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Trans Andes Challenge: Rebecca Rusch & Jennifer Smith

The women's field only had two teams, but our goal was to have a strong showing among the mostly male field and encourage other female riders to take part next year.

Trans Andes Blog: Post-race reflections from the top women's team

Daniel Simms
February 02, 2010, 20:28 GMT,
February 02, 2010, 20:56 GMT

Rusch, Smith recall the highs and lows of six days in the Patagonian wilderness

Rebecca Rusch and Jenny Smith both shared their thoughts here in this final Trans Andes blog. The pair finished as the top women's team and was regularly mixing up among the top end of the field though they don't quite know how they finished in the end.

Reflections from Jenny Smith

Hindsight is often 20-20. You see patterns that emerge and realise, yeah, I could have done that! But it would take the adventure out of life, too, if you were prepared and knew the answers prior to starting. I guess the value of experience is to be able to predict somewhat and be prepared for things.

Would I reccomend the Trans Andes MTB challenge to friends and fellow athletes? In a flash. The experience of a stage race is something special and memorable. You cannot expect to race for six days anywhere and not be affected by the experience. That effect, I think, is what appeals to people. Everyone racing has their reason for racing and everyone has their own story.

I have raced stage races solo and in a team. I prefer the team format. It provides support and is safer to me, more motivating, more fun. It is a shared experience.

Rebecca Rusch and I, had a blind date on this adventure, and for my part, it worked out. We are great teammates, I would love to race with her again. We had a dynamic of support, trust and reliability. All three are important in endurance events.

My recommendation for the current Trans Andes event would come with a little hesitation. I personally wouldn't do it as my first-ever stage race. It was a bit much of an adventure for that. The communication difficulties and organisation in a foreign country made it very challenging at times.

The race organisers are working on improving some safety-related and logistical aspects. It is their goal to build the event as an international destination event. When they do improve on some areas, it will be an event to put on your list.

The scenery, geography, routes, riding and venues are incredible. The raw, wild beauty strikes hard and touches deep. It is an incredibly special and dramatic part of the world.

On stage six, our final stage, we crossed over the Andes into Argentina. The ride was up there in my top three rides of my life. This is why I ride my bike. To experience this kind of beauty and feeling of freedom. A 26km descent off the top of the World is hard to beat!

Enjoy yourselves my friends.

Reflections from Rebecca Rusch

The adventure of the Trans Andes stage race has come to a close. Jenny has left to head back to Colorado, and I have been chilling in a cozy cabin in San Martin de los Andes with the Specialized dealer and his friends. The damp stench is finally washed out of my clothes and sleeping bag, and the Era is all tuned up and shiny again.

I'm relishing in long, hot showers and casual mornings when I can eat my food at a relaxed pace. The six days in the Patagonian wilderness were a fantastic experience, and the riding was the best I've done in a multi-day stage race. The organization really did serve up some of the best trails they have to offer.

In contrast to the thousands of racers in the Cape Epic, the small, multi-national field in this race made for a homey feeling around camp and the ability to get to know some very interesting people from around the world. We all bonded in our suffering and compared stories each night at camp.

Jenny and I got through the week with a pretty clean slate. Jenny had a flat on day one and a mechanical problem with her hub on day five, but nothing that was race ending. We both went through a set of brake pads each and did the changes and maintenance on our own.

Well, we did have a little help from Mike Broderick, our camp neighbor! We each had one rough day physically, but this was also nothing that was race ending. For early season miles, we were both really happy with how our legs performed and how quickly we slipped into pedaling again.

I was really happy that Jenny and I ended up being compatible race partners and camping companions. I can relate to her Kiwi sense of humor, and we both have the racing maturity to get through multiple day events. It takes a lot of planning, patience, teamwork and self-preservation to come out the other end of one of these events unscathed.

I am a little scathed from a high speed gravel crash on day six, but otherwise all that remains from the race are some great memories and hopefully some killer fitness.

We both went into this race with the intention of some awesome early season training and a bit of adventure. We got both. Although some of the route information seemed inaccurate, courses changed during the event and my odometer died on day five, we rode somewhere around 500km this week and an estimated 30,000ft of climbing in approximately 25 hours of racing. Not bad for six days of training in January!

I have no idea how we finished in the overall rankings. The race results that are posted do not add up, so it's difficult to tell. I can tell you that only 18 teams finished day five, including us, so technically less than half the field completed the whole course. It was not an easy task, and I feel really good about our achievement.

The Virgo in me would really love to see accurate race results and exact mileages and be able to compare our performance against the other athletes, but I'm practicing my patience and just chalking it up to a great travel and training experience.

Like Jenny, I would recommend this race, but would caution anyone interested to come with the intention of being self sufficient with bike maintenance, camping comforts, route finding and bring plenty of travel and race experience. This is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world and getting to see it on your bike is the best way to travel.

Thanks for reading and tuning in!

I have two more weeks here of training and racing. The next stop is the Tour de la Patagonia, a three-day stage race in this same area.

Rebecca Rusch showers after a wet stage.

Trans Andes stage 5 blog: Racing to stay on course

Jennifer Smith
February 01, 2010, 15:01 GMT,
February 01, 2010, 15:04 GMT

Tough weather forces course changes on penultimate day

Stage five of the Trans Andes Challenge was held today in Huilo Huilo national reserve. The stage was shortened and changed from the original route because of the weather and the difficulty of the riding.

It was a good idea to change it as we awoke to rain and started in the rain, but maybe some details were missed due to the last minute decision to alter the course. Such as... course marking and sufficent marshalling.

So while we were riding, we came upon, yesterday's course, today's original course, today's modified course and tomorrow's course.

It created a good dose of chaos! Riders ended up everywhere from here to Argentina. Literally.

Rebecca is a survivor and an adventure racer so for better or worse we THINK we rode the correct course and our predicted three hours took five hours and 30 minutes. We are worked over and so are our bikes and equipment.

With such a late finish, it's been very hectic to try and get everything in order for the last day tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we hope to cross into Argentina with our top 10 position still in place. We believe we are in ninth. Keep your fingers crossed for us all.

Jenny Smith

Hot and tired after a 107km stage 2

Trans Andes stage 2/3 blog: In the rhythm of the race

Rebecca Rusch
January 29, 2010, 16:02 GMT,
January 29, 2010, 16:11 GMT

Halfway and going strong

Jenny and I have fallen into a smooth rhythm. Wake up, eat breakfast, gear up for riding, break camp, ride a very long way, swim in the river, wash our clothes, eat, stretch, socialize, crawl into the tent, repeat. We have finished three of six stages and are adjusting to the heat, the super intense riding, camp life and each other.

Not that it has been a difficult adjustment at all. Jenny's an awesome teammate, but we have never raced together before or even gone on a training ride together. Racing as a duo where you must stick together definitely requires coordination and teamwork to get to the finish line as efficiently as possible. We are racing alongside mostly male teams and a few mixed teams, and it is apparent which ones are working together to go faster as a unit and which ones are not finding that support from each other.

A perfect example of strength in numbers is the team of Mary McConneloug and Michael Broderick. Mary sprained her ankle at the start of stage 2, a 107km monster day. She rode with us for a while lamenting the injury and figuring she was going to have to drop out of the race. She plastered a smile on her face and her husband Michael pushed her back up into the top of the pack and a great stage finish. She spent the afternoon and evening unsure of racing the next day. However, she nursed the injury and hobbled to the start of stage 3 on a super swollen and bruised ankle. Michael pushed, filled her water bottles and did everything he could to help her out. They won the third stage of the race and are back in the hunt for the overall lead.

Jenny and I are also racing really well. We are finding our cycling legs and are both pleasantly surprised with our early season riding. Stage 2 was extremely long and temperatures were again in the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit). The stage took us over six hours and at the end, we immediately jumped in the river at the finish line. We finished somewhere around 12th overall in the stage. The results are not readily available here all the time, so I am not sure of our exact placing or times. Our goal is to try to break into the top 10 overall by the end of the week.

I have been really happy to discover that we are both about the same speed right now. I did come into this race with some trepidation about keeping up with her, but so far we have been extremely compatible.

Stage 3 was the shortest stage of the whole race and the mood around camp was elevated. After such a brutal previous stage, a 58km day sounded pretty cushy. People were lulled by the shorter mileage and the pace went out like a cross country race instead of a six-day stage race. I struggled to hang on for the first hour up a very technical jeep road climb. After a couple days of riding, a few rivalries have formed and it's clear that some of the teams around us do not like having a women's team near them. The dynamic was more intense today and I felt it. I cheered up when we reached the first technical downhill of the day.

In Chile, they go to the tops of the hills to chop down trees and then drag them down to the bottom to build houses. This repetitive procedure forms a steep trench that resembles a luge course, complete with banked turns and a sweet, smooth singletrack line. It is probably the most fun I've ever had on a downhill. The rest of the day was up or down with not a bit of flat. It was not an easy stage by any means. It still took us over four hours and required an afternoon of river hydrotherapy and stretching.

Three stages down, three to go. I'm not sure of our overall ranking at the moment either. The hunt for an internet connection and electrical outlet in these camps continues, so hopefully I will be able to send these reports soon! Thanks for following.


Rebecca and Jenny (Team Las Dioasas) at the start of stage one in Pucon, Chile.

Trans Andes stage 1 blog: Feels good to pedal

Jennifer Smith
January 26, 2010, 14:50 GMT,
January 26, 2010, 15:34 GMT

Smith, Rusch get the cobwebs out as top women's team during opening day

Midway through today's stage - the first one in the Trans Andes Challenge - Rebecca said to me, "It feels good to pedal."

"I know," I replied.

Right then, I was both amused and felt confirmation that it's going to be a good race.

Of course she likes to pedal! Rebecca (Rusch) is the three-time 24-hour Solo World Champion. And me? Well this is pretty much my favorite thing to do. Experiencing the world from my bike, being treated to incredible beauty, stunning views, a mixture of hard, varied, technical, riding - all during a time that is usually winter for me. It doesn't get much better.

Or at least that's how I felt until the last 5km when the 90-degree Fahrenheit weather and approximately 80-degree difference from the temperature (where Smith lives - ed.) in Gunnison, Colorado, combined with the Coca Cola I drank at the last food zone, caused turmoil within my stomach.

I was holding out for the finish line. It's always that way though. Day one in the heat is the hardest, and the finish line is the best.

The opening stage was 64km on paper, and had an elevation delta of 1,276 meters. Rebecca's odometer told a different story though. We rode 67 km, were eighth overall and the first women's team, finishing in four hours, 21 minutes (including the neutral start), and we climbed 1,406 meters.

The climbing and elevation change varied for the different teams. Poor markings at a junction 27km into the race had several of the top teams extremely confused. For example, Mary McConneloug and Michael Broderick descended, climbed, descended another route, then climbed out before descending the right way and going on to take the stage overall win by 30 seconds from the second placed team, a men's team.

For Michael and Mary in their first-ever stage race, the win was exciting and both changed their goals from getting some solid riding and trying their hand at stage racing to contending for the overall race win.

Now we are getting into the swing of the event, washing clothes, drying gear, organizing our food and bikes for tomorrow, relaxing a little, The campsite is at the Thermus.

It is really stunning here. The race is very mellow, yet well organized. The food is exceptional. Stay tuned as in the next blog post, I'll write about food, wine and camp life.

Tomorrow, is stage 2 with 100km distance and a proposed 2,800m of climbing. According to Juan Pablo, the race director, we'll like it because it's faster.

Yet, I wonder how much climbing there will really be? The map shows 3000 feet of climbing at kilometer 50. Followed by a 25km descent.

Tomorrow... no Coca Cola for me!

Jenny Smith

Lanin Volcano

Rusch ready to start racing

Rebecca Rusch
January 25, 2010, 14:11 GMT,
January 26, 2010, 15:23 GMT

Smith arrives after challenging days of travel

Welcome to the race updates for the Trans Andes stage race from Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) and Jenny Smith (Trek). You may immediately wonder why athletes from dueling bike companies are racing together on a six-day adventure through Chile and Argentina. Well, we are here to experience a beautiful part of the world and for some great training away from our snowy winters at home. This is Rebecca writing this first entry. Jenny and I will alternate postings so you will get to follow the race from both our perspectives.

So far, our travels to get here have been a bit of planes, trains and automobiles experience. We left the US on different days and with different routing and virtually no communication once we left home. We even flew into different countries. Jenny arrived in Santiago, Chile, where she got stuck for the night with airline mechanicals. She waited over a day for a seat on a domestic flight to Temuco.

After getting bumped multiple times, she finally made that flight, then waited for a bus transfer from the race organization. She was lucky to connect with a friendly group of fellow racers from Costa Rica who were also trying to make their way to the start in Pucon. She ended up in the right town, but with no place to stay. She slept on the floor of a hostel in a shared sleeping bag with a stranger. Good thing she's a Kiwi and can handle that sort of ordeal.

At the same time, I went to Buenos Aires for some Specialized clinics and training rides before boarding another plane to Bariloche, a car ride to San Martin de los Andes and another car ride the next day to Pucon. The distances traveled were not huge, but the drives took forever due to inefficient passport controls between Chile and Argentina, road closures for an Ironman triathlon, construction and just the general relaxed pace in South America. I tried to just go with the flow and adapt to the pace of life here.

In my days in the area, I have not eaten dinner before 10:00 pm and despite my best efforts, I have not been in bed before midnight. Tonight, the night before the race, will be no exception. The race meeting ended at 10:00 pm and I am now writing this at 11:00 pm. I am actually excited to start the race so that I can get some sleep.

The vibe here is very relaxed compared to other stage races I have done. It's refreshing, but unusual considering the many kilometers of intense riding we have in front of us. There are only 50 teams in the race, but they come from 17 countries and the caliber of athlete is exceptional. There are a few World Cup cross country racers, Xterra pros, the legend Tom Ritchey, a couple of Olympians, a Brazilian National champion and a bunch of other super fit looking people I don't know yet.

I recognize people from the Cape Epic and from the Iron Biker in Brazil. One Brazilian friend even sent about 10 lbs. of Bananinha with a racer to deliver to me. It's my favorite race food that can only be found in Brazil. I'm sure there were excess baggage fees to get those here. In general, the group of athletes is relaxed, focused on enjoying the breath taking scenery and hanging out with each other. It is a race and I am sure everyone will pedal hard once the gun goes off, but the pre-race scene is shockingly and refreshingly casual.

Jenny and I are both coming off snow season and are getting on the bikes for the first time this year. We have the mutual goal of treating this as a training race. We will push for a good performance because we are both competitive by nature, but neither of us is missing the intensity and stress that usually accompany our peak season races.

Tomorrow's race start is a also a casual 9:30 am and we have 65km of river crossings, Arauacaria forest riding and crossing the Transvolanic Pass in Villarrica National Park.

Stay tuned to see how our first day of racing goes.

Trans Andes Challenge: Rebecca Rusch & Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith and Rebecca Rusch have teamed up up to race the 2010 Trans Andes mountain bike stage race. Smith, 36 hails from Westport, New Zealand, but has called Gunnison, Colorado, home for the past 10 years. The 41-year-old Rusch, winner of last year's Leadville 100, resides in Ketchum, Idaho.

The pair is racing under the team name La Diosas, which means "The Goddesses", and both are contesting this mountain bike stage race for the first time. The race also marks their first time racing together as teammates.

Rusch is the winner of the 2009 Leadville 100 and a three-time 24-hour solo World Champion. Smith placed top-five at two continental Xterra championships last year and has previously raced events like the Cape Epic.

Follow the adventures of the two women as they take on the Trans Andes Challenge.