Category: daniel stuart

Downieville Classic 2014

Danny - Downieville climb 2014

Grinding up the XC climb with my suffer face on

The Downieville Classic. My biggest race of the year. I had spent many of the weekends this summer honing my descending skills in preparation for this race and was feeling pretty good.

Day 1: The Cross Country

I had my start all planned out. Plenty of time for a long warmup, and show up 20 minutes before the race so I could start near the front (unlike last year when I was stuck all the way at the back). It turns out that even 20 minutes isn’t enough time, because when I arrived to the line there were already 60+ people in front of me. I was able to wedge in to a half descent spot, then was able to get closer to the front when they called up everyone who had been on the podium the previous year.

The climb started out hard and fast. It always does. Not being the best starter, I hovered around 20th place. A mile or so in the pavement turns to dirt. In past years, this is usually where I start picking riders off and making up ground. Something was off about this year, and that extra gear just wasn’t there. As the climb drug on, and the hotter it got, things started to fall apart. The dreaded lower back pain started to hit. I just wasn’t able to put the power down (see the photo of me with my suffer face on), and came over the top a full 4 minutes slower than last year.

Things started to feel better on the descent. I was able to pick a few riders off on sunrise and baby heads. Mid way through Pauley creek my legs started cramping pretty badly. I had to stop a few times, and walk most of the third divide climb. My shifting was becoming pretty bad by the end of 3rd divide, and after the bridge the cable pulled completely through. I pulled off to re-adjust and tune the shifting, but not before 5 or 6 riders passed knocking me out of the top 10 for my category.

At the end of the day I ended up 12 minutes off my time from the previous year. I was pretty disapointed, but was able to stop the pity party after hearing that many of the other pro and expert racers had similar races with times way off their PRs. It was time to concentrate on redemption in the downhill.

Day 2: The Downhill

The weather for the downhill on sunday was thankfully much cooler with overcast skies. There was a ghost rider between me and the next rider in front of me, so I had dust free trails to start. The race started well with a ripping time down sunrise, and an okay pace down butchers. Half way down I had caught my two minute man, but at the same time was also caught by the rider a minute behind me. Several corners up from the bridge to third divide I head the dreaded pshhhhh-shhh-shhh of a flat. I tried to pull off quickly but not before hitting rim on some rocks and denting it pretty good. I fished through my pockets for my CO2 chuck, but wasn’t able to find it. Turns out that I had worn a jersey I had previously crashed in that had a small hole. My only means of inflation was likely some miles back on the trail. It’s okay, I’ll run down to the bridge, and hopefully someone will have a pump I can use. I start running down the trail and realize that my rear brake is no longer working. At the same time I had flatted, a rock had been knocked up and cut clean through my rear brake line.

A destroyed brake line

A destroyed brake line

The EMT at the bridge had a pump, but the tire would not longer hold air at the bead because of the dented rim. I flip my bike upside down, pull off the tire, wrestle out the valve stem (which had been partially pulled through the rim), put in a tube, and inflated it. During this process rider after rider was passing. At this point, I knew the race was over for me, and I just needed a way down without walking. With the repair complete, I thanked the EMT for the help, and flipped the bike back over to ride down. As if my bad luck wasn’t enough already, it turned out that in my haste I had put my bike down with my Garmin resting on a rock, completely destroying the screen.

It was a frustrating weekend, and my worst showing at Downieville in the seven years that I’ve raced it. With the previous year as my best performance, and the year before that one of the worst, I’m thinking that maybe I’m on an every other year trend, and look forward to the possibilities in 2015.

Skyline XC 2014

The Skyline race in Napa was the first race I had done in a while. It has been quite the bummer of a season as I missed the last two races (Ashland Spring Thaw, and Tamarancho) because of a concussion and the flu respectively. I hoped to look at this weekend more as being well rested than out of shape.

Skyline is one of the classic Northern California races. It’s a brutal course with relentless climbs and rocky descents, which ensures that only the strongest all around riders will do the best. A slight change in the course for this year changed the initial climb from the very steep and loose Pasini road, where the course has gone for years, to an adjacent fire road that was much more pleasant.

With a slow start, I was mid-pack as the first of three laps turned toward the descent. Near the beginning of the descent onto Manzanita trail is a rock garden with particularly sharp rocks that is a common spots for flats. I hit hard with my rear wheel, heard the rim hit the rock, and the dreaded hiss of a flat. I pulled off and quickly found the leak at the bead where I had hit and dented the rim. After shaking the wheel a few times I was able to get the stans sealant to seal. I aired it up with one of my CO2’s only to have the seal break again and lose the rest of the sealant. Frustrated, I rushed to put in, and air up a tube. In my haste, some of the CO2 leaked out, and I ended up with very low pressure for the rest of the descent. I tried to make my way down carefully, and made it almost all of the way to the bottom before flatting again. At this point I was pretty far behind in the race, and out of tubes. I ran the rest of the way back to the start-line where I could get a tube and pump, and resigned myself to making the rest of the race a training ride.

The next race up is Downieville in August, and I’m hoping to have better luck, and legs, by that time.

Maui winter training: Day 2, West Maui Loop

Initially the weather forecast pointed to this day to be the most optimal for climbing the big volcano on the island, Mt. Haleakala. The Mt. Haleakala climb is world famous for going straight up from sea level to 10,000 feet in 40 miles on gently graded perfectly smooth pavement, a climber’s dream. In the days preceding the trip, I started to come down with a cold, and woke up in the morning knowing that attempting the big day would be a mistake. Instead, we opted to sleep in a little longer and hit the less ambitious West Maui loop. 
Sonoma or Maui?

The first portion of the loop was pretty mellow taking us south through sugarcane fields on the side of a small highway, then west and north right along the coast. The weather was overcast, so we didn’t get a great view of the nearly vertical green mountains we were riding next to that dominate west Maui. The ride was fairly lack-luster for the first 40 miles (at least compared to expectations) as we rounded the west coast of the island.

Once we approached the north side, things got interesting quickly. The highway gave way to a twisty two lane road, not unlike California hwy 1 in parts. In fact, parts of the north west coast were completely indistinguishable from the coastal roads of Marin and Sonoma counties: rolling hills covered with short grass and rocky outcroppings on coastal cliffs with fenced cattle land. The obvious difference was the frequent tropical rain-forest grottos.

Some sections looked straight out of central america

Being from the heart of redwood country, it usually takes a pretty spectacular forest to impress me, and this did not disappoint. The rolling hills quickly added up to 4,000 feet of climbing and that, along with neglecting to bring enough water, left me in bad shape nearing the end of the ride.

Fortunately, there happened to be a great fruit stand selling coconut water (nature’s electrolyte drink). Aside from the drink, the guy there was practically giving tropical fruit away. He was pushing plenty of free samples, and parting with bags full of fruit for only a dollar! I fit all of the passion fruit and apple-bananas (bananas that taste kind of like apples!) and headed back for home.

Fresh coconut water!

West Maui loop (Strava link)


Maui winter training: Day 6, Mt Haleakala

On the top of Mt Haleakala

Yesterday we took another “rest day” (40 miles, 2000 feet climbing) riding down to the beach to watch some kite boarding, then heading east along the coast to see the infamous big wave break known as “Jaws”. After riding a few miles down a dirt and gravel road we found that Jaws lacked the bite we had hoped for, and only had a flat tire, and an ejected stainless water bottle to show for it.
Today we rode up Mt Haleakalah, a volcano and the highest point on the island at 10,023 feet. The climb is world famous for huge elevation gain in a single paved climb. Traditionally the ride starts in the town of Paia for a 70 mile ride, but our hostel is in Wailuku, adding another 12 miles and 500 feet of climbing. We woke up early to attack the hill so we would make it back in time to pack up and make our flight that later that evening.

The climb for us started about 5 miles in and kept an average gradient of around 5% the entire way up. Adam and I started off at a good warm-up pace, planning to give it more of an effort when the main switchback section of the climb starts on Crater road. We briefly stopped off at the Kula Market at the base of crater road to fill our bottles before starting into it. Crater road is 20 miles with about 7000 feet of continuous even climbing. The road is in very good shape being recently paved, and has long and gentle sweeping switchbacks. We tried to estimate a pace we could hold for the 20 miles, and used our power meters to pace ourselves. My early season legs couldn’t quite live up to my optimistic estimation, and I was yo-yoing off of Adam, and the pace by the time we hit the park entrance at half way (10 miles, 7000 ft). We slowed just long enough to hand money to the ranger for the entrance fee before continuing on. Adam wanted to keep up the pace, and I let him go, while I settled for something that would be more sustainable for my current fitness level. Taking it down a few notches felt great, and I continued up without struggling to breath like I had expected for the high elevation.

Before we ascended into the clouds, the views were pretty spectacular. We could look down upon the steep West Maui Mountains we had ridden several days before, and see out to the other Hawaiian islands. The gain in altitude brought with it a decidedly Mars-like change to the landscape. Trees became bushes and bushes became small scrub, until virtually all vegetation had disappeared. Being on the bike allowed us to also take in the sounds of the mountain. There was virtually no wind, and everything was creepily quiet, save some chirping of birds. It would have been impossible for us to experience that if we had driven to the top.

A few miles later, and well out of site, Adam flatted, and decided to continue on up as opposed to waiting for me and the pump. Despite the flat, he still ended up just beating me to the top, but suffered for it. On the summit he was pretty dizzy and nauseous from the effort and altitude. Fortuitously, we happened to run into some Davis-ites on the summit that Adam knew through personal training he used to do. They offered him a ride part way down the mountain and he happily accepted.

The view from the top was still pretty fantastic despite mostly looking out on an ocean of clouds. We were really too tired and cold to enjoy it though, and quickly made ready to descend. The 10,000 feet in elevation makes for high temperatures in the 50’s, which is quite chilly once one is acclimated to 80 degrees at sea level. As recommended, we brought our warmers, wind vests, and gloves, which were all very much needed for descending through the cold, cloudy sections. As Adam got a  ride down, I decided to see how quickly I could make the descent, mostly just to create enough heat to stay warm. I almost completely overcooked the first corner, and had to remind myself how much less aerodynamic drag there was at altitude to help slow me down. About 30 minutes later and 7000 feet lower I met up with Adam again. We grabbed some soup at the local market to warm up and fuel up before continuing the descent. I must have been cold, as I ended up wearing the warmers all the way back down to sea level.

Strava link
We had been doing some hard rides over the last several days, but something about this one made it much harder. It was probably a combination of the previous day’s rides, the hard effort, and the altitude that put us over the top; the type of fatigue where you’re too drained to eat, and just pick at your food. On the up side, being drained makes it a little easier to leave the paradise we called home for the last 6 days. We packed up our bags, said our goodbyes to our hostel mates, and jumped on the red-eye to take us back to California. 


Maui winter training: Day 4, The Road to Hana

The previous day Adam and I “took off” and ended up doing an 8 mile hike in the Iao valley. I have to remind myself that going on a hike doesn’t necessarily equate to taking it easy.

Today we rode the infamous road to Hana. Driving this road that follows the north coast of the island from the center to the eastern tip is one of the most popular tourist activities on the island. The road snakes though lush rainforest for about 40 miles over 59 mostly one-way bridges, and 620 corners. This is nothing short of heaven on two wheels. Starting in Wailuku it was going to at 110 mile day with 9600 feet of climbing, so we made sure to load up with a ton of GU and Brubars. The first 15 miles were pretty rough going directly into a constant 20 mph headwind across the flattish central agricultural section of Maui. 
The vegetation began to get progressively more tropical, the road narrowed, and the twists began. We had been warned that this road could be very dangerous because it was narrow (in some parts one lane), had blind corners, and was trafficked by rubbernecking tourists. We felt quite the opposite. The traffic was so slow that we were actually faster than the cars in many spots, allowing us to safely take the entire lane for most of the ride. It felt like we were off the front in a big race with our lane closed to traffic.

Picturesque detour to the beach.
It quickly became clear that we would have to inform Jeremy Clarkson (of Top Gear) that we had in fact found “the greatest road….in the world”. Endless hairpin turns over 1 lane bridges, immaculate pavement littered with bright red tropical flowers, and jaw dropping views of cliffs over the ocean and waterfalls. It is really impossible to adequately describe, and the photos fall far short of doing it justice.

Along the ride we met up with a local out for a lunch ride who pointed out a good spot to take a detour down to the beach. It was a good thing as it provided some of the best views of the day, and an excuse to grab some delicious mango bread before the main climb. The 1100 foot climb rewarded us with a gentle, but twisty descent for 10 miles down to Hana. 
Lots of cornering
We took a short break on the beach in Hana and grabbed some snacks at a stand before mounting up and heading back. We were certainly feeling a little fatigued by this point, but the road kept us motivated so we barely noticed it. 
The sun got lower in the sky and shown over the clouds as we rounded one of the many bends. I fortunately was able to capture Adam’s spontaneous celebration in a photo that pretty much sums up our general feelings of this ride. 
This sums up the feeling on the ride

Exiting the forest, we were pleasantly met with a ripping 20+ mph tailwind that allowed us to rip across the flat back to the hostel at 30mph. We immediately headed off to stuff our faces with delicious Thai food to make up for the 4400 calorie day.


Maui winter training: Day 1

As the new year quickly approaches, it is time to get back into riding shape again. I had been thinking about doing a trip to Maui for some winter training for the last several years. It just so happened that the planets aligned (little Mayan Apocalypse joke there) to let me take that trip this year. California has a pretty temperate winter compared to most other places, but the prospect of December rides sans warmers through the tropical rain-forest was too much to pass up. For this adventure I recruited my former UC Davis Cycling teammate and traveling buddy, Adam Smith. Finding some cheap plane tickets, and crashing at a hostel allowed us to pull off the trip on the cheap.
We departed Davis at 3:30am to make our early flight out of Sacramento international airport and ensure our bikes made it on the little puddle jumper to SFO. Ten and a half travel hours later we arrived in beautiful and sunny Maui. After taking a cab to the hostel and getting set up there we decided to go grab some food out, hit the beach, and do some grocery shopping for the next few days. Cue the first awesome thing about a bike vacation: your bike doubles as your around town transport. No need for rental cars, taxis, or long hikes. We grabbed the giant Kryptonite New York chain I bought for the trip and went exploring.
Beer run with Adam. Always a high first day priority. Very disappointed in the lack of Lost Coast brew at the supermarket

Rockville Skills Clinic

Bekah and I hosted a skills clinic this last Saturday at Rockville hills Regional Park near Fairfield, CA. Living in Davis, can be great for cycling. It has been voted one of the most bike friendly communities in the country, and has a large, competitive contingent of road racers. Unfortunately, being in the middle of the central valley, with a 45 minute drive from the hills, means that few people in town get introduced to riding on dirt. In trying to introduce more people to the sport, Bekah and I decided to host a skills clinic for the cycling team at UC Davis, which, like the rest of the community, is predominantly focused on road riding.

Rockville is almost like it was made to hold skills clinics. The small park has tons of trails crisscrossing each other, so any given section is never far off. Additionally, there is a large diversity of terrain allowing for riders of all skill levels to have a good time. You can find everything there from fireroad, to mellow singletrack, to hecktic tight singletrack, to rockgardens, and big drops. It’s a great little park.

We had a good showing for the clinic drawing 9 riders evenly split in gender of various skill levels, to the three instructors: Bekah, our friend Andy, and I. All of the riders had done some mountain bike riding before, but those who considered themselves mountain bikers were very much in the minority. After a quick survey of what the riders were interested in learning, we decided to go for a more intermediate/advanced lesson and really focus on honing a few techniques.

We first spent a while going over cornering. We had them work on some drills to hit home the idea of how to lean and weight the bike in the corner. After everyone got a good sense of that, and some practice taking some flat corners, we headed up the hill to practice on a fun, windy, singletrack descent. The drills seemed to help, as everyone was able to start to get the proper technique down fairly quickly.

Next up, we headed over to Rockville’s famous rockgarden to practice riding up and over obstacles. We went over the technique of how to lift and shift your weight to get up and over a rock step-up. The lower rockgarden is a great place to practice this as the step-ups become progressively larger. Some had a little more trouble with this than the cornering, and were not quite able to link together the timing. Trying to think about so many things can be overwhelming, so we decided to finish up the lesson portion, and just go for a fun ride for the rest of the time where the skills could be applied. By the end of the fun ride, and with the lesson environment pressure removed, the riders previously having trouble we able to go through the motions to get up and over step-ups.

In all I think it was a pretty successful skills ride. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I hope that it puts them one step closer to considering themselves mountain bikers


Sea Otter 2012!

After weeks of planning and anticipation Sea Otter weekend had finally arrived. We packed the car to capacity and headed south from Ashland with four pasty Oregonians hungry for sun. On our trip down we made a detour to stretch our legs and enjoy the birthplace of mountain biking, Mount Tamalpias. After we got a good taste of the local trails we scarfed some burritos and continued south to Aptos where our driver Austin’s mother so kindly let us stay for the night.

Where’s Matt?

The next morning we were up bright and early so we could get to the venue, get signed in and settled at our campsite, and relax until the Cat 1 start at 1:30 in the afternoon. Just as we had expected, it was hot, insane hot for us Oregonians. Bekah and Danny were right behind me at registration, signing up to race that afternoon as well. After Matt got done registering for Saturday’s pro race he disappeared in to the land of Sea Otter while Austin, our trusty Rastafarian water boy and cat2 crusher Shane, and I found shade under the only tree in the venue right by the pond. We kept cool just as long as we could until it was time to get a little spin on and make it to the start line. 1:45 ticked around and we were off with just barely over twenty riders in our 19-24 cat1 age group.


For most of the first lap I went back and forth with Austin, doing my best to not boil over in the extreme heat. I was doing fine until about halfway through the lap I charged one of the blind rutted descents and ejected a bottle. It was my only full bottle left so I stopped real quick to pick it up only to have Austin and another rider fly by and the bottle eject for good about thirty feet down the trail. I was frustrated to say the least but I knew the aid station wasn’t too far ahead so I conserved made due with the water I had until the aid station where I had to stop and fill my bottle and again watch Austin and a few riders re-pass me. We had caught up to group of riders from our category and stayed with them until the final climb where Austin was starting to lead them away when I had to stop yet again to relieve myself of the Redbull I had consumed before my race.

Frustrated and thirsty I finished up the lap and to my surprise Shane and Matt were waiting at the lap with two fresh bottles of water for me and news that Austin was about 2 minutes ahead of me. With new water, the first lap behind me, and Austin just ahead of me I felt my second wind. The second lap seemed to be a lot cooler with a slight breeze, full bottles, and faster descents without brake-riding-line-blocking roadies to follow. I managed to keep the rubber side down and get a fresh bottle at the aid station giving me enough water to squeeze down the 500 or so Gu’s I went through and finish the 40 mile course in 3:16, 9th in my age group.

I had survived the heat and had improved on last year’s time. I later found out that Danny didn’t get quite as lucky, he had ejected a bottle early on leaving him parched and nauseas starting his second lap. He made it a few miles and decided to turn back when he started getting dizzy. Bekah had survived the heat and crushed her race, finishing 10th in her age group and just under 2 hours. Like a lot of rider’s she didn’t enjoy the percentage of road there was in the course, but said her new hardtail handled it very well. It was a hot day of racing but a great break from the cold Oregon weather we had been used to riding in. The next day Matt was off in the pro race but got hung up in a crash midway through, dislocating his finger. He used a co2 cartridge to splint his finger and was able to finish the race rubber side down. We spent much of saturday hiding under trees and applying sunscreen since it was another scorcher. That night we went out to dinner with Marin and some of the factory riders. We listened to stories of Steve “Gravy” Gravenites fighting for his right to ride his bike all night and had a great time with the Marin crew. Sunday came around faster than expected and before I knew it we were already packing up, saying our goodbyes in the venue and back on the road north to Ashland. It was another Sea Otter for the books, my first year on a Marin and it was a great to meet some of the faces behind the names, looking forward to the rest of the season! See you at the Ashland Spring Thaw!

Photos by Shane Stiles

Till next time!