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Going the distance: The Nat Ross diary 2007
Racing for seven years as pro mountain biker, 36-year-old Nat Ross' name is synonomous with endurance racing, and he is a master at 24-hour solo races.
The super-chill Ross hails from Colorado and knows how to go the distance, day or night.
A winner 24 Hours of Moab in 2004 and 2006, he has been a member of the Subaru Gary Fisher team longer than any other racer.
September 22, 2007
Not the best 24 hours
Another season's end is nearing and I am still without a World Championship title. My last race did not go as planned, and it is unsettled as I reflect upon solo race number thirty-five. However, I should mention that I still climbed on to the podium in third place. For most races, a top three is my goal, but every now and then I feel like a course suits my racing style so I put my eggs into the winning basket. That was the case for the 24 Hour Solo World Championships this year.
There were several plusses to the race as well as plenty of minuses, however, it was the plusses that had me all excited to show up and take some names. There were some big plusses. The race was in the fall, and I am always stronger as the season progresses. It was at sea level and coming from high altitude things couldn't be better. The course had over 2,000 feet of climbing per lap, and Chris Eatough (winner from 2000-2006) was not on the start list. Also exciting my lighting sponsor Light and Motion released an ultra light new model called the Rusch (named after Rebecca Rusch—2007 World Solo Champ!).
There were also minuses. Who would have thought that the temperature would be 100 plus degrees? The race promoter did not list the race rules on the website, and made some modifications come race day that included; no support on the course (only in pit row) and no iPods. Are they kidding? Not that the lack of music had anything to do with it, but my race did not go as planned.
I showed up early to the venue and got in the groove with my crew. I had two locals that were joining my A-Team staff of Myron Billy and Brett Batchelder for the weekend. Aussie Bob and Alex were ready to experience the pits first hand. I buttered them up by taking the crew out to see "SuperBad" at a local movie theater on Friday night. The movie was the bomb, and my crew was in great spirits and eager to help me ride to victory.
Alex had been checking the weather on the internet, and warned that the temps were going to be unusually high. This was very worrisome, so I revised my race strategy to include hydrating and eating whole foods during the day laps. I also decided to back off my tempo at the start and not go out as fast as I typically do. Instead, I chose to top off my tanks with fuel and start riding aggressive during the night when the temps went down to something more tolerable.
After the messed up call-ups the race began with a leman's style run. I came in behind two Aussie's Jon Claxton (Giant) and Andy Bell (Kona), hopped on my bike and lead out the field out on to the Laguna Seca racetrack. I set a decent pace to spread out the field and was quickly joined by Brent Miller (Titus/Kenda). He drove the pace while John and I followed his wheel with Tinker Juarez (Cannondale) right on our tail. Right away, things were not clicking for me. I was swerving all over the singletrack. I was not one with my bike, and my legs were not feeling up to it. After forcing myself to continue at this pace for the first half hour, I decided that I had to pull aside and pedal at my own rhythm. It was unfortunate to let the leaders go ahead before the midpoint of the first lap. Typically, I like to keep contact if I am not setting the tempo, but on this day it was not happening for me.
I came in on from first lap with two large empty water bottles, grabbed my CamelBak, two fresh iced bottles, and an iced towel for my neck. Starting out on my second lap I was in ninth or 10th position, and at that time, I thought that the leaders were going too fast for the current conditions. However, I turned out to be wrong – way wrong.
During the remainder of Saturday's daylight I picked my way back up to fifth place. I climbed up the intense sun exposed hills at a steady pace, but not too fast as to avoid cooking myself. Before nightfall, I was around 30 minutes behind the leaders, Tinker and Kelly Magelky (BMC/Sports Garage). This was not the position or place I wanted to be in forcing me to wait anxiously for the sun to go down and the temps to cool.
Before nightfall, the extremely high temperatures started to take its toll on many racers in the field. Two of the top contenders for the women were forced to stop early; Monique "Pua" Sawicki (Ellsworth/Ergon) and Louise Kobin (X-Fusion). Brandon Draugelis (Bare Naked/Cannondale) and Yuri Hauswald (Marin) were also puking on the course, and were unable to keep fluids in while Sloane Anderson (Ergon) and Keith Bontrager had called it a day. The sweltering daytime temperatures on the course were starting to affect most of the competitors. I tired to put on blinders to the carnage on the course, but when you roll through the pits lap after lap and see tents being taken down and medics pumping racers with IV's, your head starts question your actions.
Nevertheless, I tried not to let it bother me that I was so far behind the leaders; I kept telling myself that the leaders would crack. So, I trudged on through the night unfortunately without music.
During the evening, John Claxton, who was in third, had cracked, and he was pushing his bike. Josh Oppenheimer, who was in fourth, had also lost a few positions. Now the old guards would end up with prize money if experience and patience would come into play. After moving up into third there was a fierce battle going on behind me for the remaining spots on the podium. Ernesto Marenchin (Sologoat) and Mark Hendershot (Santa Cruz/Syndicate) were steadily making their mark on the race. Mark and Ernesto are always on my radar as Mark is strong and always solid, and Ernesto beat me at Worlds three years ago in Whistler, British Columbia.
The night dragged on forever, and I never made ground on Kelly or Tinker. Kelly was setting a mean pace, and Tinker matched it ten feet behind. I was in no-mans land and hating it. It would have been nice to have some tunes kicking instead of silence at this point in the game. When the sun came up everybody was dreading the last few laps in the heat. Ernesto turned it on big time and closed within ten minutes of me. I was stoked that my new SuperFly carbon hardtail ran so great, and that I had no mechanicals. At the end of the race, I was happy to finish on the podium, although overall I had a crappy day as a professional bike racer.
I want to congratulate Rebecca Rusch (Specialized/Red Bull) as she had an amazing race. She won the event and would have finished within the top ten of the men!
Thanks for reading,