The first UCI Mountain Bike World Championships were held in Durango, CO in 1990. I was there. I was the 15-year-old on a Bridgestone bike with drop bars (just like Tomac), and a yellow “Team Decker” tee shirt. The kid who broke his brake cable on the start line after wearing it out practicing his “trials moves” in the parking lot the previous two days. The only solace in my ruined race was how cool I must have looked, wearing my peach/purple Hypercolor tee shirt and neon Bolle’ hat while hopping three or four times in a row on my (tenspeed looking) bicycle’s rear tire in that hotel parking lot on Friday afternoon.
This Saturday I was back in Durango again for another World Championships. Again Jackie Phelan, Ned Overend, and Greg Herbold were some of the 1000 people racing. Again I was wearing a cotton race kit, but this time was a little different. This time it was The Singlespeed World Championships.
So I was costumed as Ron Jeremy’s character in the (wildly un)popular movie Orgazmo. My friends, Tina and Lana were going to come as my sidekicks, Haruko and Natsuko, the @$$ &%^* Twins, but Tina ended up sick and Lana’s a good friend, so I was pretty much just standing at the start in my underwear. At least I had my eyebrows and mustache (ample, and all natural, ladies) covered in mascara to match my black wig. But without my sidekicks, I looked like a peeping tom.
My esteemed teammate, Kelli Emmett, however, picked up the slack in the costume department. “Captain Hotter” was a real crowd pleaser wherever she went, with her amazing Sexycop ™ uniform, complete with police baton/marital aid and lots of shiny bits. It was apparent she was not wearing a bulletproof vest. Lovely.
Kelli and I had a pretty good idea of the course from our former Soigneur and SSWC09 host, Elke Brutsaert. The most recent reports cautioned us of a 4-5 minute hike-a-bike. Earlier reports had warned of a 45 minute hike-a-bike, so either the climb was shortened, or the earlier reporter had gout. Either way, a 40-minute reduction in walking was good news. This climb led to 20 minutes of a crushingly rocky cliff edge trail that would have been fun on a Reign or other 6” travel wonderbike. This was followed by a descent, into the finish area, where you were sent out onto the 2nd half of the course. Here a climb stair-stepped it’s way up Horse Gulch, and eventually turned into a 3-4 (or was it 34?) minute hike to the top of a tight, smooth and fun descent back to the finish. Things seen at the top of the climb: a shrine to Racers Past, neutral fresh cooked bacon and whiskey feeds, and the largest living rattlesnake I have ever seen.
With such a formidable course, everyone was keen to run a lower gear to be competitive. That is, everyone but me, Danny Pate, and his teammate Mike Freeman from the Garmin/Chipotle ProTour team, who knew we had the power to turn over the big meat. I chose 35/16 gearing. Danny had about the same. Heavy hitters, us. Kelli wanted to gear down, but we talked her into keeping what she had. “If you’re gonna have to hike-a-bike, you might as well have a big gear on your bike, right?” This was a refrain I used at least 7 times on Thursday and Friday.
Race day dawned warm and sunny. After a pleasant drive to the venue in our borrowed Miata, or Man-yata (thanks, Elke’s roommate!), we were greeted by a throng of singlespeeders perhaps larger than any the world has ever seen. The neutral roll-out through town was massive and excited. The official starter, Jerry Action, sounded the shotgun/airhorn at the bottom of the climb to the college, and we were off. As the pointy end of the race turned into the first switchback, some dude in a black kit with yellow shoes attacked like crazy, in his drop bars and ripping across the road to the left gutter to make sure nobody caught his draft. Two minutes later he had a 150 meter lead and was in front of the film car. A few minutes after that I attacked to catch and pass him and take the lead on the flat pavement. This would be the last time of the day that I would appreciate my gear selection.
Once on the ridge, I was passed by local, Travis Brown and “Rad” Ross Schnell on their fully suspended, properly geared bicycles. It was nice to follow their lines, as this allowed me to go a little faster on the tricky rock-ridge trail. For 15 or 20 seconds, I could totally see those guys. Then they disappeared. Bummer.
Going into the “easy” second half of the course, I was in 3rd place, and felt that I might be able to bridge the gap to the leaders. Kelli and I had sneaked onto the course at 1am the night before and hidden some 1 liter bottles of Coke near a tree. Just the kind of shot-in-the-arm that I needed to get back in the mix.
With a Coke in my belly (and mustache and crotch and ear—it was a hot and fizzy 1 Liter), I attacked the next climb with great gusto. The tricky part was the stair-step uphill, which had not very flat steps and vertical bits that were, well, nearly vertical. I was quivering like a dog shitting a pinecone. At times, I was nearly holding my breath I was pushing so hard to get the pedals to turn.
At the top of the hike-a-bike climb, I saw Ross (resplendent in full length arm/leg skinsuit) for the last time. He’d go on to win a medium-sized tattoo. I ended up humping my bike to 3rd place. Kelli turned her big gear (hey, sorry ‘bout that) to 3rd as well. No tatoos for Team Giant, but had there been an omnium including Pub dwelling and costume planning, I think we’d have been contenders. Big gears and all.
At the bar that night, Danny Pate and I were swapping stories and I realized it was he that attacked at the first climb like he was going for a TDF stage win. The black kit with yellow shoes was actually a penguin costume, so I didn’t recognize him. And when I passed him, he thought “that dude in the TT helmet and wife-beater is going pretty good”. He and Mike called me filthy things for advising them to keep their tall gearing. And then Danny bought me a Black Butte Porter.
The Durango Crew did a bang-up job hosting the biggest SS Worlds ever. Kudos to them. SSWC10 is in New Zealand next year. Bring your Velcro gloves.
Carl Decker, Giant Factory MTB Team