last wrote I have competed in four races, placing first and a second in the Thursday Night XC Race Series at Northstar and placing fourth at the Downieville Classic.
The subject of this report is the U.S. National Championships at Mount Snow, Vt.
Traveling to a race is perhaps the hardest part of racing, next to training. As we arrived in Reno to fly to Denver and then on to Boston, our plane’s hydraulics were being worked on. An hour and a half later we were off with assurances from the gate agent that we would be double booked on other flights if we missed our connections.
That day we spent 22 hours getting to Boston, visited five different airports, only had time to eat one sandwich between the two of us, and the topper was waiting an hour in the car rental line in Boston. Driving to Vermont at 2 a.m. was another adventure, running into a downpour of biblical proportions, setting the stage for a very muddy and technical race.
We arrived Friday morning at 5:30, and slept for four hours. My good friend Bob Blatner called me to pre-ride; the schedule was so tight there was almost no allotted time to look at the course. I got up, put my bike together and went out. The pre-ride was horrible.
The East Coast is famous for its wet and muddy conditions. Add a very steep and technical course with slimy roots and greasy rocks with one- to two-foot drops and you have the toughest course I’ve ridden all year.
Did I mention 1,500 feet of climbing on steep and slippery single track?
Intimidated on my first descent, I slid on a root and went down my back on a rock. Ouch! From there, I went really slow, which was not smart. I found that the slower you go, the less control you have in the mud. I avoided any more crashes, but decided to change tires to the 2.0 Nevegals for traction.
While I was riding, I thought I heard a crack, similar to one I heard last year just before my carbon fiber handlebar snapped. It sounded like my seat post, also carbon fiber, but upon closer inspection, I could not find anything wrong.
The next day we awoke to brilliant sunshine after a light overnight rain. The course had dried a little, but was still muddy. After all the hardship of getting here, it was finally time.
The National Championships are a big deal, and getting my name called out as No. 7 in a field of 20-plus riders was especially cool. The top two riders were legends. One from the East Coast had won more than 20 national titles in different disciplines, and the other was Henry Kramer, a rider I met a year ago who just started mountain bike racing last year before winning the national title at Sonoma.
I felt strong as the gun sounded, and was prepared to ride for the next two and a half hours on this tough course. I did not go out strong, falling in behind about 10 riders. The initial climb was about a mile, then a quick loop back to the start and another much bigger climb. Just before we went into the first single track descent, I pressed hard to pass two more riders.
As we descended, I picked up my speed and felt good with no loss of control. I passed two more guys who came off their bikes, popped out of the woods and started the second climb. I could barely see the leaders now; I could only imagine how hard they were working. There was a short climb, then a flat stretch and then the first muddy technical climb.
There was no riding this; everyone was off their bikes. It wasn’t just the mud, but the roots you had climb over and the rocks were six inches to a foot, with everything covered with slime. I passed one more guy by running up the hill, and then we hit the fire road. The rest of the climb was steep, but good traction before the big descent. It was steep with roots and two-foot drops and lots of rocks. As I started down, I kept my speed up. Although it was scary, it was working.
Then, as I dropped into a hole, I heard a snap and my seat came off. My race was over.
The reason I didn’t find any cracks the day before was because the seat post didn’t crack; the glue that holds the seat to the post failed. It was obviously too dangerous to ride like that, so I had a long walk back to the finish.
I also failed in the super D by dropping my chain at the start. I ended up sixth.
It was a real tough course, certainly favoring the downhiller. I felt discouraged writing this, but then I thought about Henry and Bob, two guys who fared better and really inspired me. When we are down, we should look up to others who can encourage and inspire us so that perhaps we can overcome disappointments. In turn, perhaps we can encourage others by our fortitude.
I’m off to North Carolina, after a brief plane delay, to continue the National Series, where I am holding onto second. Happy trails.
Paul Zarubin, a Truckee resident who races under the motto “Powered by God,” competes in the NORBA 50-54 Expert Division of the National Mountain Bike Series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.