For the week of June 17 thru June 23, 1998  

Ruthie Matthes returns to her roots

Cyclist headed to Ketchum in Women’s Challenge

By Jeff Cordes
Express Staff Writer

Olympic and world champion skier Picabo Street is the most famous female athlete who has come from working-class roots in Sun Valley and achieved something big.

But cyclist Ruthie Matthes is probably the equal of Street in dedication, discipline and persistence.

Matthes will get a warm welcome Friday, June 19 as one of the expected leaders of the Hewlett-Packard International Women’s Challenge that arrives on Ketchum’s Main Street shortly after noon to finish a 62-mile jaunt from Stanley.

A Ketchum native, now a resident of Durango, Colo., Matthes said, "I’m returning to my roots. I’m excited to be coming back to Idaho."

It’s the first time since 1991 that Matthes has competed in the Women’s Challenge, which has been called by Bicyclist magazine "the best stage race in the U.S., if not the world, for elite women."

Matthes literally grew up as a cyclist on the Women’s Challenge, competing seven times—from the first Women’s Challenge in 1984 and each year through 1991, except 1987. Matthes was second overall behind Lisa Brambani in 1989, and second behind Inga Thompson on the 17-stage, 663-mile longest Women's Challenge in 1990.

It’s been a long and winding road for Matthes, half spent on road bikes and half spent on mountain bikes.

Matthes, 32, has put together a 14-year cycling career through pluck and hard work. The 1991 world mountain bike champion said, "Cycling is a real hard sport. It takes a lot of patience to develop stamina and strength. It takes dedication and discipline and enjoying what you do.

"Anybody who knows me, knows I don’t give up."

For the last seven years, Matthes has been a professional mountain bike racer. From March through September, she travels in Europe and throughout the U.S. Matthes competes on the Grundig World Cup and on the NORBA (National Off-Road Bicycle Association) National Championship Series.

She has won the NORBA cross-country national championship the past two years, and was National Finals mountain bike queen in 1995 and 1996. And Ruthie is focusing on making the U.S. mountain bike team for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

That’s quite a ride of success for a young woman whose roots in cycling were pedaling her three-speed bicycle to school each morning, from her family home behind the Ketchum Korral up to The Community School in Sun Valley.

Switch to cycling

A daughter of Sue and Paul Matthes, Ruthie grew up skiing in Ketchum and graduated from The Community School in 1984. Her ski coach, cycling enthusiast and noted handlebar maker Boone Lennon, convinced Ruthie she’d have more post-graduate success in cycling than she’d have in skiing.

So, when the Ore-Ida Women’s Challenge debuted in 1984 with a five-day, 180-mile stage race—just weeks after Ruthie’s high school graduation—she jumped into the action and won the honor of "Best Young Rider." She repeated as "Best Young Rider" in 1985. Placing 20th overall in 1984 and 14th in 1985, Ruthie rose to eighth overall in 1986.

"That was the launching of my career as a cyclist," said Matthes this week. "You can’t believe how much I looked up to (three-time Ore-Ida champion) Rebecca Twigg and members of the Olympic team who competed in the Ore-Ida. They were amazing athletes, inspiring to me."

She moved to California to concentrate on training and picked up the pace as a team of the tough Celestial Seasonings team in 1987-88, and of Team Lowrey’s in 1989.

Matthes’ high-water mark as a road cyclist came in 1989 and 1990.

In 1989, she won her first two Ore-Ida Women’s Challenge stage races—the Trail Creek individual time trial and Elkhorn circuit race on the same day in Sun Valley. She said, "That was the turning point for me, when I started to believe I could win." After winning her first national championship in the 1989 criterium, she repeated as Ore-Ida Elkhorn circuit race queen in 1990.

Matthes was voted U.S. Cycling Federation "Female Cyclist of the Year," in 1990 after winning the silver medal in the 43-mile World Championship road race near Tokyo, Japan.

Convinced that her financial future as a professional was in mountain biking, Matthes won the world mountain bike championship in 1991 on a 39-kilometer course (2.20:02) at Lucca, Italy.

Ever since, she has been a mountain biker, now sponsored by PowerBar, which makes her a little apprehensive about getting back in the road saddle for this week’s race.

"I’m nervous. I haven’t done a stage race in a long time," said Matthes on Sunday, minutes after finishing fourth overall in a NORBA National Championship Series cross-country mountain bike race at Red Wing, Minn. She flew to Boise Monday to be ready for Tuesday’s Bogus Basin prologue time trial.

"My training for mountain bike racing isn’t oriented the same as road racing. It will be challenging for me. But my level of fitness is very high, so I feel the Women’s Challenge will fine-tune my training," she said.

She’ll be riding a handmade titanium Moots bike, made in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Matthes has been using Moots mountain, road and cyclocross bikes the last two years.

Her Idaho visit is a stop on a tough road that keeps Ruthie away from Durango for weeks on end. Fortunately, Matthes will get an eight-day break at home after the Women’s Challenge ends Sunday.

On the NORBA National Championship Series, she was third at Big Bear, Calif. May 17 and second at Seven Springs, Pa. near Pittsburgh June 7. Matthes will finish the seven-race series at Mammoth Mountain July 19, at Park City, Utah July 26 and at Breckenridge, Colo. Aug. 2 prior to the cross-country finals at Mount Snow, Vt. Aug. 23.

Meanwhile, the 5-5, 128-pound Matthes is also competing on the Grundig/UCI World Cup. She is currently ninth overall after five of eight events—the first five events being held in Napa, Ca., in Portugal, Hungary, Germany and Great Britain. She will compete July 4-5 at Canmore, Alberta, Canada and July 11-12 at Conyers, Georgia.

The Grundig World Championships are Sept. 12-13 in Quebec, Canada.

In the winter, she continues training. Matthes does her cross-country skiing at Purgatory. She lifts weights and cross-trains with aerobics and hiking.

Will she compete in cycling forever? She laughed, "Forever is way too long. I’ve got my eye on the 2000 Olympics—I just missed making the 1996 team. And I’d like to go to college. I’ve been working full-time since I graduated from The Community School.

"I think I’ll always be involved in athletics in one way or another. I’m just a real advocate for cycling. It’s a great sport."


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