Monday, August 24, 2009

Rider Chat with Jenna Rinehart

For years Jenna (Zander) Rinehart has been one of the top-20 female cross country racers in the nation. She is in the midst of her greatest season. After finishing in the top-10 at this year's Sea Otter Classic cross country and short track, Jenna has returned to her home of Mankato, Minnesota, to win just about every race she's entered. She has multiple wins in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series and recently took home first place in the Ore to Shore point to point race putting her in line to be the first woman to win the Triple Crown of point to point races.

In a very candid interview, Jenna shares her thoughts about mountain bike racing and why, despite being one of the best female racers in the US, she chose to forgo the US Cup in 2009. And if that little voice in the back of your mind ever told you you were soft for riding your indoor trainer when the temperature dips below 50 degrees, wait until you read this!

MTBracenews: Where the heck is Mankato, MN?

Jenna Rinehart: Mankato is a town of 50,000 people 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul nestled in the Minnesota river valley. For the last few years it has been a stop for the Nature Valley Grand Prix road stage race.

MTBracenews: How did you get started mountain bike racing?

JR: In high school I downhill ski raced and ran cross country and track. I started getting injuries with running and was looking for another way to stay in shape. Our local ski hill had mountain bike trails in the summer so I decided to give it a try. I was immediately hooked and started to get more serious about racing bikes in college.

MTBracenews: What mountain biking accomplishment are you most proud of?

JR: One accomplishment that stands out and I will never forget is winning the U-23 National Championship in 2006. That victory not only gave me that title but also provided me with the awesome opportunity to race for the US National Team. As a member of the US National team I was able to race the World Championships that year in New Zealand at which I placed 12th. I also was able to race the Pan American Championships in Brazil where I placed 2nd.

MTBracenews: What are your future goals/plans with mountain bike racing?

JR: My main goal is to have Fun and enjoy riding my bike. I would love to race more world cups and have a chance to represent the US as an elite racer at Worlds sometime. Right now with the sponsorship situation being what it is and the lack of funding available I am racing more regional events in which there actually is prize money.

MTBracenews: In the past you have traveled the National circuit, however recently you have changed your focus to more regional races. Why?

JR: I finished off the 2008 season feeling very frustrated and needing a change with National level racing. I spent 4 years going to every National race. Every year I would have better results but it didn’t seem to matter as sponsorship got worse and worse. It just didn’t make sense and became so unaffordable to travel to these far off places (the closest race was a 14 hours drive). The amount of money spent traveling to these remote places just didn’t give enough of a return to make it as fun anymore.

The organization of the National level races has turned into a joke. Our local series being the MNSCS and WORS have 10 times better organization in setting up there series and actually carrying out an event. It became more and more clear to me that if you weren’t on one of the BIG teams that none of your concerns mattered. I attended many Managers meetings to see that all was being dictated by a select few. I find it odd that the Organizers of the national level races always catered to the big teams and never considered the recreational racers needs or concerns. They would rather put an event in the middle of nowhere at 12,000 feet then consider hosting an event near a population base where most people actually live. Enough ranting!

I would love to return to the national level events when they become worthwhile to attend. Until then I will race the truly great events!

Rinehart on her way to another win on the WORS circuit

MTBracenews: How does mountain bike racing in the Midwest compare to other regions you have raced?

JR: Despite not having true Mountains I would say that the Midwest has some of the best mountain bike racing available in the US. As I mentioned above the organization of our series here in Minnesota and WORS next door in Wisconsin is outstanding. The results are posted online before you get back home (within hours of finishing the race) The format for each event is identical. (Races always start at the same time) ( Entry fees are the same all year long) etc. The courses range from flat speed oriented events to steep climbs and descents. We have some of the most fun tight single track that I have ever ridden.

The WORS series is the largest attended Mountain Bike Series in the US. They cater to the people who truly keep this sport alive. They are the family’s who bring their tents and kids and make a weekend out of the race. It is so amazing what a following the series has and how it continues to grow. I would love to see the national level races take a step back and witness how Don Edberg runs the WORS series. I think they would be shocked at how successful they too could be.

MTBracenews: Now that you won the Ore to Shore race in Michigan, are you planning to contend for the Triple Crown?

JR: Maybe. I’ll take one weekend at a time. Next up is Chequmegon on the “Triple Crown Series” I won it a couple years ago, but there is always stiff competition and a lot can go wrong when you mass start with 1500 people. I don’t want to make any commitments until after Chequemegon is over.

MTBracenews: What is an interesting fact about you that most people don’t know?

JR: Despite living in the cold of Minnesota I hardly ever touch my trainer. We ride outside down to -5 degrees F with ski goggles, toe warmers, and many layers of clothes. We will even ride on the frozen lakes and rivers. Riding on snow can be fun and exciting as the conditions are always changing.

MTBracenews: You recently changed sponsors to Specialized. Tell us about your new ride?

JR: Yes, I am riding the Specialized Era. It is the women’s version of the Epic. I absolutely love the Brain with the inertia valve in it for the rear suspension. It is so comfortable to ride and has definitely improved my technical and downhill riding ability. I am able to go faster without losing control.

MTBracenews: Full suspension or hardtail? Why?

JR: Full Suspension! With the Era I really have the best of both worlds. The brain keeps the back end locked out until the rear wheel hits a large enough trail event ( Being a log, rock, hole etc.) in which it that opens up and allows the rear suspension to be fully active. As soon as the trail smoothes out again the rear end is locked out. This allows me to not have to decide whether to lock out the rear end or not. It is all done automatically and instantly. So this bike climbs and sprints like a hardtail and descends and rides technical terrain like a trail bike. Until I rode the Era I was a hardtail fan all the way, however, this bike has converted me.

MTBracenews: What is your favorite mountain bike race of all time?

JR: My favorite race that I look forward to every year is the Laddies Loppet stage race at Maplelag XC ski resort in Callaway, MN. This race is part of the MN state series and usually held every Labor day weekend. It was also host to a UCI race in 2007. Jay Richards and his family put on such a well organized event with 3 stages (TT, short track, and XC) and great prize money. Most racers stay at small cabins at the resort. We eat family style meals and swim in the lake after the race. It’s so much fun, and a great way to get to know other racers.

MTBracenews: Name a race you haven’t done but want to?

JR: I would love to be able to do a European world cup race some day. Just seeing the pictures and videos and hearing the stories of the crazy fans seems like so much fun. To race against so many strong women would be awesome!

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