- Rebecca Rusch
May 16, 2010, 16:49 BST,
May 16, 2010, 17:51 BST
Rusch finishes off five-day stage race on the podium
I'm sitting on the floor in the Sydney airport about to begin the super long journey back to Idaho. The Ingkerreke Commercial Red Centre Enduro is in the record books and hopefully the five days of hard racing is stored in my legs for further use in the season.
The final stage was a 45km mass start and might have been my favorite stage of all. It's hard to decide because every single day was unique riding with a ton of singletrack through wonderful desert terrain. The men's field had changed yellow jersey wearers nearly every day, so the final rankings came down to the last day.
The women's race was also fairly close with just about 10 minutes separating first through third places in the overall. I was sitting in second at the start of the last stage with just a one second margin over third. Given the crazy terrain and tire-eating rocks, it was still anyone's race.
I felt strong on the last day, but not fast. I could tell in the first 30 minutes that I was not going to set the course on fire that day. I still rode hard and kept it in the back of my mind that a flat tire would be all it would take to change the rankings.
The course was really technical on the final day with some new sections of singletrack that were hard to follow. There were also some rocky, Moab-type sections with small drops and some exciting terrain. The race director, John Jacoby, dealt up a classic hike-a-bike section for a few kilometers at the very end of the stage.
Since I know John so well, I knew he was loving giving the racers a super hard finish just to top off a grueling week. I loved the last section where there was virtually no trail and you were running and riding through the desert scrub trying to find a clean line. It definitely reminded me of my adventure racing days and I was loving it.
It was one of the hottest days of the week and drank all my water and was still wanting more. We finished the race right near the Todd River and the location of the original spring that Alice Springs is named after. Rapid Ascent had cold watermelon and cheers waiting for everyone at the finish line.
Gracie (Elvin), who is half my age, won the stage and moved up into second overall. Jodie (Willett) finished off a super solid week and held onto her first place finish. She will be heading to Europe shortly for the remaining World Cup cross country races. I finished third and was really happy with my performance.
I would have liked to have been able to drum up a bit more top-end speed for some of the shorter stages, but I know it's early season and this race is preparation for bigger goals later in the year. I was super impressed with the race organization and the level of competition in Australia.
It was also really fun to see the Aussie spirit alive and well. People here just seem unbelievably happy to be riding their bikes and pushing themselves. They have a way of being super competitive, but with a smile on their face and a kind word as they pass you.
Being in the Red Centre of Australia was also a magical experience. Much like the Arizona and Utah deserts, the middle of Australia is a stark, but beautiful landscape.
Thanks to Rapid Ascent and Tourism NT for the amazing trip. I'll be back to Australia again soon.
Next up for me is a short, 10-day break at home. After that, I continue the stage race training days at the Transylvania Epic in Pennsylvania.
- Rebecca Rusch
May 14, 2010, 16:46 BST,
May 14, 2010, 17:49 BST
Rusch races in both the day and the night
Day 4, Stage 5
Stage 4, the long one, was good to me. I moved from fourth in the general classification to second. Next up were two very short stages that would change everything. This morning, stage 5, was a 23km individual time trial stage with all the racers going off in 30-second intervals from slowest to fastest.
The whole thing took just over an hour. At the start of this stage, Jodie Willett was solidly leading the open women with about a 15-minute lead over me. Jenny and Gracie Elvin were both just about five minutes behind me in third and fourth. The two of them were separated by just 15 seconds in the overall.
The course had just a few kilometers of jeep track before heading out on a technical, rocky singletrack with some very steep climbs. It was short, punchy and really hard for me to get up to speed as quickly as I would have liked.
All of the other women in the top four are primarily cross country racers, so I knew the short distance would suit them more than it did me. I was feeling the cumulative affects of four days of hard riding stacking up. I felt like I had a decent, clean TT and really made the effort to stand on the climbs, push a big gear when I could and let it rip on the singletrack.
My effort still wasn't enough to hold much of my lead. Jodie, who started after me, had an awesome ride and won another stage. She caught me just a couple of km from the finish and ripped by me. I finished the stage in fourth for the women and had lost more than half of my lead over Gracie and Jenny. I still held second, but only by a couple of minutes, and I knew that they both smelled blood and would be really hard to fend off in the night stage.
Night Moves - Day 4, Stage 6
Same day, same course, but everything else was different. The night stage was held on the same 23km singletrack course, but this time it was a mass start in the dark. I know I can ride at night and have plenty of experience with that. I was excited about this stage and was hoping my experience with night riding would pay off.
It was still basically a sprint, but the added element of the darkness would add a whole new element of surprise. I opted for full Light and Motion lights on my head and handlebar. I wanted the full amount of illumination for the technical terrain. The course had plenty of hidden erosion ruts, tons of super sharp, loose rocks peppering the trail and some quite technical downhills with consequence.
The start was super hectic with dust kicking up and light beams everywhere. It was a tussle to get to the singletrack and there were crashes and people riding off in the bushes everywhere. My legs felt like lead and Gracie, Jenny and Jodie all flew by me along with a ton of other people in the men's field. I felt a bit deflated, but tried to just ride smoothly and smart and stay out of trouble.
Passing opportunities were slim, so I tried to hammer the climbs and get around a few people when I could. The riding was super fun and I feel like sometimes I ride better at night because I can't see all of the scary stuff. I did get caught in a few sand bogs, but otherwise had a clean race.
About 4km from the finish, I passed the race leader, Jodie, on the side of the track fixing a flat.I tried to take advantage of the opportunity to stay ahead of her and go for the third place time bonus. When I crossed the finish line, I was surprised to hear the race announcer say I was the second woman across the line and that Gracie had won the stage.
I found out later that Jenny had broken her derailleur in a crash and did not complete the stage. Jodie had two flats during the stage and lost more than half of her lead. Gracie won the stage and moved into third position in the women's.
I maintained my second place GC, but with Gracie trailing me by only ONE SECOND! So the race is still very much on right up until the final stage tomorrow. I wish tomorrow's stage was another 100km day, but it's only 45km. Estimated finishing times are around three hours, so at least it's longer than today's stages.
It will be an exciting day and now it's time for me to get to bed and rest up for the battle tomorrow!
- Rebecca Rusch
May 12, 2010, 15:54 BST,
May 12, 2010, 16:58 BST
American climbs up GC to second place
Day 2, Stage 3
I'm glad I'm riding the full suspension Era. I was considering bringing my Specialized Stumpy HT 29, and now I'm glad I didn't. I am using all of my suspension in this race.
Stage 3 was another 50km cross country type stage that was at least 50 percent rocky singletrack. It seems relatively flat out here in the Red Centre of Australia, but the riding does not feel flat. The hills are really small, but they are relentless and technical. The singletrack here is nothing like the buff, smooth trails at home.
It's super fun racing that is keeping me on my toes, but it makes it very hard to eat and drink. Before day 1, the medical volunteers gave a speech and suggested taking twice as much water as we expected to need. I figured I knew enough about racing to know how to hydrate, so I did not follow her instructions on day 1, and I paid for it.
For day 2, I wore a Hydrapak and left bottles at the aid stations. The air here is so dry, it just sucks the water right out of you. I was happy to have the extra water, and I raced better on this stage. I'm not sure if it was the extra hydration, getting over the jetlag or just getting into the swing of racing again.
Regardless of the reason, I felt much more like myself racing today and had a better result. The stage took me just under three hours, which was good enough to move me up one place in the general ranking to third position.
The afternoon was packed full of bike cleaning, maintenance and packaging it up to be loaded onto the truck for tomorrow's stage. The trucks will drive 80km out into the desert and drop our bikes off in the sand. There, the race director John will sleep out under the stars and guard our bikes for the long stage.
Day 3, Stage 4
The 4:00 am alarm clock wasn't necessary. I'm normally a hideously cranky morning person who dreads early race starts. However, I think jetlag has hold of me, and I've been waking up at around 4:00 am every morning anyway. So this morning, it was no big deal to be ready for the 5:15 am bus ride to the start (for the point to point stage - ed.).
Our bikes were packed into the trucks and transported the night before. I had no idea this was the transportation arrangement for our bikes, so I ended up using hotel towels and electrical tape to package my bike for transport. Most other athletes had brought bubble wrap or more traditional forms of padding.
My bike survived, and we arrived on the start line in time to watch the sun coming up through Trephina Gorge. Today's stage was the 98km big daddy. John said that the tracks were in bad condition and extremely sandy. I was looking forward to a longer stage in hopes that it would play a bit more to my endurance strengths.
The first 90 minutes of the stage were incredibly fun. It was like shopping for a line through really open scrub forest and sandy washes. There was no distinct trail, so it was a matter of quick thinking and watching the people in front of you to see which lines were a go.
It reminded me of my adventure racing days of hunting for the quickest way from point A to B. I was having fun during this section and was happy jumping on and off my bike, jumping across huge erosion ravines, then jumping back on the bike.
I was in the lead for this portion of the race, but then after about 90 minutes, I got caught by race leader, Jodie Willett and Under 23 Australian National champion, Gracie Elvin, who was sitting in fourth in the GC.
At this point in the race, we had more than half the race to go on primarily jeep roads with headwinds and multiple, deep sand bogs. The three of us made a great team and started working together, trading pulls and finding lines through the sand.
The group effort was a huge benefit and way more fun than slogging it out alone through the sand. We all came in relatively close together with Gracie pulling ahead for her first stage win here. The solid effort also moved me up another placing in the GC and I am now sitting in second.
The top four women are all close. Jodie has a commanding 15-minute lead, and I have about six minutes on third, but with three more stages still to come and the Australian tire-eating rocks out there waiting for us, anything could happen.
Many riders finished today cursing the sand and the wind and hating the course. I'm not saying I had fun pushing my bike through the sand, but it was beautiful scenery and exciting racing.
- Rebecca Rusch
May 11, 2010, 20:29 BST,
May 11, 2010, 21:43 BST
Day 1 brings two stages for Rusch
Stage one and two are in the books, and I feel really good about my performance today. The first stage was about 45km of technical, rocky, sandy singletrack. It was a blast, and I really enjoyed the stage.
The riding was one of the best cross country courses I've ever done. The rains last month made the grass grow really tall, so there were tons of hidden ruts and large rocks jumping out at the last second. It was for sure super-focused riding for nearly the whole three hours. The scenery was beautiful, and I even had a kangaroo jump out in front of me!
I'm satisfied with my placing and now know what type of riders I'm up against. The three women that were in front of me today are some of the best cross country racers in the country, including the marathon national champ and World Cup racer, and the Under 23 cross country Australian national champ.
The women's field is super strong, but I know there are still many more hours of racing, and I hope to get some time back in the longer stage.
There were multiple athletes carrying and walking their bikes due to flats, broken frames and mechanicals. There were also a couple of broken people who suffered crashes. The desert out here eats bicycles and people, so I feel really grateful to have made it through the day with no crashes, no mechanicals and in a decent overall position. I was about eight minutes back from the leader, so it's still anyone's race.
I felt relatively good for most of the stage and was super happy to be racing. I had a fun day, but definitely had to throttle it back a bit due to the heat and the early season racing. I ran out of water and the last hour I was making sure not to go too far into the tank and save a bit for the rest of the week.
I spent the afternoon in my room, pounding fluids, drinking Hammer Recoverite and getting the nutrition back in. The Skins compression tights went on, and I joined many of the racers for a leg soak in the cold pool at the hotel.
I also spent a fair bit of time using tweezers to pick multiple thorns out of my tires and inspecting them for cuts and wear. The Specialized Armadillo elites had multiple sidewall scuffs and thorns, but they've survived so far.
Stage two was in the afternoon. It was a 300-meter time trial hill climb, and it hurt! It was a traditional countdown and just over a minute of pain.
It was sort of fun because spectators were lining the road and cheering the whole time. I finished up third in the hill climb and got myself a five second bonus for that. I'll take whatever I can get!
According to race director, John Jacoby, tomorrow's stage is some of the best riding this area has to offer. Classic local trails such as Roo Trail, The Crapper Trail, The Sink Trail, are apparently named for the things you find along the way.
- Rebecca Rusch
May 11, 2010, 20:20 BST,
May 11, 2010, 21:28 BST
Rusch to compete in Australia's MTB Enduro/Red Centre for first time
I'm sitting in my hotel room in the middle of the Australia. Literally the middle of nowhere, Alice Springs. I'm as far away from home as I can get. They say it's the Death Valley of Australia, but it doesn't feel that hot to me yet.
I'm sorting my bike, nutrition and gear for tomorrow's first stage of the Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro/Red Centre. It's a five-day stage race that is run by my adventure racing teammate, John Jacoby. John and I raced side by side for nearly eight years traveling around the globe through Kyrgysztan, Vietnam, the Alps, covering what seems like a million miles together. He's like a brother to me, so when he invited me to come experience his race, I could not pass up the opportunity.
Thanks to Tourism (Northern Territory) NT for taking care of my trip logistics and getting me over to this side of the world! I've been to Australia multiple times before and even spent a semester here as an exchange student in college, but I've only visited the coasts, never the middle of the country.
It reminds me of Utah and Arizona here. The riding is super rocky, thorny, with sandy, red dirt everywhere. The big topic of conversation for this race is the flat tires.
The race website and other competitors all drilled it into me that this area rips tire sidewalls to pieces and that the thorns are relentless. I changed my usual tire selection from the Specialized S-works tires and instead am using the Armadillo Elite "thorn proof" versions. I'm also carrying tubes with sealant in them in case I do have to put a tube in my tire.
In one short training ride today, I did come back and pull about four thorns out of my tires. They had not punctured through, but they were there just waiting to poke through!
This race is seven stages spread over five days. The stages are all varied and range from a 45-second hill climb to a 100km all-day affair. The first day's stages are a 40km mass start cross country race and a 40-second hill climb in the town.
The longer morning stage is rumored to have a section of the most difficult singletrack that we will see all week. It's called the Hell Line trail, so I'm sure it'll be rough.
This area has had record rainfall in the last month, so the trails are exceptionally eroded and the grasses and plants are all overgrown and hiding the rocks and holes in the trail. John is warning all the racers to expect to take longer and be on and off the bike more than in the past.
Since I've never raced here, I have no idea what to expect. What I do know from John is that he loves to challenge people and this race will be far from easy. Most of the stages are quite short for me, so this will be a great training week of lining up each day and pinning it from the gun. The field is stacked with the best racers in the country, so I expect a really tough bit of racing.
I will do my best to keep you all up to speed as the week progresses. The nice thing about this stage race is I will be returning to my hotel room each day for a hot shower, clean bed and a little pool recovery time.
Stay tuned and thanks for following! G'day!
- MTB Enduro - Red Centre by Rebecca Rusch
Follow the adventures of Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) as she races the MTB Enduro - Red Centre in and around Alice Springs in Australia. The American endurance rider is competing in the five-day stage race.