Monday, August 17, 2009

Podium and Thank You

Top 3 Women

Me and Luca Rostagno- winner of the Open Men's Category

After a week of hard riding and tough competition, I was able to finish at the top of the podium. I was closely followed by Katia Tomatis, who is a very strong but super friendly competitor. Eric and I had a really great time during our stay in Italy and at Ironbike.
Thank You so much to:

Roberto, Vanna, and Ginny: For having us in their awesome stone tower home and being amazing hosts before the Ironbike.

The Organizers and Volunteers at Ironbike who work extremely hard all year to put on a week of "The world's hardest mountain bike raid"

Magura- Matt, Jeff, and Jude for giving me GREAT forks and brakes that can withstand the rough conditions of this race, and for their support!!

PTLG- Rob, Neeraj, and the rest of the staff to help me out with my aches and pains!!

The Kobins- My parents, Sofia, and Ulrika for coming all the way from Sweden to follow us, cheer us on, and provide support during the race. TACK!!!

All LaRutaLou blog followers- I can't believe how many people are actually interested in my racing. Thanks for your support and for reading my stories!

Eric- For EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!! You are the best!!!!

La Ruta Lou :-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mt Chaberton- Final Day

Up to 10, 300 feet- Mt Chaberton

Helicopter views of Mt Chaberton

Finally!! The last day of Ironbike. After a brutal week of riding, Ironbike doesn't let up even on the final stage. Although there is less than 30 miles of riding, we have to climb close to 10,000 feet in that short distance. This off course, includes the 6000 foot climb up Mt Chaberton to the fort. We started the first special stage right out of the camp. After a bit of a descent, the climb began. The first hour or so was on a quite mellow gravel road. I was keeping a pretty good pace and was able to put some time on Katia. There had been some confusion about the results the previous day, so I wasn't sure exactly how far ahead I was, and I couldn't afford to lose by too much during either of the 2 special stages. As the trail got steeper and elevation higher, I could look down the switch backs and watch Katia gaining on me.

Rocky trail on Mt. Chaberton

When the trail gets steeper and rockier, you have to be a very efficient spinner to carry enough momentum to make it across the technical , loose sections. As the altitude was increasing, so was my breathing. Katia passed me with a friendly "good job Louise" and as much as I tried to stay on my bike, I wasn't able to keep a high enough cadence for riding but had to get off and start pushing.

The trail (if you can call it that) gets so steep that most riders have to carry their bikes on their backs in order to make it up. Pushing seems less energy consuming to me. The trail was so loose and steep that you really had to dig your feet in, to keep from slipping down. Sometimes you had the option of taking switch-backs or going straight up the side of the mountain. I was so out of breath that I chose the switch-backs.

Steep switch-backs

Still able to push the bikes

All I could think about was that I couldn't lose too much time, and I was pushing as hard as I could. My breathing was out of control with the high altitude and effort. When I finally reached the top and saw the yellow arch I was completely done! But, I had made it!! I gave Katia a big hug, she definitely deserved this win, she was very very strong! The altitude and effort made me pretty nauseous and I wasn't able to eat or drink anything, so I took off with Katia and her team mate Claudio for the long bumpy descent.

We were going down the same trail we had come up so at times we had to slow down in order to avoid colliding with the racers still coming up! We descended about 3500 feet to the checkpoint that was the start of Special Stage number 2. I tried squeezing down a little bit of food and filled up my Camelbak, because the second special stage is no cake walk either. Katia and I took off together. We now had a steep single track climb ahead of us. About half of the trail was ridable, and the rest we had to push. I reached the top just ahead of Katia and then we had a technical, steep, slippery single-track to descent. I was feeling good and could ride most of this section. When I reached the gravel-road descent I had dropped Katia and tried to keep going as fast as possible without being completely out of control. We finish with an extremely steep (at least it seems this way after 7 days of hard riding) 10 minute pavement climb through the streets of Sauce D'Oloux to the finish line. I was beyond happy to cross the finish-line!

Very happy to finally finish after 7 days of brutal racing

Katia crossed the finish-line just a couple of minutes behind me.

Stage 6 Pragelato to Cesana

52 km with 2353 meters of climbing (32 miles with 7765 feet of climbing)

With the end in sight we were all looking forward to our first "short" day at Ironbike. The imposed time for the day was only 5 hrs. The way this race works is that if you finish the whole day under the imposed time, you get no penalty points for that day. For each minute over the imposed time, you accumulate 1 penalty point. During the special stages you are compared to the winner of the stage. Each second you are behind the winner gives you one penalty point.

We all gathered at the bottom of one of the olympic ski jumps and when each of our names were called, we walked up the stairs and started the special stage by riding down the jump. It looked very steep and a couple of people crashed and slid down the jump.

Waiting for the start of day 6

Riding down the ski-jump was the start of Day 6

After riding down the ski-jump (which wasn't as scary as it looked) we started paralleling the river where we had finished the previous day. After a short flat but rocky section, we started a climb which was very steep. There was some riding and lots of hiking. After 4000 feet of elevation gain we finally reached the top. Then we had a really long gravel down-hill toward the end of the time trial. After a while of flying down the road I spotted my dad and figured I must be very close to the end. 6 km later, I finally reached the check-point where the rest of my family was hanging out. My dad had hiked up 6 K to watch us fly by for a split second. He later told us he found a short cut back down, but he had been hiking for about an hour and a half to get up. This hard stage took me 2 hrs and 25 minutes.

A little bike-pushing

The next time trial started right after the check-point. It had a long, but more comfortable dirt climb and finished with a really fun technical single-track. At one point, Filippo Barazzuol, who was in the lead at the time, yelled my name and made a pass so fast rocks were flying around him. Giant rocks started rolling right in front of me. It was pretty amazing how fast he was riding. After finishing the last special stage, there was actually plenty of time to make it to the finish under the imposed time, so I was enjoying the views and sunshine. After a while I passed Filippo who was laying outstretched in the grass on the side of the trail. I asked if he was ok, he didn't look injured, and he said he was just napping because there was so much time...

Finish-line and camp

After only 4 hrs and 20 minutes of riding, there was so much free time to relax! I was actually really tired, the special stages were hard and hot. I was still in the lead, but couldn't afford to lose any time, so I had to race really hard.

This was unfortunately the last day my Swedish family were going to be with us before heading back to the airport in Turin. After a nice shower and the daily massage, I had cappuccinos with them at a picnic table outside the hostel which served as base-camp for the day. I was really sad to see them go, but glad that they had been able to spend almost the whole week with us (even if they only got to see us a few seconds here and there on the course).

In the evening, Eric and I walked into town with Paul Facer and Robert Matusek. Eric, Paul, and I decided to skip the pasta dinner in favor of pizza! It was so good to sit in a restaurant, eat food that actually tasted good, and have a little wine! We got back to camp just in time for the Italian race briefing. There was some very emotional Italian arguments going on amongst the racers and organizers about some of the leaders missing a turn the previous day. From the looks of the racers this wasn't resolved to their liking in the end... Our race briefing was significantly shorter just describing tomorrows stage and especially going up the infamous Mount Chaberton. At the end of the day, Katia and I finished both special stages within a second of each other, even though we weren't riding together!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stage 5- Fort and Olympic Ski Jump

89 km (55 miles) with 4066 meters (13,400 feet) of climbing

I wasn't feeling my very best when rolling out of Torre Pellice, but the race doctor gave me something to settle down my stomach again. Luckily, we had a 70 km transfer until the first special stage even started. We had 2 big climbs, and I was being really conservative, because I wanted to make sure I felt ok by the time we started the time trial. I can't really remember anything significant about this part except for that people at the checkpoints were asking if i was feeling ok: " Tutto Bene??"
The Race Doc following the Ironbike on his Dirtbike

The last climb was 1400 meters (4520 feet) of climbing, and we ended at this little restaurant (see below), where there was a checkpoint. I left the checkpoint with Hamish, one of the Brits.

From the checkpoint we had a long decent before finally reaching the Fort which was the beginning on our first special stage. Eric came up with the idea of bringing zip ties, so I stopped before clocking in with my chip and zip tied the petzel light I was carrying to my helmet. There were conflicting data on if we were going down 4000 or 8000 steps, but there were a lot. We started going through a few pitch black tunnels, and I got off my bike. Even with the light I couldn't see, and I didn't want to risk crashing.

Descending from the Fort

I was able to ride some of the first steep stair cases but it was very rough. My quads felt like they were going to cramp. Once the stair cases started making turns, I had to get off and run carrying my bike on one shoulder. Once you stop, it is almost impossible (at least for me) to get back on your bike. There were some really fun tight switch backs toward the bottom of the hill. i clocked out at 15:58. The Kobins were standing at the bottom of the hill. I think they were a little nervous....

After riding out of this checkpoint, we only had a couple of miles before the 2nd time-trial started. I was feeling pretty good. We had a fair amount of climbing, but for the most part it wasn't that steep. We followed a river and were going up and down without too many long climbs. I finished this stage in 1 hr 1 minute at the Olympic ski jump in Pragelato.

When we finished we each had the chance of riding up the ski-jump for bonus points. For each centimeter we got past the first white-line (see picture) we earned one bonus point. It was actually pretty fun, but hard. You can't quite tell how steep it is from the picture, but it is STEEP! Also, the fake grass covering the jump is super slick. Once you fell off the bike, a couple of guys had to catch you, and help you walk across the slick surface.
Eric making it past the white line..

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Barge to Torre Pellice

Stage 4 from Barge to Torre Pellice- 91 km with 4117 feet of climbing

When we pulled out of Barge in the morning, we had a 600 meter warm-up before the start of the first special stage. The time-trial looked as if it was approximately 10 km on a trail around town. The finish was back in Barge so it didn't seem like it should be that hard.

Right away I missed a sharp turn between some buildings. A couple of ladies were standing next to the turn waving their arms, but I couldn't understand if they were trying to say "keep going" or "turn around". Moments later a couple of riders including Katia came by and made the turn so I stared chasing them. For me, this was probably the hardest time-trial of the whole week. It was super steep and extremely rocky, and I was totally anaerobic from the very beginning. As I came up behind Eric, he could tell it was me from my breathing and he cheered me on as I couldn't say anything because my lungs were about to explode and I was hyper ventilating!! I kept Katia in sight, but I was completely maxed out. After what seemed like forever, we had a pretty technical descent and with the adrenaline pumping, I was flying down the loose, rocky single track yelling at people to get out of my way. I caught Katia pretty quickly, she let me pass, and then I kept yelling "scusi" (excuse me) so people would hear me and let me pass. Katia was able to hang on in the beginning, and I only beat her by seconds. It took me an hour and a few seconds to complete the first special stage.

Steep down-hill section at the end of 1st special stage

My parents and sisters were standing at the end of the special stage. It was fun that they were able to watch us finish. For me, this was probably the hardest time-trial of the entire week, very painful!! After filling up water, Eric and I took off together for the 50 km transfer. We had lots of very steep climbing before we reached the next time trial and Eric and I got separated shortly, and I ended up riding this part alone. It was a really hot day as we were now at a lower elevation (at least in the beginning of the day), but there were several spots to get water along the course. The last 4 km before the start of the 2nd special stage is a hot, steep paved climb that follows a fast, inviting-looking stream. Looking at my Garmin, the grade varied between 15 and 23 percent for 4 km. I was looking forward to the special stage with another "Lou-climb".

Along the 2nd Special Stage

I stopped only briefly at the checkpoint before I took off. Katia was still there, and I wanted to be able to leave before her so I could ride by myself. The gravel road was winding up the side of the mountain and you could look down and see way back down through the fog. Halfway up there was a patch of snow with the famous "IB" road marker. We topped out around 2500 meters before starting a really rocky rough descent. It feels like you are riding down a dry river-bed. After a few minutes of descending, I spotted a helicopter and a bunch of people standing over a rider laying on the ground in a particularly rocky spot with water. It didn't look good at all.... Turned out, this was the leader of the men's race. Seeing that kind of thing, slows you down a little, I wanted to make sure I got to the bottom in one piece. The stage finished on steep pavement, and I clocked out at 1:18:54. We finished the day, which took me 8 hrs 48 minutes, in the town of Torre Pellice.

Our camp this evening was at another sports facility. Half of the hockey rink served as tent-camp while the other half was set up for dinner. After eating some potatoes and rice-mix, I had a long, hot shower and a massage.

Dinner in the Hockey Rink
Tent camp inside the hockey rink

After dinner, which actually included chicken this evening, there was the usual race briefing. Fabri started the briefing by talking about the spirit of Ironbike, the volunteers working for free all year, how sometimes things weren't so professional during the race.... Turns out, at the 2nd special stage the previous day, the first 6 men had not been able to clock out because the helicopter had not been able to get the computer box to the end on time. Fabri explained that the 2nd stage would simply be thrown out for the day. I wasn't the only one disappointed by how they handled this situation. It is hard when you race your buns off for 2 hours, just to hear that it didn't count for anything. I also needed the extra 90 seconds I had put on the second place woman. There was no arguing to be done, the judges didn't speak English anyway...

There was a short awards ceremony after the briefing, I was still in the lead, but not a very comfortable lead.

3rd Stage: Back to Italy: Jausiers to Barge

103 km (64 miles) with 2659 meters (8775 feet) of climbing

Day 3 started with breakfast in the RV. Ulrika was nice enough to get up at the crack of dawn to make us scrambled eggs. Normally it would have been a delicious breakfast with espresso, bread and cheese, but my stomach was not cooperating this early and I had to force down the food. We started with a long transfer section and within kilometers, Eric ripped his rear tire on a sharp rock. I was riding together with Katia and some of her friends, but wanting to avoid starting the special stage together with her, I took a bathroom break and slowed way down. For me, it is much easier and less stressful to do the time trial alone and at my own pace without having to worry about someone else. I was also still struggling with my stomach so I wanted to take my time and be ready for the first special stage. At the checkpoint I was able to get something from the race doctor to settle down my stomach. I took my time and waited for Katia to go ahead of me. Eric showed up after a while, he had been able to rip a poster of a wall to patch the large tear of his tubeless tire.

The first special stage was a tough one. The trail is rough and rocky and, you are on and off the bike a lot, both on the ascent and descent.

Granny gear climb

Rough downhill section

Lots of rocks

I never did catch Katia during this stage. Eric was able to catch up with me during the extensive hiking section but he waited for me at the checkpoint and we did the long paved descent to the second special stage together.

A little bike pushing...

The second special stage started in a small town. Katia and several of the top racers from the men's division were sitting down, eating and relaxing. I pulled in, but immediately swiped my chip and took off for the time trial. I knew this was another climb that would suit me. Middle chain ring, 12 kilometers, first on pavement, then a gravel road. I felt really strong and was able to hang with 3 of the fast men for quite some time, so I figured I must have put some time on Katia. After a long descent we finished at a checkpoint were the helicopter was parked on a tiny patch of land. The only refreshments that were available was fizzy water, wine, and some sliced salami on a rock. I decided to take off right away since the finish was only 15 km away and it was mostly downhill. I ended up riding in with 3 of the guys.

While I showered, got a massage, and hung out with my family by the RV, Eric had to work on getting a new tire from the mechanics. It is really hard to get done with a long day of racing and then spend hours cleaning bikes, doing mechanic work, and getting ready for the next day in the heat. Luckily we had Jan (my dad) - the master bike washer and tent erector with us!!

We had dinner with Hamish and Paul, 2 nice guys from England. After dinner there was an awards ceremony. I wasn't sure that I was still in the lead, but I heard my name called, got to shake hands with the town mayor, and received a giant basked of wine and food. We were warned that there would be some fire works going off at 10:30 that night. As we were getting ready to go to bed, there was a sound as loud as a bomb exploding. This was the start of the elaborate fire works which went on for about 30 minutes. My parents couldn't believe their eyes and ears, and the fact that this tiny town was able to put on such a show.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Second Stage: To Jausiers, France

Picture of our Road Book: Stage 2 from San Damiano to Jausiers, France

4 o'clock came very early. Breakfast was served in the camp 10 minutes after the wake-up call. We had the usual Penne pasta with olive oil as well as white bread with either jam or nutella. Yum yum! I forced a couple of pieces of bread down with some coffee, but threw the pasta in the garbage. Fabrizio, the race announcer was standing at the 2 buses, calling out the names of each racer and we had to wait for our turn to board the bus. It seemed like a very slow process. The bus trip was about 30 minutes on a windy narrow road. When we reached the start line it was another long wait for each rider to get their bike. Finally, at 7:45 I was the very last person to take off. We took off in groups of 10, with the person with the most penalty points starting first. We started off with a special stage on a steep pavement climb that turned in to dirt. We had a lot of technical riding and lots of pushing. On the final technical downhill Eric passed me. He waited for me at the checkpoint that marked the end of the special stage. The first stage was a long one; I finished in 4 hrs and 3 minutes.

Steep climbing on the first special stage

The Ironbike Trail marker

After the first Special Stage Eric and I ended up riding together for most of the "transfer". We had a pavement climb that lasted for about an hour before we descended to a ski resort where my parents and sisters were standing cheering us on. My family had taken the first day "off" from the race to drive to the coast since my dad wanted to see and swim in the Mediterranean sea, but now they were back to follow the race. My parents had yet to receive their armbands from the race organizers, showing that they were part of the race and would be allowed to offer support at the checkpoints. I think it was driving my dad crazy that he couldn't hand us water or food during the race.

After grabbing a couple of bananas and some chocolate at the checkpoint, as well as a army jacket-liner provided by the race, Eric and I got on the Gondola where we had a chance to eat, drink, and catch our breaths. After getting off the gondola, we rode down the mountain to a ski lift. The lift ride was slow, long and windy and we had to hold the bikes in front of us. I was glad to have the jacket even though it didn't button in the front.

The second special stage was "my kind of climb". After a long descent of running and riding down a scree field with the helicopter circling above us, we had a middle chain ring climb of about 10 km with 1000 meters of vertical climbing . I felt really good and was able to power up this climb and pass a bunch of guys. At the top of the climb there is a long pitch black tunnel, and there was a volunteer at the entrance checking to make sure we had the mandatory light with us. The light didn't really do much, so you have to just trust that the water filled potholes are not going to be too deep. The stage was finished off by a dirt descent; I was happy with my ride!

We had a short transfer in to Jausiers, France which ends with a steep climb up to some monument. My time for the day was 9:14. Eric finished shortly after me and we rode down to the camp together. While I showered and got a massage, Eric and my dad set up the tent and cleaned the bikes.... I was living the easy life!! We had another pasta dinner at night and waited for the results to be posted. Finally, around 10 pm, they were up on the wall. I had a good day, and even though I was slower than Katia on the first stage, I had made up enough time in the second stage to get ahead by 250 points in the general classification. I was 15th overall for the second stage :-)

This 2nd stage ended up being 104 km (65 miles) with 4976 meters (16, 420 feet) of elevation gain.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stage 2 Entracque to San Damiano Macra

Start of Day 1 in Entracque

The first stage from Entracque to San Damiano Macra was 74 km (46 miles) with 2782 meters (9,200 feet) of climbing. We started with a "Special Stage" right at the beginning. It was a mass start on pavement, which turned in to a steep dirt climb after a few kilometers. I thought it was going pretty well and that I had put some time on Katia Tomatis, but when the climb got steeper and rougher she caught up with me. It was a pretty warm day (later found out it was 34 degrees C= 92 F) and I didn't stop at the checkpoint to fill my camelbak so I ran out of water several kilometers from the top of the last climb. With the top in sight, suddenly of my hamstrings cramped so bad my leg completely locked up. When I got off the bike, my other hamstring cramped and all I could do was stand there and grab my legs. I tried to move, but every movement I made, caused my hamstrings to seize up. Around me I saw other riders in the same dilemma. How could I be so stupid?? I asked one of the other cramping riders if I could have a swallow of water, so I could take a couple of salt pills. Within a couple of minutes my cramps stopped and I was able to get back on my bike and finish the stage which was a pretty technical downhill. I hoped I hadn't lost too much time to Katia, and found out later that I was 3 minutes behind at the end of the Special stage.

The Top of the Last Climb of Day 1

In San Damiano the camp was at a sports facility. We put the tents up in a field and after a shower and some food, I was able to get a massage from one of the 4 great massage therapists that were working at the race. Eric and I found a bar in the town which served gelato and we sat down and watched the last stage of Tour de France with several of the other racers.

The 4 massage therapists in action

In the evening we had a pasta dinner followed by a briefing about Day 2. The top 35 racers were being bussed to the start at 7 am with a 5 am wake-up call. The rest of the riders had a 6 am start waking up for breakfast at 4. I was number 36 in the general classification, and both Eric and I were on the early bus.

Ironbike Prologue

Ciao!! After a very long trip back from Italy (off course consisting of lugging bike boxes and bags through train stations, on to buses, over cobblestone streets, through cities, and at airports) we are finally back home. I was hoping to post some results during the race, since I brought my new fancy IPhone with me, but there just never seemed to be one extra minute at the end of the day.

This year's Ironbike once again started in Entraque, a small town a couple of hours by train outside Turin. Eric and I were able to spend a few days with Roberto Ghidoni and his wife Vanna prior to the race at their home in the village of Ludizzo. Eric knows Roberto from Iditasport in Alaska, and I was very happy to finally meet "the Italian Moose", his wife, and daughter Ghinni. I could dedicate a whole post to our amazing stay with them in their 1000 year old stone tower where they live off the land and their cows but I would never get to the race....

The prologue was pretty uneventful with the exception that I actually missed the 2nd part of the race. The initial race took off in 2 heats and did a loop around the town. I rode pretty conservatively since I knew that the few penalty points I would accumulate wouldn't really matter much in the overall standings at the end of the 8 days. As soon as I we finished (around 16 minutes for me) I took a long shower in the town's swimming facility and then went to check my phone to see if my family had called. My parents and 2 sisters, Ulrika and Sofia, had agreed to come from Sweden to watch us and be our race support. They had flown in to Turin, rented an RV, and planned to follow the Ironbike for the week. Even though I had explained the "slight disorganization and confusion" around the race, I was a little nervous that it was going to be too much for them. The combination of language barrier, Italian culture, bike scene drama.... I was hoping they could handle it.

The rest of the Kobins had made it to Entraque. We met up with them at the start line and headed into town to watch the 2nd part of the race. Last year, the top 30 riders from the prologue had to do a 2nd, shorter prologue to determine who was going to wear the leader's jersey for the first stage. I had no visions of being in the top 30, but when we reached the finish line area I heard my name being called. Frantically trying to find someone who could translate, it was explained to me that the 2nd race was going off in 5 minutes, and the rules had changed: This year it was the top 30 men and top 3 women who had to race a 2nd time. The confusion begins.....

After talking with a few of the organizers I determined that missing the 2nd prologue wasn't going to have a huge impact on the overall standings. This 2nd part of the prologue was mostly to race for the leader's jersey, and according to the race organizers it was OK if I missed it. I really didn't feel like putting on my bike clothes again, running back to the camp for my bike to race for 5 minutes. Instead we watched the race, and then went to our favorite grocery shop and bought food for dinner which we had in my parents little RV.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ironbike 2009

We just finished ironbike 2009 yesterday. 7 days of really hard racing, 450 km, over 22,000 meters of climbing. After a brutal race, ended up first female and 22nd place overall! Will post more on the race when we get back home!!!