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Albion Hills Has a 24-Hour Gold Rusch with the Queen of Pain

by Peter Kraiker

June 28, 2013 – The Chico Racing 24 Hours of Summer Solstice continues to be the largest 24-hour race and this year’s edition was even more popular thanks to Specialized and SRAM. Headed up by three-time solo 24-hour world champion Rebecca Rusch, Specialized Canada ran a Facebook contest to field a nine-woman team.

Rusch is currently travelling on the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour in partnership with Specialized, where all of the events are designed by women for women. The contest gave two people and a friend each the chance to be on a team with “The Queen of Pain”, as Rusch is known. They were provided with the new women-specific dual suspension 29er Rumor and spent the weekend camped out at Albion along with about another 2,000 cyclists.  This year’s Summer Solstice had over 375 teams registered to race, all of them camped out around the course.

While the past few editions of this race have been plagued by rain, including the year it had to be shortened to a 12-hour, this year saw near perfect conditions. Friday featured tents and trailers popping up around the campground as the teams set up their camps and final preparations for the venue were made by the Chico gang. The Specialized team used this opportunity to test out the new bikes, learn some skills and even get comfortable with a little night riding.

Melissa Padilla and Jennifer McDowell from Pollock Pines, California were new to competitive mountain biking. For these two winners it was the first time racing at night, first time being taught by people like Rusch and local NCCP coach Noelle Wansbrough. Padilla described it as “by far one of the best, if not the best weekends of my life.” while McDowell is “still pinching myself to make sure it was all real and I am not dreaming. What an experience”.

The other pair of winners were Kriss Luchka and Kim Haagmans-Hawke from Oshawa. Luchka and Haagmans-Hawke are both personal trainers, very fit and entirely motivated by the experience. In Luchka’s words: “Still can’t get out of my mind what an amazing weekend I had with some fantastic women!!!”.

When it came time for the race to start, Rusch wedged herself the front line like the pro she is and set off with the fastest of the fast. With a large team, each Specialized rider was queued to do two or three laps. In between, they had time to learn more about each other and pick up on the infectious enthusiasm of Rusch as well as Specialized Canada’s Sarah Moore.

Moore is an ex-elite MTB racer so she felt right at home on the trails. For the others though, night riding was new (and fun). As for the contest winners, Moore described her highlight of the weekend this way: “…for me was seeing Jennifer beat her lap time by almost ten minutes in the final lap of the day. It was her third lap, but we were all out on the course cheering her on, and she came in with 6 minutes to spare! Jennifer, Melissa and Kriss had never raced before and they rocked it!!” Local riders Shawna Peirce, Julie Rossall and Andrea Bowker rounded out the team. After the event, Rossall was exhausted while still beaming. A couple of days later, she described the opportunity to ride with Rusch this way:

“Rebecca snacked with us, drank beer and wine with us, dried her sweaty kit on a camp chair at the campfire, and huddled under our Specialized tent in the middle of the night with those of us who had given up on ever sleeping.  She cheered for everyone passing our campsite adjacent to the course, complete with cowbell.  She went to the transition zone for just about every exchange over 24 hours, and she set up and maintained our clipboard with lap times and expected start times.  And of course, she was open to answering any random question which came to our minds over almost 48 hours together, beginning with the very beneficial clinics on Friday evening.”

The weather held, the course was in perfect condition and the racing was on. As always there was support from Shimano for mechanical failures, Sporting Life was there to provide supplies, Light and Motion, Topeak and Sigma charging stations for the night laps, and there were massages available for tired bodies. The Honeybadgers played live to helped keep everyone enjoying themselves, the traditional Epic Mud Bog appeared on Saturday, and last laps came to an end shortly after noon on Sunday.

Finally everyone could relax and enjoy their accomplishments. And it was podium time for the winners. One winner who was thrilled was Catherine Lapointe who won the Specialized Epic Comp 29.

Then it was time to break camp, say farewells and become part of the parade leaving Albion Hills after some awesome times on the bike.

After the event, Rusch posted this to Twitter; a perfect way to sum it up:
@thequeenofpain Thanks @Chico_Racing for a world class 24 hr experience at Summer Solstice. Now I know why u are the biggest in North America. #greattimes





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