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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Interview With an Olympian

Jimena Florit is an Argentinian animal on the mountain bike. After racing on the cross country circuit (and winning a couple national championships and the Pan Am games), this two time Olympian decided to call it quits a couple years ago to hit the X-Terra scene. Well, I guess she didn't like it because she's back on the mountain bike circuit and recently signed with the Luna Chix. I can't wait to be her teammate this year. Not only because she's one of the most genuine and approachable riders around, but also because I want her to teach me how to speak Spanish...

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Jimena Florit

MS: What's harder: X-Terras or cross country races?

JF: Given my experience, Xterra. But then, I feel was not able to use my fitness since I was always starting to bike so far back (due to a lack of swimming ease…). So there I was, starting a bike section of a triathlon, between 8 and 20 minutes behind the leaders and passing all the age groupers. In some courses this was very hard to do, although there’s ONE benefit to be the last one out of the water: No need to search for your bike at the transition area, because is the ONLY ONE THERE!

MS: Who thinks they're cooler: Tri geeks or mountain bike freaks?

JF: TRI GEEKS for sure, but who’s closer to the truth? MTB Freaks.

MS: Do you have any trepidations for returning to the mountain bike circuit?

JF: OK, not that I am not that smart, but you are killing me with this word: tre---what? Got to go to the dictionary, I’ll be back…

No, I am not scared.

Curious yes. And so very much accepting the challenge.

After the Olympics in 2004, I needed a break but I was not quite ready to step away from sports.

I got a shot at adventure racing (with Michael Kloser and Company: OUCH) and I loved it but realized I got some work to do, and one year wasn’t enough to achieve that.

So, I gave Xterra a shot, and I had a lot of fun. I also did some road triathlons, and all these different sports and training for them, gave me the very much needed mental rest, keeping me fit.

I am now, mentally FRESH and I feel stronger than ever. I am ready to go back to the MTB circuit.

MS: How about riding on an all-women's team?

JF: I am very fortunate and I want to take full advantage of this great opportunity. Not just a women’s team, but the LUNA Team, with Shonny, Katerina, who I already know from all the years racing. Then having you and Alison to get inspired from, and Georgia to help grow in the sport.

During my years in RLX, I had Shari Kain and Lesley Tomlinson, but after them, I raced as the only female rider and I missed having a teammate at the races. Then Willow came along and we had a blast, it made racing so much more fun.

Having our own language at the races, and knowing how to work together. I am looking forward to that. This is going to be great, and I know is going to make me a better and more complete rider.

MS: Is there an annoying song that you hum over and over in your head during races?

JF: I have caught myself singing during races, but usually would be the last song I heard on my i-pod.

Some sexy latin signer.

MS: I know you worked with a downhill coach over the years (Blair Lombardi). What's the key thing you learned for hitting the downhills?

JF: Relax and keep the speed to take you over the bumps. In some areas, the slower you go, the harder it gets.

MS: It's very brave that you pre-run your race courses in downhill gear. Do people ever tease you?

JF: Oh yeah, I get all kinds of jokes. Jimena the football player, Jimena the weight lifter…

Also at home, I ride with them at certain trails. Bring them on a pack to the top, and put them on before the downhill.

“what do you have there..lunch for everyone?” Or,” OH! It’s YOU under those pads!”

The truth is, I do get faster when I ride with them, so I don’t really care what they think.

Also, I never ride a course for the first time without pads. Unless is Arizona riding, but if is muddy, my pads are coming with me for a ride. Nobody makes fun of THEM for riding with me…

MS: Do you think Lance was clean?

JF: Oh boy, here we go…

I do not think ANYONE in the Tour is clean. One thing or another, everyone is using some sort of help to make it over 21 crazy days of racing at the highest level. These teams do not have “Team Doctors” to make sure they take their Centrum every day…

But I have no proof of that so my opinion does not count.

I do think that if you take away ALL the “extra help” riders get, and Lance would still rock the tour.

You saw what the bottom of my emails say: “Performance Enhancing Training”.

I started it as a joke to dopers, what do I do? Performance Enhancing Training…if you think about it, that’s what training is!

MS: As part of the Luna team's traditional initiation, we make the new riders eat nothing but mango Clif Shots for one week. Are you ready for that?

JF: Yes I am, I am chewing dried mangoes as we speak, to get me ready for the “initiation” challenge.

Can I have milk with that?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Japanese " SUPA" buddy

For about 10 years now, I’ve been getting emails from a guy in Japan that I met one time at a world cup in Arai. This guy is a “SUPA” fan of all things bike. His name is Keisuki Kitamura. He often sends Christmas or birthday gifts, which can range from one of his research grant submissions (he’s a science teacher) to a home-made photo collage of bike parts, to an origami kit.

My friend Kit was finally fed up with the politics in his country, he recently told me. So he quit his job and came out to California, the “SUPA” Land of the Free-riding Americans. Here he wanted to get a job as a science teacher, and ride the gold rush trails of Tahoe, the streetcar steeps of San Francisco, and the Hollywood hills of L.A. Kit also wanted to ride with the American ‘legends’ on the trails he has read about for a decade in all his colorful, cartooned Japanese mountain bike mags.

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Marla and Kit...

I’m sure his calendar is packed with epic trips to Yosemite and Big Sur, and peppered with ride dates with famous west coast mountain bikers like Julie Furtado and Brian Lopes. This guy had done his research and networking, and now it was paying off.

In his first call to me last month, he bragged that he had already bagged a ride with Gary Fisher in the infamous hills of Mt Tam. That’d be a tough one to beat, I thought.

Today, Kit surprised me that he was in my town and informed me that I was to ride with him. He also asked through his crackly cell phone signal, “How many hour… can we ride… on your trail?”

“Well,” I hemmed. “Today’s the shortest day of the year,” I hawed. But really, that morning, I had just done a brutal hamstring workout, and winced at the thought of an epic.

“We ride with flash lights,” Kit asserted.

We met, like many rides, at the local Starbucks. I brought extra water, Clif Bars, a jacket, and knee warmers. He brought a camera.

I never really had to eat any of the bars or layer up. But what I did was stop riding every few minutes to pose for his many pictures.

Kit took lots of “SUPA” shots; he was happy.

My quivering hamstrings were spared, and I never even had to invent a legendary excuse. I was super happy, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Marla of the Jungle

“Marla of the Jungle.” Got a nice ring to it. I liked that it fits in with my fantastically misguided sense of self. Catchy.

Riding through rain forests and wet tropical jungle amid the screeches of howler monkeys, the flapping of brightly colored parrots, and the pungent aromas of ripened mangoes, papayas, and bananas, I really enjoyed pretending that I was “Marla of the Jungle”.

It was easy while I was in the tropics.

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Marla posing with a monkey...

Back home now in California it is a little harder to do, buffeted by the droning highway echoing inside the shell of my helmet, but that's what i-Pods are for. As soon as I hit the single track out at Montana d'Oro, I punch up some Black-Eyed Peas and ride my Blur like a rocking horse winner…Marla of the Jungle, Marla of the Jungle.

I know. I have an active fantasy life.

I used to ride my bike for hours at a stretch pretending that I was putting a gap on Juli Furtado, on my way to the top of a NORBA podium. That was back in the day of my Sony Discman and my skipping Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Drenched with sweat, my thighs trembling with each circle, lungs on fire, in my feverish helmet I was “Marla of the Breakaway”. People often assume that mindset is easy. Just close your eyes and dream. That's a crock.

Even just pretending that I was faster than Juli Furtado was hard work.

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Stuck in the mud...

Moab. Marin. Sedona. Whistler. Mont Ste. Anne. I flew down trails just a bike length ahead of Juli Furtado. She was relentless. Chased me everywhere. Right on my wheel. I could never let up. Not even for a second. I used to spill more water from my bottle down my chin than I ever drank. Juli chased me right onto a chair lift.

I then became Marla of the Downhill.

But, in the jungle I found the right line to take. From now on during my training rides I won't be riding away from anybody. This race season during my training rides I'll be in the thick of that single track jungle. I'll be riding past coatamundis instead of subdivisions. The shadows cast across the trail from powerlines will be the slithering of dangerous snakes. In the gym I will swing from the chin up bar like a spider monkey. Okay, maybe more like pregnant spider monkey. I might even continue to sleep under a mosquito net (that can't be any more crazy than sleeping in an oxygen tent, can it?)

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Costa Rican singletrack...
Marla of the Jungle.

After Interbike I'm going back to Costa Rica to explore new trails and dig even more.