Racing Across the Sky: an Interview with Rebecca Rusch
You had a great season last year; what were some of the highlights?
“Definitely my third win at the 24 hour Solo World Championships, three in a row, which was the focus of the season. Then three weeks later, totally unexpected, the icing on the cake, was winning the Leadville Trail 100 just as an afterthought. It was a very exciting season.”
Was Leadville a fun race for you?
“Leadville was a blast because I’d already achieved my main goal for the year which was the 24-Hour Solo World’s. I went, and I had always known about this race and went in without having a lot of expectations because it was just 3 weeks after World’s and I wasn’t sure I had really recovered yet and I didn’t know what I had. It was definitely a big surprise and a very big highlight to share the podium and have the same trophy as Lance Armstrong and to do a race with so many cyclists. The energy was really amazing!”
How would you compare Leadville to other endurance events?
“Leadville is a really different event because it’s a weird combination of a road race and a mountain bike race. Because there are fire roads and there is such a large crowd of people, there is some pack jockeying and drafting and trying to get into position especially at the beginning. Then there are these killer, massive climbs, and then you’re just mountain biking on your own. It’s also at 10,000 feet elevation which adds an interesting factor, so you have to pace for that.”
Which is the bike you prefer to ride?
“I raced with two different bikes last year. I raced the Specialized Era in the 24 hour World Championships. It is the women’s version of the men’s Epic. It is a fantastic bike with full suspension and with the Mini-Brain technology on the suspension. It is the best of both worlds between the hard tail and a soft-tail. The difference between the Era and the Epic is that with the Era, the forks are tuned to a women’s weight. The forks on a men’s bike in your size might be tuned to the men’s average weight of 180 lbs, so no matter how you tweak that, it won’t be right for a woman. Then there is the geometry and the fact that women’s bikes are lighter because they can use a little bit less carbon and so the Era is lighter than the Epic.
“For the Leadville Trail 100, I chose a different bike. I rode Specialized’s 29er Hard-tail (S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail 29er). It was a really good bike for that race because it was a combination of a road and mountain bike race. The bigger tires and hard-tail were really the way to go.
“It’s like you can’t have just one pair of shoes, you can’t have just one bike. I’m finding there are definitely different tools for different courses.”
Do you have another bike that you ride for fun?
“I have a Globe that I take to grocery store with panniers on it. Of course, I also train on a road bike & a cyclo-cross bike. I switch it around but I do most of my training on the Era or the 29er.”
Do you do another sport during the winter?
“I live in Ketchum, Idaho and obviously, you can’t ride your bike outside in the winter because it’s buried under snow. So I do a lot of Nordic skiing. It’s been good for my fitness and good for my mental peace of mind. Getting off the bike for a break is actually really nice. Then spring comes and I’m ready to get back on the bike. I think it’s also a good balance. With biking you’re leaning over the handlebars the whole time and it takes a conscious effort to not get into a hunched-over position. Adding stretching, swimming and yoga are super important for the longevity of an athlete. “
How did you get into mountain biking in the first place?
“It was a fluke. I had been adventure racing for a lot of years. I used to hate mountain biking; it was my least favorite sport of the whole adventure racing thing—I was awful at it. Adventure racing was drying up a bit, our team lost a sponsor and I had one sponsor left for another year and that was Red Bull. They said, ‘Do something else for the year.’ So I went to 24 Hours of Moab with a bunch of girlfriends. I just went for fun and we ended up winning the women’s division and I had the fastest lap times of everyone there–of the women. I was thinking: ‘Maybe I should do this.’ It was a career change that fell in my lap.
“I was not a very technical rider. I had the endurance from adventure racing, so I thought the 24 hour race might be okay for me, physically, but I didn’t know how to ride a bike very well. I lost a lot of time because technically, I wasn’t very good. I would jump off and run down (steep declines) and then get back on to catch people on the uphills, and then they’d pass me on the downhills. So I’ve worked on that over the last few years. I’ve been riding and racing mountain bikes for –just going on five years and it’s been cool. It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve gotten better as a cyclist, and it’s kind of reinvented my career.”
You give a lot of hope to people!
“It’s never too late!”
Do you have advice for young riders who are thinking of getting into mountain bike racing?
“What’s important is a support group: people to go riding with, whether it’s a club from your shop, or group from school, or just some girlfriends. For me, I’m a lot more inspired when I’m going riding with one of my buddies and I learn from them and vice-versa.
“As far as getting into racing, the hardest part is just lining up at the start line. It’s scary and it’s intimidating. It’s still intimidating for me. But once the gun goes off, no one cares how you finish but you. I just tell people: ‘Line up. Race is not a four-letter word.’ It’s actually a really good experience to push yourself because I will always work harder in a race than I will while doing hill intervals up Mill Creek Canyon. There’s something about the energy of other people that’s really a positive experience and it’ll make you try harder and work harder than you would if you were on your own.”
If you’d like to keep up with Rebecca, you can check out her blog here. Check out the inspirational film about the 2009 Leadville 100, titled Race Across the Sky. Rebecca has been taking the Race Across The Sky film on tour in the ski/recreation towns of the Rocky Mtn. West (Jackson, WY. is next) and she has been helping raise money for the building of local mountain trails in all those towns. There is a raffle with many great items from her sponsors such as an S-Works Helmet, which she says she wears on her rides and loves–and all proceeds go to make more great trails to ride on!
For a really great adventure, you can enter a Mountain Bike Sweepstakes and win a fabulous time in SunValley, Idaho with a half-day mountain bike ride with Rebecca Rusch and lots of great swag from her sponsors. Enter Here! Drawing will be on June 27, 2010