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The story of a national champion

[Editors note: Paul Zarubin, a Tahoe Donner resident, competes in the NORBA 50-54 Expert Division of the 2005 National Mountain Bike Series. Here is his account of the final races].At last, the final race of the season U.S. Nationals at Mammoth Lakes, Calif, Sept. 17. It was a dandy. I accomplished my goal of winning a national championship. Here is my story. First was the expert xc race, which started Saturday, Sept. 17 at 9 a.m. We did three laps of six miles and a total of 3,600 feet of climbing. The race started at the Canyon Lodge at an elevation of 8,600 feet. I did not win this race, but it felt great to have pulled out a second-place finish. Third place came a mere 30 seconds behind. My time was 1 hour and 51 minutes for 18 miles.Now all I could think about was the Super d. I wanted a national title real bad. This course was brutal: Lots of obstacles, high speeds and climbing. For me, the more climbing the better. The race started at the top of the gondola, which is just a hair above 11,000 feet. We would ride the famous Kamikaze course to start off with. About a half hour later we would end up at the Canyon Lodge with a total descent of 2,400 feet in altitude. The climbing would be about 10 minutes long. There were 240 racers that day, starting in 15-second intervals. I was set to go at 5:41. The sun was right in my eyes as I stared down the Kamikaze. My main competitors would be right behind me, Gil at 15 seconds back, and Scott, the reigning national champion in Super d, 30 seconds back. The tone sounded and I was off. The Kamikaze is a straight fire road descent, but it is extremely steep, and all loose gravel. As the trail got steeper, my back tire lost traction and I started to fishtail. I applied enough rear brake to straighten out, but scrubbed too much speed. As I came into the first turn, I could already hear Gils bike behind me. I just pedaled and tried to pick up speed. I made the next turn and we were on steep washboards. I was on a xc bike and Gil was on a free-ride bike, which was heavier and could handle the washboards better. Gil passed me, but I never panicked. I knew the first hill was coming up, and I would catch him there. Sure enough, a sharp right turn, and I shifted perfectly and started to climb a hill steeper than what we just descended. It was short, but very loose gravel. Gill did not shift quick enough and came off his bike. As I caught up, my back tire slipped and I came off. I started running and as I passed Gil, he hollered at me, go, go, go. That is the really cool thing about racing with mature men, we all have a deep respect for each other, all wanting the prize, but placing honor and respect first, realizing that the best man will win that day. I jumped back on and hammered for the next 10 minutes. My heart was maxed out, my legs were screaming for mercy and my lungs were burning for lack of oxygen. But this was a 30-minute race, and after this climbing section, there was still 18 minutes of descending. If I was going to win, I needed to build a gap that would be insurmountable by the more experienced downhillers, Scott & Gil. As I got to the descent, I could barely breath and could only see spots. I coasted long enough to get my wind back. I needed to concentrate now on the very technical descent. Every turn was calculated in my mind from pre-riding, and I nailed it. Sometimes I felt like I was going too slow, but if I came off my bike even once, the race would be lost. The pressure was incredible, but I never looked back. I hit the last short hill climb and I was out of the saddle sprinting all the way up. My legs were numb but I felt no pain. The last section of trail was called shotgun, and it was also the last section of the xc race. Since I had ridden it three times that day, I nailed it with only one slight bobble, but came through unscathed. I started to pick up more speed as I heard the announcer at the finish line. There were lots of people on the trail yelling encouragement, and it really helped to fire me up. As I made the final turn, I shifted into my big ring, coasted through the turn that transitioned from gravel to pavement and made sure that my tires were on solid asphalt. Then, I let it go, a 250-yard sprint out of the saddle in my biggest gear, as fast as I have ever gone before. As I finished, I knew that I had given er all I got. There was nothing more that I could have done. Now all I had to do was watch the clock and see how the others finished. After 15 seconds went by I was getting excited then 20, then 25. Then, all of a sudden out of nowhere came Scott. He hit the finish line around 30 seconds back. I had no way of knowing for sure. I was relying on the clock, and there was no announcement. Finally, after a half hour of waiting, the official announcement came … I had won the national title by a mere 10 seconds. I cannot describe that feeling; my emotions were all over the map. It was three years ago that I set this goal of winning a national title, and now it has come to pass. Scott and Gill both were excited for me and it was very humbling knowing that we were so closely matched.


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