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).
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!