Northern California Bicycle Racing Community
I missed the Downieville Classic last year due to a work conflict, but this year I was back for more competition on the rugged Sierra trails. My preparation included periodized training to put me in peak condition for the weekend, as well as a couple of trips prior to better learn the extended downhill portions of the XC and DH courses. I would also be riding the most capable mountain bike I had ever ridden for the rocky and fast terrain.
My race rig would be a Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er. I replaced the stock 120mm Revelation on the front with a 140mm Pike. The increase in stanchion diameter and improved damping, as well as the additional 20mm of travel, were well worth the 100 grams of increased weight. I ran a SRAM XX1 1x11 drivetrain with a 32t narrow/wide ring in the front and a 10-42t cassette in the back. I opted for a light wheelset with wide carbon rims and installed a Maxxis Ikon 2.35" rear tire (750g) and a Maxxis 2.4" Ardent front (770g). A dropper post now seems indispensable, but I removed my 125mm travel Kind Shock Lev in favor of a 100mm unit that saved a couple ounces. Another compromise was reducing the front rotor size to 160mm from 180mm. Titanium Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals, a carbon stem and carbon railed saddle helped keep the weight down to a respectable 24.5 lbs.
I knew I would be able to dial in my equipment, but the fitness didn't come as easily. Though I had followed my program through my build and peak phases, it just wasn't coming together for me. I tested my wattage a couple weeks before the race and it was about 10% lower than I expected. These results were reinforced when I put in an abysmal race-pace XC ride the week before the race. I was a bit discouraged, but I knew that I could do nothing to get stronger by the race and I hoped things would come around.
The weather for the race would be hot - as high as 90 degrees - and it hadn't rained enough to affect conditions in weeks. I prepared for the XC race by freezing my Raceback bladder with 3 liters of Osmo Active Hydration and drinking Preload the night before and the morning of.
I weighed the bike in, warmed up, and rolled over to the start about 15 minutes early. It was nice to talk to friends and fellow racers and check out the competition. Most of the local fast guys were there: Hosey, Menso, Claassen, Chandler, Olson, Moeschler, Bresneyan, Osborne, Chapin, Kessler, Damon, Skyler Taylor,Tony Smith, Leipheimer and more. There were race bikes of all varieties and setups, though they were mostly 29er full suspensions with dropper posts. I saw one Audi cycling racer that had beaten me on the climbing at the Lemurian with a Specialized Renegade for a rear tire - a very fast rolling tire that had no place on these trails. Some others seemed to have gone too far in the other direction, with very burly tires that would cause much suffering on the exposed fireroad climb that comprised the first half of the race
The race start was much more organized than I have seen it in years past. They had a designated start grid for the Pro racers and called up the top 10 from last year's XC race. I sipped some Osmo thawing from the frozen bladder under my jersey and prepared for an hour of discomfort.
We started at a manageable pace, but it stretched out as we neared the end of the 5-6 minute paved section. I could see Levi leading the pack and Chandler was on his wheel, with Decker, Moeschler, Damon, Taylor and a couple others falling in line behind him. My heartrate was steady just above my threshold, so I settled in for the climb at my own pace. I rode for a bit with Macky Franklin, Claassen and Tony Smith. The dry and loose terrain combined with the blazing sun to make it pretty tough on anyone trying to go fast, and I saw a few guys crack and fade. Chandler fell back to us and then surged again. I knew things were not going so well for me when I missed my split at the first aid station by over two minutes. Not long after, Tim Olson caught me. On the last climbs to Packer Saddle, we rode by Menso who was having cramping issues and riding a pretty big bike (Niner WFO). I think I crested the climb in 20th place, over 3 minutes slower than my fastest time.
Then, into Sunrise for our first real bit of descending. I pushed hard and soon found myself on the fireroad traverse over to the baby heads. I hooked up with Anthony Medaglia and Clint Claassen for much of it, switching leads and preparing for the baby heads section. Just as we started down the rocky doubletrack, my chain derailed. I wasn't able to close the gap to them and had to stop and reinstall it. After that, I pedalled hard and passed a Marc Pro Strava rider that was probably better equipped for the climb than the descent. I knew there were only 17 or 18 people in front of me at this point, so I was very encouraged when I saw the tell-tale sign of dust in the air. I caught Clint, who seemed to be done, and charged on down Pauley Creek to Butcher Ranch. I dropped the chain again, but felt like I was making good time down to the bridge before 3rd Divide. As I crossed it and began the 3-4 minute climb up to 3rd Divide, I saw at least two riders not far ahead of me. I started to put in a big effort to close the gap, but my legs would have none of it. Instead, I tried to spin smooth circles to hold off the multiple cramping muscles. I crested the top without anything locking up, but now I was in Kessler's dust trail and I had to back off on the speed. I finally caught and passed the Audi racer, then pedalled hard by Empire Ranch on the road over to First Divide. Here I passed Kessler who was obviously not having a great day, and I pedalled hard all the way accross Lavezolla and into the last sections of single track. I was happy to see Tony Smith and Anthony Medaglia ahead and I found the gas in the tank to run them down and pass. I hit the pavement with Medaglia just behind, knowing there were less than 2 minutes left in the race. I popped the seat up, locked out the suspension, and pedalled as hard as I could to finish the XC in 15th overall. I was happy to have gained so many positions on the descent, but not happy with my final finishing time of 2:12, which is minutes slower than my best showing on this course.
I then hit the river to soak my legs in the cold water and began my attempts at recovering for Sunday's downhill effort. I also discovered that the clutch on my SRAM XX1 rear derailleur was not working properly, which explained the two dropped chains, and figured out how to adjust it so that it would not happen again.
Sunday morning was a little cooler as the timed runs started at Packer Saddle. I was going off in 30th position, one minute after Justin Herrell. My legs were feeling surprisingly good, and I was excited to charge the downhill course without the day before's climb.
I pedalled hard on Sunrise and dropped into Butcher Ranch. The loose and slightly off-camber dirt roads here make me feel slow, but I could see Justin as we started into the singletrack about 10 minutes into the run. He let me pass very quickly and I tried my best to stay smooth and fast over to the Waterfall. I rode my line smoothly and passed another racer just after this before rejoining with the lower Butcher section that was also included on the XC race. I jammed along, feeling pretty fast but also seeing where I was leaving seconds on the course. My climb up third divide was 44 seconds faster than the day before, and I began to see Garrett Gibson's dust trail on 3rd Divide. I caught him at the short and steep rock face on 3rd and passed as we hit the road up to Empire Ranch.
From here I pedaled as hard as I could, knowing that the seconds would be important. When I hit the pavement, I knew by my splits that this would be my fastest downhill run so far, which gave me extra inspiration to make it count all the way to the finish line.
I finished in 49:22, good enough for 17th in Pro DH.
Final results for All Mountain were 13th overall in combined time and 17th overall in points.
A bit disappointing, as I was shooting for a top 10, but still a lot of fun and good practice for next year!