SIDE NOTE to article: Rebecca Rusch is the host to SRAM’s Gold Rusch Tour – Events designed by women for women. Their goal is to get the ladies on a bike and help take your riding to the next level, no matter what level that is. The Gold Rusch atmosphere is always fun and casual!
Interview by TCoffman and The Queen of Pain
Whatâ€™s it like to conquer Americaâ€™s highest 100-miler and come out on top? We caught up with Rebecca Rusch, four-time womenâ€™s champ and course record holder, and Alban Lakata, back this year for the win, to find out.
Hometown: Ketchum, ID
Rides for: Specialized Racing
Up next: SRAM Gold Rusch Tour stops
It was an awesome sight when you and the other top women came through the Twin Lakes aid station. How did the race unfold from there? Was your strategy to race your own race, or were you consciously gauging the efforts of your competitors?
Ken said something in the pre-race meeting that really rang true for me. Addressing the group of nearly 2,000 riders he said, “There’s only one person in this race: YOU!” As I sat there, I thought about all of the other super strong women and really tried to put all of them out of my head.
On race day, that’s precisely what I did and just rode my own race. I know the course well enough and know the areas where I’m strong and areas where I’m not. I was not waiting to pass competitors; instead I was riding my best and I wasn’t sure where that was going to place me. Even from behind, I was encouraged to get splits at Pipeline and Twin Lakes that weren’t that big. I wasn’t far behind and a few minutes in 100 miles is still doable. My strategy at LT100 has always been the same, to ride my own personal best and try not to get caught up in the competition or stress with other riders. It has served me well.
Tell us about the finish. When did you make your move?
At the top of Columbine, the top four women were all pretty close together, within a couple of minutes. It’s a great place to finally see where everyone is. I rolled through there second to Pua, with Sally and Gretchen right on my tail. By Twin Lakes inbound, I was about 30 seconds behind Pua with everyone screaming like crazy. I could see Pua and was closing in. I was able to take the lead just as we entered the single-track climb inbound. I love that climb and felt pretty good there, so I put some extra pressure on the pedals to see if I could open a gap. It was working, so I kept the momentum to the Pipeline aid station and tried not to think too much about the strong, strong headwind.
My nutrition and legs were good, but I knew that Pua, Sally and Gretchen are all fighters and would not give up. The last time I saw my boyfriend and crew, Greg, on course he said to me, “You’d better leave it all out here on the course.” These were just the words I needed to hear to keep pressure on for the last 20 miles. I was elated to look at my Garmin at the base of St. Kevins and see that I was really close to my best time and could possibly go under. Those numbers ticking by gave me a motivation boost for the last 20 minutes. Never one to relax in a race, I did take a few glances over my shoulder to see if I saw any of the other women. As always, the sight of the red carpet on 6th and Harrison brings tears to my eyes. The finish is a blur of screaming, the clock ticking and my legs stomping on the pedals to get to the finish. Greg, Ken, Merilee and so many other people were there waiting with smiles on their faces. I was in shock to have arrived there first and was really pushed by the amazing competition and the other riders on course.
How did the way you felt this year compare to other years? Does this race get any “easier,” whether mentally or physically?
This year, I felt really physically and mentally strong. Despite a faster time and more competition than ever, the race actually felt easier to me this year than last year. I wasn’t cramping and felt stronger coming up the Boulevard. I think part of it is experience, training and really loving the race and the people there. Don’t get me wrong — I was still working super hard and it hurt, just like Ken promised. But all systems just seemed to be firing right on that day for me. It’s very elusive and addicting to peak on just the right day and have everything fall into place. Each win has been unique and special in different ways. This was so special because it really was unexpected for me.
Did you learn anything new (about yourself or about racing) this time around?
I am learning to relax more and more each year. Being nervous and stressed just doesn’t turn the pedals over any faster.
I’m also learning to keep soaking in the pre-race experience. Going on rides on course and seeing all of the racers relaxed and having fun out there is one of the best parts of the race. The pre-race meeting, hanging around town and just being part of the experience makes race day even more special.
How did it feel to crush your record? Were you expecting that at all?
I was not expecting that at all. I had told my coach and myself that if I was anywhere near my best time, I’d be happy regardless of placing. However, last year, I was cramping, felt terrible and barely made it to the end on two wheels. I really did dig deep last year, so the thought of being able to hit near 7:30 again was daunting and I really wasn’t sure I could do it.
This yearâ€™s splits were really similar to last years. The main difference was that I was able to finish stronger this year, so my splits at the end of the race were getting faster. I didn’t realize this on course because I was just riding in the moment without having the splits in my head. Some factors that helped me go faster: I think I had better nutrition this year so I wasn’t cramping or feeling bloated. I was able to ride Powerline the whole way for the first time! And I had great motivation from the strong women’s field. I also made a few tweaks to my bike gearing that ended up being a really sweet set-up for Leadville. Lastly, I’ve been juggling so many other work-related things like women’s camps, group rides, nutrition talks and the â€œDispatches from Columbineâ€ columns for the Leadville Race Series newsletters, that I didn’t really have time to sit around and get nervous about the race.
You hung out after the awards ceremony and chatted with people and took pictures. You’re obviously an inspiration to other riders. How does that add to your race experience?
Being part of the whole scene is such a special and important part of the race for me. I love staying down at the finish, congratulating the other racers I rode with and seeing the smiles and tears as people finally cross the finish line. My victories would be hollow without my boyfriend, Greg, and all of the other racers to share it with. I train and ride alone so often that to be part of this tribe and all of the riders on this day is one of my favorite things in the world. Those moments go by so quickly, so I make a point of staying around and soaking it all in. August 11, 2012, will now serve as motivation and great memories for me for years to come. If I inspire other people, that is GREAT. However, they all inspire me too! It’s a two-way street.
What was your post-race meal?
First, GU Brew recovery drink. Then the Oskar Blues beer and chicken burritos provided by the race organization. Then a champagne toast with my friends and crew back at the house, and we tried to order pizza but it was a two-hour wait. By that time, it was late and everyone was so exhausted, we raided our fridge and made a big meal with pasta, leftovers, and anything else we could find.
You’re currently in Whistler for another SRAM Gold Rusch Tour stop. How’s the terrain up there? After that will you have an opportunity to chill out a bit?
Oh, my — I still feel like I haven’t had a chance to chill out yet. I went straight from Leadville to Whistler to host one of my SRAM Gold Rusch Tour women’s events. Let me tell you, packing up to ride in the mecca of freeriding involved a whole different set of gear from my Leadville gear: from hard tail to a big suspension bike, lycra to baggies and full-face helmet. It’s pretty funny to go from the endurance scene to a new world of freeride. I’m a student here and most of the riders here have no idea what sort of riding I specialize in! I’m enjoying being in a new place and experiencing a whole new type of riding, but I already miss Leadville! It’s strange to me how long the preparation feels for that race, then the race and the weekend just whiz by at warp speed and it’s over until next year!