By: Adam Craig
I’ve always wanted to go to the Downieville Classic for a variety of reasons. First of all, and most importantly, the riding sounded sweet. Second of all, the sound of Mark Weir’s voice slinging BS about his ultimateness needed to be addressed. Two things happened last year that confirmed my plans for this year, first off, I spent a weekend in Downieville last fall riding some damn fine singletrack, second, Rad Ross went and took care of Weir (even though a much quieter Jason Moeschler actually always wins the All Mountain) at last year’s event so I wouldn’t look like a sissy if I got beat… Mostly it was the prospect of doing a week of kick-ass riding in the name of “practice” and swimming in the North Yuba River in the name of “recovery” that sealed the deal for Kelli and I.
Since we had to keep a respectful eye on the fact that Mountain Bike National Champs were the next weekend at 8000 feet in Colorado, the decision was made to rent an RV for a week of camping at Packer Saddle (7100’) to keep our wheezing level high in preparation for CO. This also meant that we were about two minutes and three waterbar booters from the Sunrise trailhead every morning when we woke up to the, er, sunrise over the Sierras. Fellow Northwesterners Matthew Slaven, Danni Dance and The White Buffalo posted up next door and got a fire permit, greatly enhancing our sunset viewing and general camping lifestyle.
No good race weekend is complete without showing up too late but with too much unbridled enthusiasm to avoid doing an evening practice run. We met Emmett in Bassets with the RV and headed to Downieville to set shuttle. My normal shuttle schedule is based on said shuttling taking place in my WRX, so I reckoned we had plenty of time to make it up to the put-in in time for an hour-long run. After marveling at the Dodge Sprinter based Winnebago’s surprisingly sporty handling for an hour, then it’s waterbar crossing ability, we were suited and booted with barely the hour we needed. Kelli and I grabbed headlamps for the inevitable and set off for a run. After the inevitable line scouting and tire pumping we definitely needed the lights… Ah well, line comprehension is way better in the dark anyway…
Wednesday morning I woke up to prepare for my “commute” to “work.” This involved riding down the Downieville Downhill to link up with a group of junior riders for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship youth day. Slaven almost made me late by crashing spectacularly on Upper Butcher and getting a flat tire on First Divide. If these are the kinds of roadblocks I encounter on my way to work for the day I’m doing something right for sure. And he didn’t die. Which is amazing. We loaded up a Yuba Expeditions van with young shredders and reported to Packer Saddle. Once there, Carter of SBTS rallied the troops to discuss the finer points of the Sunrise Trail land access and construction. Turns out SBTS did a ton of legwork before they even built this couple mile section of bliss that starts every ride from the Saddle. Good work guys. Then we ripped it. Kids ride fast. More stops to discuss trail stewardship along the way down were offset by trail rallying technique tips from us who pretend to know about that stuff. And we fixed some flat tires. Par for the (rocky, fast and AWESOME) course.
Speaking of the course, Ross talked me into doing another run with him after we got done shredding with the kids. I was sore, but what are you going to say? No? It was pretty rad to do a steady run with someone you trust and love riding with. We rode smooth and fast down sunrise, stopped and chatted about how much air was smart on Upper Butcher’s waterbars and whether it made sense to ride straight inside lines out of the grippy groove or just be lemmings with traction. I said inside. There was the obligatory stop at The Waterfall on Butcher Ranch proper, we determined that flatting or crashing would be bad, otherwise it was a wash. Inside again. Then on to the real testpiece of the race, in my opinion, the 30+ MPH Third Divide. You don’t need to use your brakes for concerningly long sections, but you sure want too… We agreed that we’d leave that to the local bike shop kids, Travis and Evan, they’re way less scared than us. A nice twenty-minute pedal down First Divide, taking care to not fall off the cliff it’s cut into and we were eating ice cream cones and going for a swim. This is Downieville.
All right, enough talk about how rad the riding is and such. How about racing? Also rad.. The XC started off in Sierra City and immediately climbed 3000’ to the Sierra Buttes. Some really ripped guy rode off the front immediately, but everyone else was happy to ease into their morning climb. Eventually Sid Taberlay (who I was pissed that I had to ride hard enough to stay with), Chris Sheppard and I rolled off the front, upping the pace in hopes that it made the climb seem shorter. It did. Sid and I crested Packer Saddle in 48 minutes after working together well and he kindly let me enter the Sunrise Trail first with nobody else in sight. I rode like someone who’d just climbed for a long time and barely managed a 10 second gap by the time we started the dirt road traverse to the Pauley Creek drainage. Sid just barely caught up just as we dropped into Baby Heads, a high speed doubletrack covered in, well, baby heads. I figured, pshttttt, I’ll roll and smoke Sid on his lowly Epic XC bike with my super gnarly Giant Trance X Trail Bike. (first evil thought) and set about spraying rocks in his general direction. I was pretty chuffed with my job of this as I sprayed rocks through an especially steep bit with bunch of spectators (evil thought number two) and figured I was a rad enough rider to inside drift the next corner. I nearly died. And Sid caught back up. Think evil thoughts and you’ll be punished… I eventually got my life on track and set about the task of having a good time riding fast (but not too good) and getting a gap on my tenacious competition. It wasn’t until Third Divide where I begrudgingly realized I’d have to no-brake it if there was a hope of winning. Turns out no brakes is the funnest thing you’ll do on any given day. I hit First Divide clear and made it to Downieville alone in 1:52. Local hope and all-around nice guy Jason Moeschler was third in 1:55, also breaking the previous XC course record of 1:56. We rode pretty fast!
Emmett rode pretty fast too, fast enough to finish third in the women’s race but not fast enough to stay in front of a hard charging Myles Rockwell on the downhill, he made a fairly aggressive pass with some choice words thrown in for good measure. Kelli was sure to remind our boy that he wasn’t exactly racing for the XC win… Somehow our favorite Class V Kayaker, Lizzy English, rode her Reign to 5th in the Pro Women’s field, not bad for her third race ever… I guess hiking with a ninety-pound kayak over mountain passes then running scary rapids for days on end is indeed harder than a two-hour bike ride. Or she’s just a machine. Hmm.
We spent the afternoon hanging about downtown, while swimming I got recruited for the River Jump World Championships Celebrity Judging Panel. Scott Nicol was ringleader of a rag-tag bunch including HB, Frischi, Myles Rockwell, Rad Ross and Willow Koerber. She was immediately named the beer-getter and tricked some unsuspecting boy into delivering a cooler for our (de?) hydration needs. I almost was relieved of my duties as my buddy Brian Kenton (2008 World Mustache Champion) was entered and I insisted on priority for his advancement on simple facial hair merit. Too bad for Brian, there were some guys who could do all kinds of crazy tricks… His backflip to ball-slap was good enough to make it to round two but after he admitted that the same trick didn’t hurt “that bad” the second time around despite the bloody chainring gash on his arm(?) he was out … From there it was down to a French guy and someone who knew what they were doing for the final. French guy tried the old “underwear” trick with limited crowd approval and was ultimately taken down by Andrew Taylor’s perfectly landed Backflip-Tailwhip. Pretty cool.
The best thing about camping at the top of a downhill racecourse is that you wake up at the start. This made the 9:30 start much easier to swallow after yet another night of wheezing, wondering just how my heartrate was and exactly where I would crash spectacularly or get a flat tire in the DH race… For good measure I tried to bundle crashing and flatting into one split second pretty early on in the race. There were a bunch of people watching and holding cameras on Upper Butcher so I figured I’d send one of the waterbars a bit larger than usual. Committed to flight, I noted the square rock I was going to land on. Shoot. After somehow trying to change my mid-air trajectory, I felt my suspension bottom, then the tire bottom out on the rim but somehow, Mr Bib protected me from what I deserved. Thanks, Michelin Reinforced tire technology. From there it was pretty much gravy. I rode fast, passed some guys with clear vision thanks to my choice of goggles for eyewear and continued to not screw up whilst shredding trails that I knew just enough about to ride fast and not die. My legs even felt good. Perfect. I crossed the line 43:48 later, enough for first on the day and fastest Downieville Downhill time ever. Ross and Moeschler beat the previous record too. We’re all getting faster… Next year should be good.
In the ladie’s challenge, Kelli had a solid run and held onto her third overall with ease. Our favorite Czech, Katerina Nash, shredded and took the Women’t All Mountain crown. Lizzy was stoked on 5th overall too, but kind of secretly wished she was in expert so as to have received some cool prizes for winning… Oh well, shooting for the stars gets you in the foot sometimes.
The northwest boys (White Buffalo, Slaven and Nathan Riddle) and I did a cooldown on the recently completed North Yuba trail. Turns out that trail is friggin’ rad! This reminded me about the whole point of the Downieville Classic, to raise money for and awareness of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. To this end, Katerina and I donated some of our winnings to them. Here’s to more great weekends of shredding in Downieville.