At the moment when the XC turned to downhill, a group of six racers all thought the same thing: I need to be first into Baby Heads. Baby Heads is gnarly (it’s covered in rocks that are smaller than adult heads), and it’s the start of the long downhill finale of the Downieville Cross Country. The descent gets narrow and dusty and rowdy, all combining to make overtaking really difficult. Since it was a race, and since there were 800 racers trying to make haste towards the finish line in Downtown Downieville, those six racers were right to be concerned.
As smooth gravel gave way to a rocky jeep trail, the pace intensified—everyone wanting to go first. That’s when they heard it. “Bear!” as yelled by the hindmost of the group, Scott Chapin. A momentary pause in pedal strokes, a short lapse in focus on the task at hand, and Scott was past the lot of them. The nearest semblance of a bear in sight: Scott’s 1869 mustache perched above a toothy grin.
That this stratagem could work at Downieville is only fitting. It’s a legendary race with a strong following of mountain-hardened characters. It’s not Disneyland or the Olympics, or any other contrived and manicured World Cup style mountain bike race. There could have been a bear. Just the day prior, my nap was cut short by a little girl’s blood curdling screams (she was even plugging her own ears!). There was a Black Bear trying to climb onto the deck of our next-door neighbors’ cabin. Hell, if circumstances were different, it coulda been me riding in Scott’s dust down Baby Heads. I’d have bought it–hook, line, and sinker.
As luck would have it though, I was way off the front again in this year’s Downieville All Mountain “World Championships” XC. Apparently that course just suits me like a free tee-shirt, with a long and meaningful climb followed by some gravel road time-trialing, and then a seriously rocky, fast, and treacherous descent. For the third year in a row, I was alone the last half of the race. For the third year in a row, I was running scared, and riding my brains out, totally unaware that I’d built such a heady lead over my rivals.
So, long story short: I won the XC again. But this year, I really wanted to win the Downhill as well. The DH is where the prestige lies in Downieville for a lot of people. And this year, there was an unprecedented field of talent chasing that brass ring. My esteemed colleague, Adam Craig was back, as was French Enduro phenom Jerome Clements, several time AM Champ Jason Moeschler, and 60+ other men who had ticked the box next to “Pro” on their entry forms.
Though I really wanted to win that DH, I kept this desire covert. The field this year was just too stacked. When I crashed and lost the DH last year by 5 seconds, perhaps I had missed my best opportunity to win the coveted XC/DH double. Since the beginning of the “All Mountain Championship” designation, only Adam Craig had once won both events on the same weekend. I managed to hold on to hope that I could do it. I told nobody that I thought I might.
On Sunday, at 9:01 AM, Aaron Bradford was first onto the DH trail, as he’s the Man who’d pipped me in the DH last year. I was second, and then, every minute for the next 3hours and 36 minutes, someone else would drop into the track.
Aaron took off with authority. Then I gave my humongous Nobby Nic tires one last squeeze with the digital gauge (that’s my thumb), checked my starting gear (big ring, 3rd cog down), sprayed 2/3 of my bottle of High5 energy drink into a bush (cuz I’m a weight weenie), pressed start on my Garmin (because I’m a dork), grabbed hold of the E-Z Up start tent above me, clipped my shoes into the Eggbeaters, , and took a couple deep breaths. 9:02 AM—Time to make the doughnuts!
I had a great run. I was riding the nasty stuff better than I had in practice, and my legs felt good in the places I could use them. When I finished, I was happy with my effort. Nobody knew times or places, but there was a lot of hearsay. Kenny Burt was in the hot seat, then Moeschler, then maybe Adam, then everybody stopped trying to keep track. I went to the Giant tent and had some Pringles. An hour later, AC and I walked over to check the results page. The tale of the timing chip: I’d won the Downieville DH! Edging Moeschler by a scant 8 seconds over a 44 minute run. Kiiiiick Assss!
Turns out my teammate, Kelli had a fantastic run on her big-wheeled Anthem too. She put 2.5 MINUTES into second place and pulled off the Downieville Double as well. Nice! Just a couple of years ago, most thought that Downieville couldn’t be won on a 29er. It was too rowdy or the big wheels were too weak or some other BS. After this year, after the Anthem X Advanced 29er Double/Double, and after my “All Mountain World Champs” hat trick, I’m pretty sure those thoughts have been put to rest. Ahh, progress.
Now, how will I wrap this race report up in a tidy reference to the beginning?
Teammate Josh Carlson was on incredible pace early in the DH (How do I know? STRAVA– he’s a dork too) before running into a laughable string of mechanical problems that left his bike unpedalable. His savior: Countryman and Olympian Sid Taberlay, who’d had a flat tire and was out of the race. For the last several miles of the track, Sid pushed and pulled Josh along the hot and dusty racecourse.
Sid’s a good man. And incidentally, at a Pro XCT race a few years ago, he was injured in a crash when he ran into a black bear. Apparently nobody had screamed “Bear!!!” to alert him to this danger. He’s a smart and cagey racer though. He probably wouldn’t have looked anyway.
Happy Trails to You