I got to catch up with three-time 24-hour solo world champion cyclist Rebecca Rusch, who is in Patagonia, Argentina for winter training. She decided to participate in the Trans Andes stage race and chose Jenny Hopkins Smith from Trek as her teammate. The two make a good duo, Las Diosas, and they strongly support their fellow women in sport.
When was the last time you were on your bike?
RUSCH: Mid-November for the Vuelta al Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Other than that, a couple of hours on the trainer watching Grey's Anatomy in my house isthe total extent of riding before this race.
SMITH: Late November. I had a long season in 2009 and really embraced doing other things in December and January--XC skiing, running, snowshoe running. When I decided to go to Chile, I rode my bike with snow tires and once drove to do a road ride.
What made you decide to come to Argentina to train?
RUSCH: I was invited to Argentina by the Specialized distributor to come down here and compete in the Trans Andes and Tour de la Patagonia and do some clinics and presentations. I'd been in this part of the world in 1999 for the Eco Challenge and 2004 for the Raid Gauloises, and it's one of my favorite places in the whole world, so I jumped at the opportunity for great winter training in a beautiful place. It's full on winter in Idaho, so the chance to get on my bike this early in the season is great for my training.
SMITH: Rebecca invited me. I just wanted the experience, It was a novelty for me to do a race without any pressure to perform. I was reasonably confident I could physically do it. I knew I have fitness from other activities. I also love to ride my bike, and I'd heard amazing things about the nature in Chile. There where other reasons, too. I love being an athlete and the opportunity to go and ride and escape the reality of work and winter for ten days was very appealing.
How were the courses?
RUSCH: Great riding and fun course, although the markings and the race mileages were sometimes inaccurate.
SMITH: For the most part, pretty amazing. Rugged, raw, varied, different than the States. The open roads and sketchy circumstances are neat, as long as they work out okay. The terrain was incredible. The opportunity to ride in places we'd never find or know about as a visitor.
What percent was fireroad versus single track?
RUSCH: Probably 60 percent road, 40 percent single track, but many of their dirt roads are very technical jeep roads, so it wasn't too much road riding.
Would you recommend this race?
RUSCH: Yes, but not as your first stage race. I was glad I had significant travel and multi-day racing experience for this event because you really did have to take care of yourself at times. Bike mechanics, food, logistics all required your own independence and flexibility. The riding and the country are absolutely off the charts.
SMITH: Yes and no. Yes for the riding and company and experience. I'm hesitant about the organization and communication. The last two days where rough, too hard, with inadequate facilities and communication.
What was the best stage and why?
RUSCH: I liked stage five, even though it was terrible weather and most teams got lost and did not finish the course. It was super challenging terrain, very cold, and my odometer was broken, so we really had no idea how much further we had to ride. It felt a lot like adventure racing and a bit of survival. Only the hard core people completed this stage, so I was really proud of us.
SMITH: Stage four, I felt amazing. I had my cycling legs under me, and it was fantastic terrain. It was a shorter stage, three hours and 30 minutes or so. It had an incredible climb and descent. I did really like the venue where we stayed for stages two and three. Stage three had some amazing single track. I think the best single track of the event. Crossing the Andes on stage six was incredible as well.
Any surprises during the race?
RUSCH: I was surprised that for the first week on the bike in months, we both felt pretty good and raced really well.
SMITH: I'm laughing--most of it was a surprise.
What went totally right?
RUSCH: Our teamwork together was great! Especially since it was a blind date for us and the first time we'd traveled or raced together. We also rode well and completed every stage--only 18 teams can say that.
SMITH: Riding on stage four. Finishing on stage six. Nothing goes totally right. If you expect that, you won't get very far. You'll be miserable. My teammate was always there!
What went a little wrong?
RUSCH: The organization has a bit of work to do to make this an international-level event. Course markings, mileages, media coverage, and communications were all a bit below par.
SMITH: Heaps of things, but nothing too bad. Stage five was a little wrong--fivehours, 30 minutes in the rain instead of three hours, and a mechanical with my rear wheel. But then again, we finished, so that was somewhat right!
How was camp life?
RUSCH: Great because of the international flavor of the event and the really magical camp spots we were in. Most of the camps were in resort areas with thermal hot springs, pools, spas. We were camping, but still had access to some of these great amenities.
SMITH: It had some great times. So neat to socialize, be simple. Some of the venues where fantastic. Camp life in the rain was less than ideal, though.
That water crossing looked fun. Was it hard to manage your bike? How cold was the water?
RUSCH: Freezing cold, but the crossing was easy. I'm not sure why, but many people were struggling and getting super stressed about it. I thought it was fun and wished we had more of them!
SMITH: It was easy. Rebecca knew what to do: Hook your bike to the seat rails and holdthe bike behind the seat, push it through the water. There's our secret. The water felt good. It was very hot that day.
How long were the stages?
RUSCH: They ranged from over 100 kilometers to 45, depending on the day. Average stage time for us was around five hours a day.
I think I saw a bottle of wine in one post-stage photo. Is that the Argentinian way?
RUSCH: Absolutely. They ran out of water at the event, but never ran out of red wine!
SMITH: The wine was more available than water. At the end of stage one, when I saw wine glasses out for lunch, I did a double take. The wine was very good, from Como Sur, a family winery.
What made you decide to ride the ERA and the not the 29?
RUSCH: I rode the ERA because I wanted the full suspension. I had heard this course was fairly technical, and my 29er is a hard tail. I also wanted to bring the ERA to Argentina so that the female riders here could see a top-end women's specific bike.
Did you have a clean race?
RUSCH: Jenny had rear hub issues on day five. It was not fixable and caused her grief during that stage. Michael Broderick actually lent her a wheel for stage six. It would have been a race ender for us had he not been able to lend out an extra wheel.
You two got along well. What was the best part about racing together?
RUSCH: The relaxed Kiwi attitude, her sense of humor, and her terrible singing voice!
SMITH: She's relaxed yet solid. She has a great attitude, looks after herself and her teammates. She's easy to be around, and she's kinda weird in that she gets faster after half way. It's fun to race with someone you know is going to be strong at the end.
Were you ready for a run and a swim after each stage?
RUSCH: We did ice our legs in the cold mountain streams after every stage. Great for recovery.
SMITH: I didn't run or swim at all. But now that it's done, my running feels good. My swimming feels awful. Hopefully, a few more days in the water and I'll come around.
Do you intentionally train in bad conditions?
RUSCH: I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to cold-weather training. I do not purposely go out in the mud or rain but sometimes have to, living in Idaho. I do like racing in messy conditions, though. Perhaps it's the adventure racer in me, but I feel like when the conditions get bad, many racers slow down and get bummed out, and I actually tend to thrive in those conditions.
SMITH: You want to know the truth--I hate cleaning my bike! At home, I am a fair weather rider. I am at my happiest when I ride my bike and race. I feel deeplysatisfied when I am challenged. It's a privlege to be able to experience life from a bike, especially when it's in an amazing part of the world.