Category: Downieville

Downieville Classic 2016

Another year, and another Downieville Classic. Downieville is my main target race for the year. I like to target it because it is the most technical XC race in northern California, but also because the long climb, long descent style suits my strengths. I do well with sustained efforts (as opposed to punchy climbs) and can descend pretty quickly on the chunky terrain that defines Downieville.

The start at the Classic is always a challenge. Trying to squeeze several hundred riders up a single lane road all at once ends up causing quite the traffic jam. The 2016 edition seemed worse than year’s past. I lined up more than 30 minutes early which is way earlier than every other race I do. I was positioned maybe 5 rows back; a decent position for a long climb. As the race stated, I found that I was actually behind a huge group of racers competing in the all mountain category (maybe 150 riders behind). Frustratingly, it wasn’t until a minute after the start gun that I actually crossed the start line. Not ideal to be competitive in the race.

The traffic was slow ascending the 3000′ and 7 miles to the top of the jeep road. Long lines of riders followed the only good line up the loose road making for a taxing job of passing. It was fortunate that it was much cooler this year than in year’s past where I had to carry an extra water bottle just for spraying on my back.

Approaching the top, I was able to take advantage of one of the best advantages for this race: the CamelBak feed. Save yourself a lot of weight on that climb, and have easy access to drink during the gnarly descent. Diane and Matt were generous enough to be waiting at the top for this glorious hand-off. You can tell how stoked I am in the photo (right before getting all of that nice cool drink).

Smiling to be at the top!

Smiling to be at the top!

The Sunrise Trail starts the descending portion of the race, Another racers and I followed a slightly slower racers into this section. From third position I watched at the rider in second position take a hard right and dive off into the forest only to appear a few seconds later 20 meters ahead of us. Boo for cheaters and boo for cutting the course!

Spending time going over the course and dialing in the lines can help quite a bit on this chunky loose course, especially in sections like “baby heads”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always matter on race day. Often some other slower rider is taking up your carefully chosen line and it’s a tossup whether it’s faster to follow that slower pace, or to venture out onto the nasty line. The race continued like this with traffic and the occasional ride stopping double-hammy cramp until the famous light speed 3rd divide descent. I had scoped out my line the previous weekend to see how long I could go without touching my brakes on this straight, narrow, bumpy singletrack. I launched into it fully committed, and probably with more zeal than was prudent. Quickly, I was borderline out of control and getting pushed off of my line. With a loud PSSSSSSSHHHHHH, a sidewall tear took my rear tire out. I was able to get to the side of the trail, safely out of the bombing run of the other riders. A forest service ranger gave me a ziplock to use as a tire boot, and I proceeded to perform one of the slowest tire changes I’ve ever attempted. Ten minutes later, and with a fragile tube in my rear tire, my race was done, and my goal was to simply get down.

The great thing about Downieville (and some of the other more awesome races) is that you can still have a good time with the ride if you can’t race it. Paul components had an aid station set up at the bottom of 3rd divide. They were serving the usual water, but also had beer and bacon feeds. Unfortunately it wasn’t Lost Coast beer, but that bacon hit the spot!

Downieville is such a taxing and technical race. I’ve come to the conclusion that one should expect at least one in three races there to go sideways either from cramps or some mechanical. I got my slow year out of the way this year, so I’m looking forward to a clean race for next year!


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.