Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chaberton 3130 meters- 7th and Last Stage

End of Special Stage 1 at the top of Chaberton Fortunately it had stopped raining the next morning and the sun was out. Unfortunately, several people had their bikes stolen during the night. No one thought to lock their bikes up, since it was pouring down rain. The race organizers decided that the general classification was going to remain the same and that today's stage was not going to count. A few of the unlucky people were able to borrow bikes and still ride that day, but most were not able to ride to the top of Chaberton, which is supposed to be the highlight of the race. There is a bombed out Fort sitting at the top of the 3130 meter high Mt. Chaberton, which was built by the Italians, and destroyed by the French during WWII. From what I understand, the border between Italy and France runs straight across the mountain now.

I rode with Fabritzio, Katia, Danny, and Eric again. It took us approximately 3 hrs to do the 15 kms to the top of Chaberton. This included much hiking. No one seemed to be racing too hard, since the stage didn't count towards the final standings. When we finally reached the top Katia and I crossed the "finish line" together. The first special stage ended here and there was a tent set up with champagne, fancy olives and crackers. This was in addition to the pasta and fruit tarts served off course. We spent about an hour climbing around the top and looking at the 360 degree views. The race helicopter as well as a helicopter carrying tourists kept taking off and landing from the top of the fort.

View from the Fort

Katia and me in front of the Ironbike helicopter on top of the fort at Chaberton

Katia and me with Fabritzio

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We rode about half way back down Chaberton and then had 2 more hike-a-bike sections followed by boring gravel downhills. We had a short fun single track section leading in to the finish line in a ski town called Sauze d'olux where it started raining again. Thinking that we were close to the finish-line we I didn't bother to stop to put my jacket on. It was raining so hard the streets were flooding and it felt like you were in a shower with lots of water pressure. After a steep 5-10 minute climb we finally reached the finish where people were crammed in under a small tarp. There were lots of kisses being exchanged before heading off to find the showers. Instantly I was freezing, and Eric and I rode an extra loop in the town because we couldn't find the sports center or camp. We came by the finish line a second time and people were clapping again....

I got straight in to a handicap shower with all my clothes on, I was so cold when we found the sports center. I had exactly 2 pieces of dry clothing left in my bag that was sitting out in the rain. I had to wear my plastic rain jacket to stay warm while packing up our bikes. I looked really cute when we met up with "the Brits" for a fun dinner with lots of pizza, wine, and race talk in the evening. We found a nice bed and breakfast to stay that night before taking the train to Torino the next day.

Ironbike was an amazing experience once again. We met some really great people and were so happy to see the same awesome race organizers as 2 years ago. You definitely have to be able to "go with the flow", be flexible, cope with language barriers, race for up to 10 hrs a day, be able to survive on pasta, bread, and jam and little sleep, but they sure do put on a fantastic event and everyone is so friendly, funny, and helpful.

A big Thank You to my sponsors at Progress, Magura, Kenda, Ergon, and my race team Sho-Air for all the support and help this year!!

Day 6- More chairlifts

It was freezing the morning of Day 6, but luckily the old army jackets were laying around in a pile at the camp. The best part of breakfast was that I was able to get some real espresso. While the racers were drinking instant coffee out of a large vat, the staff was feasting on real espresso and apparently I was looking especially bad this morning, because the cook offered me some. What a treat!!

We rolled out of the campground straight to a 20 minute chairlift ride which was really enjoyable. I sat and munched on a zone-bar, warm and cozy in my army jacket while checking out the amazing view of the ski resort. The special stage began when we got off the lift, went straight back down the mountain past the camp where we had started. We rode next to a big river for a while and eventually started climbing again. After about an hour I caught Katia, Fabritzio, and another guy Danny. We had a great day! Since I was over 200o points ahead, I decided to ride with them for the rest of the day and enjoy, instead of killing myself. Fabritzio continued to entertain us and I was happy to slow down the pace a bit.

We finished the day together at a youth camp in the town of Cesana. No one finished within the 8 hour target time that day. After we set the tent up and stood in line for one of the 4 showers, it started raining. It was actually pouring. We walked down the stairs to the small campground and noticed that our tent was sitting in a huge water puddle and all of our stuff was wet. Luckily, we had the tent we were given by Ironbike, so we set that up in a different spot and were able to keep our sleeping pads and bags from getting completely soaked. At this point I was having some serious stomach issues and had to go and visit the race doctor who have me some pro-biotics to neutralize the bacteria in my stomach. Thank goodness it worked so I could stay off the squat-toilet!
At the race meeting Fabritzio informed us that the plan was still to ride up Chaberton, the 3100 meter mountain between Italy and France, the next day. Unless there was a lightning storm the course would remain the same, and we would find out about that in the morning.
We had a pretty bad night's sleep in our damp mini-tent. I was coughing like crazy and it was pouring rain outside.

8000 stone steps- Stage 5

Day 5 didn't start out that great. I felt so nauseous in the morning that I couldn't force down breakfast. I had even brought some of my own "fitness bread" to add a little fiber to my diet, but it just did not look very appetizing. My solution was to chug 2 cups of thick Sustained Energy and eat a banana, to get some calories before the 7 am start. We actually started in 3 big groups except for the fastest 10 riders who had to go one at a time. I was very happy to have a 10 km warm up before the start of the special stage. We were all riding at what should have been a comfortable pace but I was feeling so sick. I started to slack behind and Eric stopped with me. After puking up the Sustained Energy and banana on the side of the road I felt slightly better, but I was wondering how I was going to make it through the day.

I actually started feeling better during the special stage. It included a really long, "easy"dirt climb and I was able to ride at a good pace. When I finished the stage in 3 hrs 40 minutes I was feeling completely back to normal. Eric and I ended up riding out of the checkpoint together.

We had a long section to get to the next special stage which started at the top of a castle. There was a very steep pavement climb to get there and I caught up to Katia who was riding with one the funniest guys I have ever met, Fabritzio. I don't want to rip on Fabritzio, but he is a smoker and he couldn't wait to get to the end each day to light up a cigarette after kissing his wife and daughter. He has a full head of curly red hair and a goatee. He was a really good rider and to entertain us during the "non-special stages" he would fly down hill and lay down on his saddle and scream with a "devilish voice". Sometimes he would pretend like his bike was a motorcycle and do wheelies, or he would just yell at or taunt other Italians he knew. Fabritzio's English was slightly better than my Italian and it was really funny trying to communicate in the 20 words we had in common. Super nice and friendly guy.

The next special stage was my favorite of the whole race. We started at an ancient castle which was built on the mountain side and rode down 8000 stone steps. It was absolutely amazing!! We started out going through pitch black tunnels and after the first one I got off my bike, because you couldn't see the steps at all, and they were definitely not evenly spaced. I had a hard time even walking through the tunnels and had to hold on to to the stonewall to keep my balance. After the tunnels the steps continued down the mountain side, but at least you could see where you were going. I am amazed at how well my equipment held up. At the bottom of the staircases we went in to another super-fun section with tight switch backs and finished with a short but steep single track climb up to the check point. At the check point we could look up the mountain and see the old castle. I thought I was making good time, but I actually ended up somewhere in the middle of the field with a time of 30 minutes. I guess I need to practice my stair case riding more!!

We still had another couple of hours to finish the day in Pragelato and I was determined to finish within the Target time that day. I lost both the special stages to Katia that day, she was riding very strong, but since I reached the target time, I still ended up with 27 points less.

At night we walked into the town and had dinner again. The restaurant quickly filled up with other racers, and we dined with a guy who has done the Ironbike 12 times. Eric and I both ordered a hamburger and were a bit surprised when our 7 Euro hamburger turned out to be only the patty. It was still good, but we had to supplement with some additional food.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stage 4

Day 4 began in the town of Barge, where we started with a special stage and left 2 people at a time, one minute apart. The person I was supposed to start with was still sleeping I was told, so I had to start alone... Very suspect/Italian... We started with a paved climb right out of town which was nice, because I immediately began catching people that started in front of me. The paved climb eventually turned in to a steep gravel road with some short hike-a-bike sections. We were on and off our bikes for a while, hiking up really steep rocks where we had to carry the bikes on our backs. I usually try to push my bike to save energy, but some of the trails were too narrow and too steep. Then we finally hit a long open downhill and I caught Katia who was stopped at a checkpoint. That didn't last very long, she caught right back up and we were together for a while. I was right behind Katia when the trail turned in to a hike-a-bike section. As we were hiking along I started getting a feeling we were not on the right track and asked if she had seen any blue ribbons. After a while I looked back and way down the hill I could see other riders, we were completely off track. It seemed like forever, but we probably only spent an extra 10 minutes on the wrong trail. When we finally got back to the course we had a technical downhill and I was able to drop Katia and got to the check point a few minutes ahead of her. It was a bummer to get lost, but at least we were together so we both received the same amount of penalty points. One of the Brits later told me he took a wrong turn and descended 800 meters, so I guess I shouldn't complain about a little extra hiking... We were joking that the day was only 80 km and we needed a little extra distance that day.

Eric was already at the checkpoint and we left together with Katia and a couple of other people. To get the the next special stage we had to go up this pavement that was so steep I had to be in my granny gear. I'm guessing it is about 20% grade for close to an hour. Since granny gear riding is not my specialty and I wanted to save some energy for the next stage, I lost the group and Katia had already left the checkpoint when I got there. Luckily the next climb was a much easier grade and I caught back up and passed them and we finished with a long super rocky riverbed downhill where I was able to gain some time. I was so happy to have my Magura fork for this section, it was really rough. I was also amazed that I never cut a tire or had a flat during the entire race. I rode the Kenda Karmas with a reinforced sidewall and I am highly impressed.

That night Eric and I decided we had enough of the pasta and went out for pizza in town. I was so tired and couldn't wait to go to bed when we got back. Just as I was putting toothpaste on my brush at 9 o'clock, Katia and the "california" Italians walk by and tell me that they are going in to town for the awards ceremony and ask if I want to go with them. I had no idea that there was a ceremony that night and that was the last thing I wanted to do, but I hate to be rude and miss my award so I went along. We walked and walked and finally got to a park where a bunch of locals are watching a female singer on stage. Apparently the town is having some little festival and Ironbike is presenting awards after the performances. The singer makes no sign of wanting to quit, so finally Fabritzio walks up on the stage and sort of cuts her off. I think even the staff is getting tired and ready for bed.

Finally at 10:30 I was back at the camp. I was so exhausted I didn't even get my food ready for the next day, I figured I had time in the morning since the race didn't start until 7 the next day...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stages 2 and 3- My Progress Magic Rocks!!

On DAY 2, we had to get up at 5:15 am because we were getting bussed to the starting line. Even thought the buss was not supposed to leave until 7:45 we were all required to check in at 7 in order to avoid getting penalty points. The bus Eric and I were on ended up not leaving until 8:30 and I didn't start until 9:45. During this stage we started according to our general classification, with the fastest riders going last. We were spread out 2 minutes apart and started 4 riders at a time. The first special stage ended up going really well for me and I ended up in 17th overall, 10 minutes ahead of Katia. When the special stage was over, we had a pavement descent into a ski town where we got onto a gondola. I was able to grab a couple of pieces of cake and a coke for the ride at the checkpoint . We were also provided with these funny army jacket liners without buttons to wear because it was pretty chilly when you were sitting still. I shared my car with 2 free ride guys who were not part of the race. After getting off the gondola, there was a short descent to the bottom of a chairlift which took us to the top of the ski mountain. The chairlift took over 20 minutes and I was glad I had the green army jacket on!! When I got of the lift I said "ciao" to the lift guys and when they replied "Bon Jour" I realized we had crossed in to France.

The second special stage of the day started in a town and after a short single track climbed up 1500 meters over a very rocky and rough mountain side. The grade was not too bad and I was able to pass several guys. At the top of the climb there was a 500 meter long tunnel without lights. All riders were required to carry headlamps this day for the purpose of riding through the dark tunnel. My small headlamp did little to light up the tunnel which had water puddles and big holes in the ground. At the entrance of the tunnel we were again provided with the army jackets and were able to keep them on for the close to 2000 meter descent afterwards.

The day ended with a 3 km long single track section and we had to get off our bikes to climb up a steep rock to the finish line. The 107 km took me 9 hrs and 45 minutes. It was a very long day with over 4500 meters of elevation gain, but I put over 1000 points on my main competitor so I had a good race. I was very happy to have a such a light bike this year.

During the Ironbike your day doesn't end when the race ends. I finished the race around 7:30 pm and now had to put the tent up, take a shower in one of the 2 outdoor showers, clean the bike and get everything ready for the next day. I actually got a massage after this day as well. Dinner didn't start until 9 pm that night, and the briefing not until 11. I think the race organizers were having too much fun drinking wine...

Day 3 began very early in the town of Jausier, France. The Tour de France were coming in to the town later that afternoon, so there were lots of people and support vehicles around. Again our start time was dependent on the general classification, but this time we started 2 people at a time. I quickly caught up with Katia who started a few minutes ahead of me, and we were close together when we reached the start of the first special stage which began 50 km into the race. Katia was taking her time at the checkpoint, filling up her camelbak, eating, and hanging out. I was too impatient to wait around, so I went to the start where we had to put our chip in front of a reader, and took off. This stage was rough!!! We went up to over 2500 meters over a mountain pass which was extremely steep and rocky and we had to hike-a-bike most of it. I was not having a great day and got passed by lots of people including Katia towards the top. The downhill went down a scree field and was so rough and steep that it was hard to walk and carry the bike. After a while we were able to start riding again, but I still lost 6 minutes to Katia on that stage.

The second special stage went better. After an "easy grade" hour climb we ended with another rough downhill where I was able to drop Katia. I was so happy with my Magura brakes and fork. It was so steep and rough with lots of tight switch backs down a hiking trail where we had to watch out for hikers, but my brakes worked perfectly without overheating at all during the 2000 meter descent. Amazing!! Eric and I were about 30 seconds apart on this stage and I took back the 6 minutes on Katia!!! This day ended in the town on Barge. The day took me 9 1/2 hrs to finish and my bike definitely needed a little TLC afterwards. I had broken one of the teeth on my big chain-ring and needed new cables and housing. After cleaning my bike with the help of the "special Italian solution" and a paintbrush I borrowed from Mauro and Mauri (for the promise of a beer at the end) I took it over to the race mechanic.

The town put on a nice dinner for us this evening. We sat inside of a boccie ball hall and had pasta, meat, tomatoes, and wine. After the dinner there was an award presentation and the leaders got a huge gift basket with wine and all kinds of yummy foods. There were lots of journalists and reporters there but everything was off course conducted in Italian, so I had really no idea what they were saying except for when my name was mentioned. I was ahead by about 1800 points now and I felt like I could relax a little bit.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ironbike Prologue and Stage 1

The 5 km prologue on Saturday afternoon had 2 waves and both Eric and I were in the first one. I knew that I wasn't going to feel too speedy on such a short course. The race took off and we made a couple of circles in the town of Entraque, on cobble stone streets, through narrow pathways, over bridges, through parks, and ended in the town square. The prologue is just kicking off the race and lots of people were cheering us on but it doesn't really matter that much in the long run. I ended up with around 200 penalty points, one for each second I was behind the winner. I was 2nd female, 32 seconds or points behind an Italian woman. After this race, the top 20 racers did a second, even shorter race around town, and I am actually not sure why or how the point system worked there. After the races were done we stood around for a couple of hours waiting for the award ceremony which no one seemed to know exactly when or where it was going to take place. Very Italian!!

Around 8:30 it was time for the pasta dinner. A tent was set up next to the town's swim center where we were served pasta, some kind of meat, french fries, and off course red wine. We were entertained by 5 cool teenagers playing accordions. They totally rocked!

We had now moved our tent from the El Basco campground to a field next to the swim center where all racers were required to sleep. Many had support vehicles, but everyone is supposed to stay in the camp and sleep in a tent that was given to us by the race organizers.

Day 1 started with the usual breakfast of pasta with olive oil, bread and jam and nutella. This was the exact same breakfast we got every morning. It is not easy to race all day on that kind of food. I had brought some granola, but it only lasted 3 days. After that I was stuck with the bread and jam, because there is no way I can force down pasta at 6 am. I was also really missing my coffee. I can't believe they served instant coffee in Italy, that seems like a crime.

There was a race briefing right before the race started and this was pretty entertaining. Fabritzio, the head guy yelled everything out in Italian, and then there were translators for English, Spanish, and French all talking at the same time. It was impossible to understand what they were saying, but I figured we were all in the same boat. We did receive a road book which had a course profile each day and the "special stages" and checkpoints labeled. As disorganized as this race may seem, the organizers and sponsors do a great job promoting it in Italy. We were followed by a helicopter every day, were on national TV after each stage and there were tons of reporters filming and taking pictures.

The first day had a mass start and began with a "Special Stage" right away. The Target time for the day was 6 hours and the Max time was 9. This meant that if you made it to the finish line in under 6 hours you got no penalty points for that stage, and if it took more than 9 hours you got 10,000 penalty points. The special stage was around 60 km, and again, we were compared to the overall winner and got penalty points accordingly.

After a 10 km easy descent we started climbing a steep rocky trail and the field of 140 thinned out pretty quickly. The climb lasted over an hour and then we dropped about 1000 meters on a gravel road and as I was a bit nervous about sliding out, Katia, the Italian woman that won the prologue, caught me. We had 2 more climbs during the special stage, the last one a really steep paved road, I would guess at least 15 % grade for an hour. I finished the special stage only a minute and a half ahead of Katia, in 4 hrs 20 minutes. After the special stage we had another hour or so to the finish line, so we cruised together and were able to make the target time pretty easily. We climbed 2800 meters (9200') in 77 km (48 miles).

The day ended in San Damiano Macra, a small mountain town. The camp was again in a small sports center and we were able to set up the tents in the field and use the showers and toilets inside. As I went to clean my bike after the race, 2 Italians were appalled at how I was spraying down my drive train with a hose, and started cleaning it with some degreaser and tiny paint brushes. Mauro and Mauri were riding as a team, didn't speak one word of English and referred to me as "California" for the rest of the race. Approximately 20 times a day I could hear "California" yelled out before the race, during the race, at dinner, or in camp.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ironbike 2008

After over 30 hours of travelling, Eric and are in Entraque, Italy and just finished the prologue of the Ironbike. It was no easy feat getting here but well worth it. We flew in to Milan on Tuesday and took a bus to the main train station, each carrying over 100 lbs of luggage including our bike boxes. We took 2 different trains to get to Cuneo which is in the Piedmont district. From there we caught another bus that took us into the mountains and to the small town of Entraque. Once we got there we had no idea where the race camping was, and not many people here speak English. After a few failed attempts at getting a taxi, we walked into a small bar where a bunch of old men were drinking wine. After much loud Italian arguing, one of them produced a car key and one of the men got up and motioned he was going to drive us to Camp El Bosco. We had to take the back seat out of his car in order to fit our luggage into the car, and then Eric and I shared the front seat.

Camp El Basco was a very small private campground up in the mountains, about 1 km from the town. We stayed there for 4 nights before the race started and each day they made us breakfast before we went for the most amazing riding in the mountains. Entraque is right next to the Maritime preserve, which is a huge area with lots of hiking, backpacking, and riding. When we were out we saw a lot of older folks out hiking, way out in the middle of nowhere, so impressive.

Today we had to pack up all of our stuff and the campground owner drove us to the sports center where the race started and everyone will be camping tonight. Today's stage was only 5 km long and went through the town through narrow streets with lots of people cheering. The prologue basically determines your starting position for the first stage. Ironbike is based on the Paris to Dakkar car rally. Each day has a time limit, and you get a penaly point for each minute slower than the limit you are. Also, there are 1 or 2 special stages each day, when your time is compared to the winner of the day. For each second slower that the winner you are, you receive a penalty point. The person with the least penalty points wins. The stages are very very long and hard, and some days no one makes the time limit.

I hope to be able to make more posts, but I am not sure I will have internet access since we will be camping the whole time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cascade Creampuff 100

After a pretty rough winter and spring, I FINALLY feel healthy again. I ended up with bronchitis, the flu, and felt exhausted most of the time this winter and when I had some blood tests done they showed that I had very low iron and almost no white blood cells. After much sleeping, laying on the couch, taking my vitamins and iron, eating red meat and more protein, and not riding that much, I feel a lot better. Who knew that resting could be so helpful??

I wasn't sure I was going to be ready for this year's Cascade Creampuff, but the last few weeks I started feeling back to my normal self and was able to resume my normal training.

Eric and I drove up to Westfir, Oregon on Friday so we had all day Saturday to go for a ride, rest up, hang out, catch up with friends, and get our stuff ready for the race. Most racers and families/friends/supporters were camping on the lawn of Westfir middle school, and we were able to use the showers and bathrooms there. Very luxurious!!

Saturday was really hot and the forecast for Sunday was in the high 90s, so I was worried it was going to be a replay of 2006 when temps hit 104. Saturday night it started raining followed by thunder and lightning, and it was pretty misty and cool when we got up at 4 am. The super friendly volunteers were serving coffee, oatmeal and bagels for breakfast in the school. Scott, the race organizer, was walking around chatting with everyone and seemed very energetic for 4 o'clock in the morning.

The race started a couple of miles away from the school so we rode our bikes to the "starting-line". We took off around 5:30 down a paved road. It felt great to get a little warm-up before hitting the first 8 mile gravel climb. I felt good and my plan was to go out hard so I could get as much hard racing in as possible before it got scorching hot. The course was a figure 8 loop and there were 4 checkpoints that you hit several times.

After the first climb we got on a really fun single-track trail that had some steep climbs but mostly super fun downhill! We did the upper part of the figure eight 2 times, then went all the way back down and finished with one more loop of the bottom part. I have done "the Puff" 3 times before, but this was in my opinion the funnest and hardest course so far. There was so much single track that you could fly down for miles and miles. The trails were in perfect condition!

I felt really good the whole time. I knew I had a pretty big lead on the next woman, but when the support guy on the motorcycle told me I was in 11th place I had to kick it up a gear. I have never finished in the top 10 before so I thought that would be fun. I passed a guy on one of the climbs, now I was in 10th place!! As I descended the 45 minutes or so toward the start/finish/last loop I had a huge smile on my face. I have to say this is probably the best single track riding I have ever done.

At the bottom of the loop, we rode along a river for about 30 minutes before going up the 8 mile gravel climb again. It was probably 2:30 in the afternoon and would have been pretty hot if it wasn't for all the tall trees shading the road. I was surprised at how good I was still feeling. It also helped knowing I got to descend the fun Alpine trail once more. I finished in 10 hrs 55 minutes. It was a really fun race thanks to Scott and all the awesome volunteers. All the check points were loaded with food and cold drinks and the volunteers were really helpful and cheery. After we finished we were served the best race food I have ever had. It was catered by a Thai restaurant that was cooking up gourmet food at the finish line. YUM!!

My bike worked great the whole race. It was nice to be on such a light bike since we climbed 18,000 feet (5500 meters) in the 106 miles (170 km). I felt surprisingly strong throughout the race and was totally happy with my finish!! I am racing at Downieville on July 11th and then we leave for Ironbike, Italy on the 14th. I can't wait!!!