The decision rested on my shoulders. Only five women—all amateur—had signed up to race the new Master of the Mass enduro-style event in Snowmass Village, Colo., and race director Dave Elkan invited us to run the pro NORBA downhill course instead of the amateur women’s course they lined out a little further down the mountain.
Guys in the new enduro-style event were amped. They were very encouraging and gave me a list of helpful hints:
“Take the pass-around at the road drop.”
“Just slide on your ass down the waterfall.”
“If you don’t like the top part, be prepared to run your bike down other sections.”
“Sit back and push through when you hit the little flyover step-down.”
It was all quite touching but didn’t matter: I am not a downhiller. I’m a cross-country rider—sometimes pretty aggressive—with only a handful of races under my belt.
I signed up for the four-stage, three-day race for fun. It included my new favorite discipline, a super D that the race director affectionately called the “mega, uber D” because it started at 11,300 feet and took racers nearly 10 miles down bermed trails, fast and flowy lines, across outstanding high-mountain singletrack, through aspen forests and into narrow hardpack among the sage and Gambel oak. Besides, who wouldn’t want three days of lift-served mountain biking?
The other women in the race were downhillers and willing to run the pro course. I didn’t want to walk or slide or fly (which likely would have been without my bike under me). So, moments before the race, I chose the intended publicized amateur route. I stood strong in my decision but admittedly felt a little lame.
I wouldn’t have been burdened with that decision the day of the race if more women had entered. Riding the lift back up for the start of the downhill stage, I thought about pro endurance cyclist Rebecca Rusch. Just the week before she had told me that women make up only 10 percent at the prestigious Leadville Trail 100 race. I had an even greater appreciation for Rusch’s work in and out of the saddle—she spends much of her career reaching out to girls and women, encouraging them to mountain bike, improve their pedal power, and ride competitively.
"I was shcoked that [the Leadville Trail 100 and the Leadville Race Series] was so low, confused about why the participation was so low and felt passionate about doing whatever I could to increase women's participation," she says.
Rusch—whose nickname is "Queen of Pain"—is the reigning Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike champ (three years running now), has three 24-hour solo mountain bike World Champion rainbow jerseys, and is the current World Champion for Master’s XC mountain biking, among other titles. In her “down time,” she runs the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour, a series of female ride initiatives that include race and training clinics at Sea Otter Classic, Dirt Rag Magzine’s DirtFest, and Kokanee Crankworx, the Wheel Girls weekly skills sessions, and female media camps.
“All events are designed by women for women. Our goal is to get you on a bike and help you take your riding to the next level, no matter what level that is,” Rusch states.
This year’s media camp was held July 5-8 in Rusch’s hometown of Ketchum, Idaho, and neighboring Sun Valley to coincide with the USA Cycling Cross-Country Nationals.
The events are an opportunity to hone skills, try new gear and hit some singletrack with the pros. In typical style, Rusch cut no corners in getting me set up, even though I arrived early for extra riding and on-the-ground research for a destination piece for Issue 26 of Mountain Flyer. (Be sure to look for the upcoming issue hitting newsstands in late August because, yes, you need to go to Ketchum/Sun Valley/Hailey to ride!)
Rusch’s team, including Karoline Droege and Michelle Anderson, set me up with some cool gear to review, including the comfortable and functional Smith Optics Pivlock V90 sunglasses with interchangeable lenses; a Light & Motion Urban 400 commuter light; flip flops, insoles, and socks from SOLE; Beyond Coastal sun care products; and Specialized shoes, helmet and gloves.
Most importantly, we got to rip around on the Specialized Safire, a trail bike equally capable of longer cross-country rides in and around Ketchum as well as long, flowy downhill runs from the top of Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain. With 120 mm of travel, this women’s specific machine is a stable all-mountain rig that would be a good choice for races such as the Master of the Mass; it’s light enough to push hard through the flats and punchy climbs of a super D or cross-country stage yet tough enough to go for the tabletops and kickers on gravity trails and send the steeps of a downhill course.
After a morning of cornering clinics during the media camp with pro racer Lindsey Voreis, we got to let loose on the ski hill and descend 10 miles of superb singletrack, including a portion of the Scott USA Super Duper Downhill course that had taken place days before. The camp also offered a chance to be part of the weeklong Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival and the Cross-Country Nationals scene— either taking part in local “Stoker Rides,” racing and cheering on Rusch and others cranking it out against the world’s other great mountain bikers. (Most of the U.S. Olympic team riders were competing and many showed up for a fundraiser put on by the new IMBA chapter, the Wood River Bicycle Coalition.) It added up to increased motivation to get out and race.
Even if I couldn’t compete in any of the Idaho races due to travel commitments, Rusch was the inspiration behind me signing up for the Master of the Mass when I got back home. When I learned that only one woman had signed up for Master of the Mass just two days before the event, I could hear Rusch’s voice in the back of my mind.
"I feel like racing is the perfect way to commit to a goal, step outside of your comfort zone and really find out what you are capable of," Rusch says. "Regardless of someone's position at the finish line, it's the perfect way to push ourselves to be tougher, stronger, more confident, have fun! It's sometimes scary and it's hard work, but that just makes the reward even better."