Northern California Bicycle Racing Community
At the end of every season of mountain bike racing, there is the Downieville Classic All Mountain World Championship.
Though racing starts for me in March, I always try to tailor the last half of the season to have some fitness left for this NorCal testpiece.
This year found me in less than peak form, but eager to compete in the All Mountain category once again. I had raced a Trek Fuel EX for a few years, with some good results, but this year I returned to a cross country race bike, the Trek Top Fuel. With 100mm of rear travel, it would be more efficient on the climbs than the 130mm Fuel EX. I did add a new Fox 34 SC 120mm fork, shorter stem, wider bars, and Minion SS tires front and rear. Oh, and, of course, a 150mm remote dropper post. I ran a 34 x 9-46 11 speed drivetrain, and 160mm rotors front and rear with SRAM Level Ultimate brakes. After a few pre-ride trips up to Downieville, I felt confident that this bike could do the job. As my power has declined yearly over the last few years, I figured the lighter weight (23 lbs, 13 oz) and greater climbing efficiency would contribute to a faster overall race.
My racing age was 47, but I once again participated in the Pro All Mountain category. While I usually had placed around 15th in the field, well out of the top ten, it was still the most interesting challenge for me to try to improve my times and put a good two days of racing together.
Greg and I rode up Friday and did a practice run down the Butcher downhill. This was the second ride on my new Fox 34 Stepcast fork, so I made some adjustments to dial it in for the fast and chunky course. After dropping the chain a few times in prior practice runs, I added a 20g upper chain guide, and it seemed to be working.
I experimented with tire pressure and settled on 28 rear and 27 front, measured in Downieville.
Friday night I helped some friends do some last minute work on their bikes. I played a little more with my new fork and decided to increase the rebound damping by 4 clicks. I organized my gear for the morning: Camelbak Racebak with 50 oz of CR7, one Roctane, two half packs of caffienated Shot Bloks, one 38g CO2 with a head, one light tube, one 25g CO2 as a backup, one 11 speed chain quicklink, one tire lever, and a Dynaplug race tool. And, of course, a helmet and clear lens glasses.
This would be my first year racing this race with a power meter, which I had used also on my practice race run two weeks before. I had completed the new longer XC course in 2:24, with a disappointing average wattage of 275 for the first 45 minutes of climbing. I had a little better practice DH, finishing in 51 minutes.
We woke to very smokey conditions, but unusually cool weather. I warmed up well and chatted with friends, then made my way to the start for a second row position. One minute before the start, I realized I did not have my glasses. My plan had been to carry them in my pocket for the climb, to avoid sweat contamination, and put them on for the dusty descent. I think they fell out of my pocket while I was warming up.
We started at a moderate pace, which I kept as some began to pick up the speed. I finished the first 6 minutes on the pavement in the top 25. Heart rate was good and I backed off of my 320w average to a more sustainable 300w. I figured I would move up in the field as the climb progressed. I slowly picked off some riders, while trading places with others. My team mate Mark Gibson got pretty close to me, but eventually fell back. I reached the false summit in 45 minutes, this time with an average wattage of 285. Before Packer Saddle, Dylan Fryer caught and passed me. Pretty impressive, as he had started 5 minutes behind me.
At Packer Saddle, we were diverted to the new course that follows the PCT for around 25 minutes. We kept climbing, and I caught up to a train of about 6 racers plodding up the singletrack. I closed the gap to them, but didn't fight to pass. I figured I would have my chance once we started downhill.
I reached the lookout above the lake in about 1:14, and we started down from our high point. I caught a racer quickly, and the problems of racing without glasses started. After the minute of dust I endured before I could pass him, my vision was impaired. The vision in my right eye was blurred, and it was thowing me off. I passed him and a couple more before we reached the Babyheads. Despite my impaired vision, I kept it up at race speed, flying down the trail relying on memory and luck.
I passed Ryan Gorman with a leaking tire, and a few more racers that climbed stronger than they descended. My fork was not feeling as plush as it had, which I did not diagnose properly as too much rebound damping. I crashed hard twice due to my blurry vision. Ryan Gorman caught and passed me before Third Divide, but I passed him on the climb up as his tire once again began to deflate. I had a pretty good climb from the bridge (3:30) and took some risks going 36mph down 3rd divide. I passed another rider going into 1st Divide, where I was once again overtaken by Ryan. We passed Duncan Riffle on the side with a puncture. I pushed hard and passed another person before the pavement, and made it stick all the way to the end. I came in at 2:23, good enough for 19th in Pro XC and 12th in Pro XC All Mountain. I soaked in the river and prepared for the DH race the next day.