Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Blogger

(Photos by Jesse Peters, used by permission.)

That's Paula Smith tearing up switchbacks at Devil's Backbone Challenge. I missed this race due to a broken water line at the house but am happy to report Paula (Rostello) won the expert women's category and shares beer naming rights with pro Andy Guptill (Colavita). Here is her race report, an exclusive to bikevoice.

The first ever race at Devil’s Backbone Brewery in Wintergreen VA took place on Saturday, May 23rd. It was a beautiful day and you couldn’t ask for more perfect weather. I didn’t feel quite the nervous pre-race jitters that I typically have on the way to the race. After all, I had never raced the course and had no idea what to expect. The race begins with a 2 mile road climb that I decided to “warm up” on.

Just a few feet into the climb and I knew I was in store for a tough race. For anyone who has ever ridden the roads around Wintergreen, they can relate I’m sure. Frank told me to make sure to “break a sweat” during my warm-up; this was not a difficult task to achieve I soon learned. After the pre-race meeting, we the racers were in place to start the race. I figured they would run the race like I’m typically used to, by starting each of the categories in waves. Suddenly, there was a mass start and everyone just went. Frank started yelling for me to “get up to the front” as previous memories of road racing suddenly flooded through my mind. I managed to move to the top half of the pack, far enough to where I knew my competitors were behind me—where, in my opinion, they should always be.

So there we all were, climbing the first climb, a mere 2 miles long, a simple feat I tell myself, after all, I had climbed 7 miles during the Wintergreen Ascent; thus, this would be a breeze. If only there was a breeze! The seemingly-perfect day at the start soon grew hot and uncomfortable on the black-top pavement. I heard some guy complaining about how hot it was and felt selfishly glad someone else was feeling my pain. I tried to find my rhythm and managed to make it to the top. As I took a quick surreptitious peek behind me to see where my competitors were, a guy tells me it’s too soon to start looking back. I realize he is probably right but feel assured just the same that I don’t see anyone behind me in my category.

After I reach the top, I quickly shift into my big ring for the descent. Having just messed up the week prior in the Urban Assault (a long story in itself but suffice it to say the big ring-to-easiest back cog combo can apparently stretch your chain so far that it renders your back wheel immobile and, for me, unfixable), I repeat over and over to myself as I’m descending ‘get out of your big ring at the trail’. Luckily, this strategy works for me this time as I enter the trail in my middle ring, with my bike fully functioning—though that’s more than I can say for myself at the moment as the previous brief downhill descent proves to be only a short reprieve and immediately, there is a climb. It is a big, long, climb. It’s one of those kinds of climbs that you think ‘if I just make it around the corner, I’ll be at the top’, only to find that just around the corner, there’s more, much more.

Finally, it appears I have finished that climb or two, or three; it’s hard to say, they have all appeared to blend into one big giant climb at this point. At long last I approach some trails that appear to be flat, only to find that they are false flats. Hey, who knew they had these in MTB races too! So this is how the race goes on and on, with the occasional descent that just teases you into thinking you’re nearing the end of the lap, as once you look above and see the top is still a great deal away you realize that the descent you just made only puts you farther away from the top. Not to mention that I still have another lap to do or part of a lap, I don’t know, I’m not good at listening to instructions prior to a race and I didn’t commit the route to memory at the start. I guess this was the case for others as well as a few I breathlessly ask “do we have to do this climb again?” don’t seem to know either. It is at this point that I curse the trail Gods and begin to question my own sanity. I mean who, in their right mind, would put themselves through such torture? I profess to stop racing altogether (after I finish this race of course).

At long last, I reach some downhills that quickly make me feel like I am on a pair of skis, as that is how steep they are. Nothing like pulling your brakes in so far that you simply fishtail down the hill. I decide it’s not the greatest time to question whether my brake pads are too worn. Down a few of those sketchy hills and I am nearing the end of the lap just wishing I was racing Sport but instead I am directed to some part of the previous trail and to my surprise (not), I start climbing again! Only this time, there’s a nasty (and this is putting it mildly) climb that we were warned about at the start. Apparently, nobody has ever ridden it to the top. I do manage to ride the first part of it and pass some guy who yells at me “you are a mad woman”! I consider this a compliment and thank him.

Soon though, I too am off my bike and hiking the hill. I can’t figure out whether it’s easier to roll the bike along beside me or carry it over my shoulder. Both seem equally as painful and it’s the longest ½ mile I’ve ever encountered! Then there are more climbs and still more and well I’m guessing I’ve got the point across by now…it’s a climbing race. So, I finally near the end of the trail and ask Jared if I have to do the 1st road climb again. I feel rather delirious at this point and my sense of direction is all turned around. He tells me I only need to climb the first hill I originally descended on the road (you know that brief period of time I was in my big ring in the beginning of the race when I thought the worst of it was over). I briefly contemplate asking him if I really have to but then I think ‘no problem’ that was a quick downhill before, this last climb will be brief. (I soon come to realize how one’s perspective changes when you’re climbing vs. descending a hill.) I mean, will this race ever, ever end?!

At long last, I reach the top of the final hill. I look over my shoulder and don’t see anyone behind me and then it’s a glorious road descent that I love. The wind is swirling around me and I am almost done. I reach the road to the brewery and make a left into the gravel road. They warned us about this turn; however, considering what I’ve just been through, this is a piece of cake, or perhaps a cool pint of delicious craft-brewed beer that’s calling out to me.

I am done, I have crossed the line and I can honestly say it was one of the hardest races I have ever participated in. Would I do it again? Of course! Would I change anything about it? No. I mean…that’s MTB racing!

1 comment:

Karen said...

Go Paula, Go Paula!