By Steve Medcroft
In her five-year pro career, Dara Marks-Marino (Ford/Specialized) has stood on a NORBA podium more times than she can remember. She’s finished second behind some of America’s best cross-country and short-track racers. But the win had always gone to someone else. Until Sunday, when she won the NORBA short-track race in Snowmass, Colo.
“It felt so good to win,” she said with a smile in her voice from her home in Flagstaff, Arizona on Tuesday. “Finally.”
Marks-Marino started racing professionally in 2001 after competing in the Arizona State mountain-bike series and select (read: close enough to drive to) NORBA nationals as an amateur. Sponsored by Chandler, Arizona-based Titus Bicycles, she “finished in the teens mostly,” she says of her first year’s performance as a true pro.
But she stayed with the sport and in 2003, as a member of the Sobe/Cannondale mountain-biking team, she had a break-out short-track race and earned her first podium. “I’ve had a really steady progression in results from there,” the former 3rd-Grade teacher said. For the next three seasons, she returned to the podium numerous times. Although never to the top step.
During that time, she raced her first World Cups. “I also did the World Championships and World Cup Finals.” She took those experiences into her role with her current team; Ford Racing. “Last year, I had more podiums including three second place finishes - cross country at Sonomo and the National Championships in both cross country and short track.” Marks-Marino says she was second behind Alison Dunlap (Luna Chix) in all three races.
“This year has been interesting. I had a hard time at the start. But before the season started, I knew I had to make a tough choice; come off strong in March and struggle the rest of the season or stick to the training plan and trust that I would do better later in the year.”
The training program, and her form, which she attributes to her physical maturity as an athlete, is now paying off; her second half of the season has been amazing. “I had two fourths in Deer Valley, a second in both races in Sandpoint (cross country and short track) and a second and a first in Snowmass.
As for that first; she may have known the short-track win was coming. In her online diary, Mark-Marino wrote about the previous week’s NORBA short-track race in Idaho, where she came second to Sue Haywood (Trek/VW) by less than two seconds.” I was suddenly much closer to Sue than I had been on the last lap… I closed in behind and by the time we got to the last corner of the last lap, I was on her wheel. But since it was a hairpin turn and the finish was just ahead, I couldn’t pull out the win. I think I needed one more lap…”
In Snowmass, she got that one extra lap by holding off an on-form Shonny Vanlandingham. “Heather Irmiger (Tokyo Joes) set the pace for the first three or four laps,” she says about the Snowmass short-track. “I would move forward each lap. I felt smooth; kept getting wheels, kept accelerating. I started to notice that people were sitting up a little bit so I went for an attack at about twelve minutes in. Four of us got off the front; myself, Shonny, Sue and Katarina (Hanusova – Luna Chix). We were all attacking. No one would relent.
“With three or two laps to go, I went to the front. In the last lap, Shonny attacked on the climb. I felt like I had the legs to go with her and I countered at the top.” Marks-Marino says she locked handlebars and elbows with Vanlandingham briefly but managed to edge out the advantage.
“I was worried about the last corner – there were two lines and I knew she could come inside me and it would have been a sprint for the finish so I stayed really calm.” She powered through and found herself with enough of a gap to close the race and take her first-ever NORBA win.
As for the rest of the year, Marks-Marino says she’s met one of her major goals. But, “I’d like to win more NORBA’s. And I would love to win the Cross-Country National Championship.” If her current form holds through September, she just may get her wish.