Two Pros Head for the Andes

  • By
  • Published Jan. 22, 2010
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 5:10 PM EDT

Jennifer Smith will team up with Rebecca Rusch for the Trans Andes Challenge. Photo by Mike Tittel

For most cyclists, winter base building means logging the miles on tried-and-true — but worn out — routes. For Rebecca Rusch and Jenny Smith, training for the 2010 season will start at the base of the Andes.

Rusch, three-time reigning 24-Hour Solo MTB World Champion and Leadville Trail 100 winner; and Smith, an XTERRA pro, seven-time New Zealand mountain bike team member and coach, are set to start the Trans Andes Challenge on Jan. 25.

The 233-mile race crosses the Patagoinan Andes from Chile to Argentina in six stages. The second-year event is early in the season for those living north of the equator, which makes prepping with elevation training difficult. And even though Smith said the chance to partner with Rusch coupled with crossing the famous mountain range was a chance of a lifetime, her decision wasn’t a knee-jerk affirmative.

“I wasn’t an immediate yes,” said Smith, who lives in Gunnison, Colorado and rides for the Trek Racing Cooperative. “I was looking at the stages and I called Rebecca and said ‘have you seen the elevations?’ But as I toyed with the idea, I was like, the Andes is pretty cool.”

The idea of bagging some 35,000 feet of total climbing in January has more than a few notable riders interested as well. Along with the Rusch-Smith team, U.S. mountain bike stalwarts Mary McConneloug and Michael Broderick are signed up as a mixed duo. Italian track champ Vera Carrara is riding in the mixed category as is Swiss XTERRA pro Renata Bucher.

Among the hundres of other racers registered for the Trans Andes is mountain bike pioneer Tom Ricthey.


Rebecca Rusch will use the Trans Andes to kick off a busy season, including a return to the Leadville Trail 100. Photo by Dan Campbell

Both Smith and Rusch live in snow country — Colorado and Idaho respectively. So logging saddle time prior to the Trans Andes was hit and miss at best. But both riders are taking on the notion of climbing the Andes in stride.

“I can’t really do anything about it,” said Smith, who managed training by snowshoe running, Nordic skiing and some riding in and around Gunnison. “It is the Andes, it is going to be mountainous.”

For her part, Rusch, who rides for Specialized, said Smith is the perfect combination of talent, intensity and laid-back attitude that makes for a perfect teammate. The two have raced against each other at the Cape Epic and other endurance events.

Along with endurance mountain bike racing, Jenny Smith lines up for XTERRA and cross-country, all of which she’s been doing for seven years on Trek bikes — a men’s bike, to be specific.
In years past, Women’s Specific Design models tended to be spec’d on the lower-end, Smith said. Now, however, Trek has stepped up its WSD offerings to where Smith said she will race a Top Fuel 9.8 WSD in 2010.
“The women’s Top Fuel frame is the same quality as the Top Fuel SSL,” Smith said. “As a woman you can get the top bike from Trek, no matter your size. They are super sweet. It’s completely a race-worthy bike.”
Smith said she believes there is a strong place — and need — for the women’s specific gear, which Trek has offered for a while.
“The difference now is they really haven’t had racers associated with it in the past,” she said. “The company can accommodate the female at the highest level.”

“I’m pretty sure we’ll make a great team,” Rusch said. “I also like the fact that she’s from snow country as well, so we are both in the same boat with respect to having zero miles on the bike coming into this race.”

Of course, Rusch said that since both she and Smith are competitors, it’s highly likely they’ll be trying to ride as fast as possible.

“I am trying to give myself a bit of a break and remind myself that this is all in preparation for races much later in the season for both of us,” Rusch said, noting that she’s aiming for a repeat at the Leadville Trail 100. “I expect it will be a rude awakening to go from zero to 600km in one week, but hopefully it will pay off months later. I’m expecting to suffer.”

Suffering into shape will be unfamiliar for Smith as well.

“I’ve never done anything like it in my base season before,” Smith said. “We’ll go down there and do our jobs and share the experience and rely on our riding experience.”


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