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Going the distance: The Nat Ross diary 2006
As a six-year professional mountain biker who's competed in twenty-eight solo 24-hour races, you'd think that ultra-endurance racing has consumed every waking hour of 35 year-old Nat Ross' adult life. But this lean, long-haired and laid-back Coloradoan has a more complete resume than even the most upwardly-mobile corporate go-getter - although that won't stop him going the distance when it matters.
November 5, 2006
The short version of the 2006 24 Hours of Moab
That's right. Mother Nature moved in quick to drastically shorten the 24 Hours of Moab for soloists by two thirds. My winning finishing time was eight hours and eighteen minutes. Although soloists wanted to race the full 24, a freak storm prevented any nighttime laps, which in turn had soloists voting not to restart in the morning. Follow my play-by-play for the last race in the 24 Hour National Point Series.
I drove my Subaru Outback to Moab on Wednesday evening without my crew. My plan was to clear my head and prepare for the big day with out too many stresses or distractions. My crew manager, Mike Reed, had been riding in Moab twice in the past month and had told me just how wet it had been. Mike informed me to watch the weather closely and bring lots of rain gear and warm riding clothes.
The plan was to pre-ride two laps on the course Thursday in the morning. I was riding new prototype Bontrager tubeless 29-in tires. I had raced the proto tubeless rims all summer, but had not raced the tires and tubeless rim strips yet. I hammered out my first lap in one hour and fifteen minutes. This was five minutes slower than I wanted to be so I opted not to ride another lap on my second Gary Fisher (Race Day) SuperCaliber 29. The tires felt bombproof and I wanted to conserve my energy for Saturday and Sundays efforts.
My amazing support staff arrived later that evening. My crew returned from last year and consisted of: Myron Billy as my mechanic, Mike Reed, my sister Niki, and her friends Stephanie and Andie. They kick ass. We laughed our selves silly as the vibe between us is all about having a good time. Everybody brought his or her bikes to ride prior to the race, but the weather was too crappy.
My bikes were dialed and I showed up on Saturday morning earlier than planned - which was great as I had a scheduled interview. It also never hurts to have extra prep time when it's raining. Keeping everything dry is extremely difficult even in the tents. Another difficult task was to maintain my motivation. These races are miserable enough in dry conditions. Typically, I wish for bad weather, but I knew I was in for some bone-chilling laps.
The race started in a light drizzle with the lemans style run. I was super nervous at the start and just wanted to get on my bike. I ran conservatively on the run as not to sprain an ankle in one of the numerous deep puddles. I mounted the bike and quickly found myself in the top 20. I worked my way to the very front on the service road out. I felt great and was quickly joined by Nick Martin of the Trek/VW team. Nick and are great friends so I welcomed him and we started to gap the rest of the soloists. Nick and I were actually leading the whole race for over an hour and a half.
We continued to set a blistering pace for the next 4 laps. On lap 5 the conditions were at an all time worse. The course had gone from crappy to downright dangerous. There were flash floods all over. Complete sections were being washed out. Drop-offs were forming, and on all the down hills we were racing in a gushing torrent of turbulence.It was getting dark just after 6PM which was making maneuvering around all the new obstacles very challenging.
Nick and I were still taking pulls and putting time on everybody but Josh Tostado (Giant). We were changing bikes every lap, as I needed new brake pads every hour. My Super Caliber Race Day 29ers were taking almost as much beating as my body was. I began to wonder if this was the right time to try out the new tubeless ready 29 inch wheels even though I was able to run low air pressure on the slippery rock. What if something happened in these conditions? Was I prepared?
Lap 4 was very challenging for me to keep focused with the course desegregating at such a fast rate and the conditions only getting worse. I was definitely not having fun racing my bike!
Lap 5 was the worst lap for me of the entire race. I was miserable and suffering like a dog. Although Nick and I were still racing together we had stopped talking and were focused on getting back to the pits. I was completely soaked to the bone and was starting to shiver uncontrollably (this is the first signs of hypothermia). With less than four miles to go on Lap 5 Nick asked me what was up. "Nat--what are you thinking?" I replied, "This sucks--all I want to do is to get back to my crew and get some fresh warm shorts, jersey, base layer, gloves, socks, and shoes." I also needed some hot food and something under my helmet to keep my head dry. I could hardly hold on to the handlebars anymore to brake or shift. It was as if Nick and I were riding an "Epic" and we had run out of food and water and were lost. It was not pleasurable if you know what I mean.
We finished lap 5 together and each sprinted for our respective tents. My crew was ready for my arrival and started pumping me with hot tea and raviolis, peanuts, pastries, and a Naked Juice. We changed all of my clothes and were almost finished when Myron started yelling . "There goes Nick". I thought that bastard; he didn't even wait for me or tell me that he was leaving. I mounted my bike and sprinted out of the pits with my crew chasing me with more food and clothes. I was pissed. I started out pretty fast, but soon had to slow as my stomach was beyond full. I almost puked right out of the gate.
Then, Josh Tostado passed me. At the time I did not know it was Toast, but I had inkling. The racer had a riding style like Josh's but his clothing was different (that's because it was his rain gear). I chased back to the unidentified rider just to see if it was Josh. It was, so we rode together for a while.
Josh and I were both getting mad chain suck. We would take a pull, but would have to backpedal to keep from breaking the chain whenever the chain suck would occur. We went back and forth. Once, Josh even took a wrong turn in the dark. When we got finished climbing and I had given my stomach a chance to settle, I attacked. It was time to move out of 3rd position. I came to Moab to win. With less than 10 miles remaining on Lap 6, I turned it up a notch to catch Nick Martin. I finished lap 6 five minutes ahead of Josh. When I swiped my computer chip, I was instructed that the course was closed. I quickly asked-"What time did Nick finish this lap". The timing officials told me that Nick had not come through yet. It turns out that my crew saw somebody else in the colors of red, white, and black. I had been chasing a ghost.
I headed back to my tent, downed a recovery drink and put on some leisure clothes. I wanted to get the low-down on exactly when the race would resume and be totally prepared. At the point of the course closure the EMT's had picked 21 people off the course. Right before the race promoter closed the course, the ambulances and four-wheelers could not even navigate the course anymore because the roads were washed out. It was ridiculous.
My crew had a warm meal prepared for me and I sat down and enjoyed it along with drinking a lot of water. As I understood it, I was to start racing gain at 7:18AM. However, racing never resumed for the soloists as we voted not to restart. Too many inconsistencies in the rules had prompted a lot of racer protests. My 7:18 start later turned on into an 11:28 start with less than 1/2 hour remaining in the race. So, in order to keep everything fair we ended it when we were told the course was closed. It was crazy for me as that was the third 24 hour race this summer that was cut short due to bad weather. I've finished 34 solo races in my career and only the last three have ended short. This kind of racing is crazy, but can be rewarding. I finished my season with another win and ended up winning the 24 Hour National Point Series.
See you at the Cyclocross races,
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Images by Xavier Fane/www.xavierfanephoto.com