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  1. #1
    bicycle rider
    Reputation: morganfletcher's Avatar
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    Downieville XC race report (late)

    Here's a race report I wrote for Downieville XC, the day after I raced it. I sent it to some friends of mine after the race, but I thought some of you might enjoy it.




    Yesterday I did the Downieville cross-country mountain bike race, which
    starts in Sierra City and ends in Downieville. It has an initial 5000'
    climb (from 4000' elevation) then a long, technical and "hard core" descent
    of 7000', totalling 28 miles. It is an epic, point-to-point race over very
    rugged terrain.

    I grew up in Marin, on a mountain bike. The last mountain bike I bought was
    an Otis Guy "beam bike", circa 1992. I don't do much mountain bike riding
    or racing, and I haven't had much extra money to spend on a mountain bike,
    so the Otis Guy has sufficed. It's tig-welded steel, has the Allsop beam
    for rear suspension and a JP Morgen suspension stem. The fork is rigid. I
    updated it four years ago with disc brakes, new paint and XT parts. It is
    running pretty basic clincher rims, inner tubes and 2.1" tires that just
    barely clear the frame and fork. It's been great for fire roads, single
    track, all sorts of riding at Moab, Tahoe, Durango and the singletrack
    around Oakland.

    There were maybe 400 riders at the start, and we were started in three
    waves, my group (sport) being the second wave. It was very clear, sunny and
    warm but not too hot. We were started on a side street in the tiny hillside
    town of Sierra City. We immediately climbed up asphalt roads at a pace that
    could easily be held in the middle ring. I felt good, and spent a lot of
    time passing people until I found my rhythm and settled in with a group
    going about my speed. Soon, we left asphalt and the climb continued at
    about the same pace and gradient on a gravel road. Suddenly, I heard and
    felt a loud bang. My rear inner tube had exploded, failing at a seam on the
    rim-strip side. It blew the tire completely off the rim and the tire was
    wrapped around the chain and cassette. WTF?! I have no idea why the tube
    failed like that. I was running 45psi, I'd done maybe six rides with that
    inner tube in that tire at tire pressures up to 45psi. I immediately
    contemplated dropping out, but decided not to, that would be weak. I
    extracted the tire and tube from the drivetrain, fished my one inner tube
    from my back pocket and put it all back together. I was carrying one of
    those Crank Brothers mini-pumps, which was probably a mistake. It took me
    about 10-15 minutes to change the tube, get it back up to about 45psi and
    get going again. Just about everyone had passed me except for the
    stragglers of the beginner field.

    Before the race I'd seen Aron Bonar, who told me to pace myself on the
    climb, and if I felt good, to try to make up time on the descent. I was
    wearing a heart rate monitor, so I set a pretty stiff pace to try to
    reclaim at least a little bit of time. I was passing lots of people. Not
    long after, the gradient kicked up, and then I understood his comment about
    pacing myself. We were maybe at about 5000' elevation, and above me I could
    see a giant mountain, naked of trees, brilliantly lit in the clear sierra
    air by a hot, bright sun. Snaking across the slopes, the gravel road
    continues up, up, up, and I could see tiny riders distributed all along its
    length. There would be no real rest, we were all in the absolute granny
    gear. I was already at my threshold when the gradient changed, and even
    trying to take it easy in my lowest gear, I wasn't abled to get my heart
    rate down. The altitude made me feel weak, heavy. The gravel road basically
    had a single track of smooth dirt, then loose rock and ruts on either
    side. Everyone stayed on the smooth section, except to pass. The grade was
    so steep that the front tire would wander, and if it got into the shale,
    I'd have to really fight or be forced to walk. Passing people was very
    tricky, because your timing had to be just right and you risked tipping
    over in the loose rock and ruts. I did have to walk a few times. I only
    passed 10 or 20 people on the climb, as each pass was a deliberate,
    carefully timed event.

    Near the top of the climb the gradient finally eased a little bit. There
    was an aid station with watter bottles. I stopped and drank an entire
    bottle of water, pouring a little on my head. I let maybe 5 people pass
    while I did this, but I figured I'd get past them again and I wanted to
    make sure I was well-hydrated, even though I was carrying 70 ounces of
    accelerade mix in my camelbak. I continued up the climb, which someone said
    had two more miles. The gradient would have been a middle-chainring climb
    down at sea level, but I was forced into my small chainring again, because
    we were at around 8000'.

    Finally, we crested the top. There was another aid station, handing out gel
    packets. I took two, ingesting one, throwing it to the ground (they were
    cleaning them up) and putting a second in my pocket. This was good
    luck. After maybe 1/4 mile of descending on fairly smooth fire road, I
    looked down at my front tire and saw something strange: a rock, about the
    size of a big blueberry, seemed to be stuck to the sidewall. It took a
    second or two before I realized what I was seeing and came to a stop. I'd
    sliced my sidewall and the inner tube was bulging out of the slice, looking
    just like a dusty black blueberry. I quickly let the air out. People
    passing me said "Again?". I gulped the second gel packet and used it for a
    tire boot. Another ten minutes of tiresome mini-pumping had the front up to
    maybe 40psi. I was back on my bike. I was still having a good time, now
    figuring to just do a ride, hoping to claw my way back up into somewhere in
    the middle of the sport field. This would all be good experience for next
    year. The riding was challenging and fun. "What the hell?", I thought.

    The descent soon got really rocky and technical. This was the "baby heads"
    section, where the road was littered with rocks big and small, big ruts. My
    kidneys were hurting from the rough terrain, and my hands were tired from
    the shock and braking. I've been riding mountain bikes since I was a little
    kid, and I'm pretty good on technical terrain, but with that bike I was on
    the edge of my ability. I had one non-eventful endo, had to run a couple
    sections, but was still passing people. The race was still fun. The descent
    soon became a very rough single track. Sections of crossweave-pattern
    cinderblock had been placed in the trail and filled with gravel and dirt,
    helping to prevent erosion. There were numerous watter crossings and the
    trail itself was at times covered in falling watter. It was really
    challenging terrain and very fun to ride. I couldn't relax, I was at my
    limit with the technical difficulty. In a way, it was like playing an
    intense video game.

    Bang, third flat. What the #@^%? It was a rear flat. At this point I
    resigned myself to just doing the ride, having a good time, coming home
    with stories to tell. I started calling out to riders, "Inner tube?" as
    they sped past. Finally a rider stopped, gave me an inner tube. More people
    passed saying "You again?" "How many?" "Whoa, rigid fork!" As I was
    changing the tire a woman riding by rolled to a stop in the same spot with
    a flat tire as well. It was her second flat. I flagged down another rider,
    got her a spare tube, and she started fixing her flat too. We were off the
    trail, so while fixing flats we had 10 or so minutes to watch the race go
    by. At this point I was still having fun, enjoying the technical
    terrain. There were occasionally climbs, the trail was all narrow,
    technical singletrack. It was fun riding and I knew that I'd finish, have a
    good time, and get a new bike! Finally I had maybe 40psi in my rear tire,
    said goodbye to my new friend Jen, who was still fixing her flat, and got
    back on my bike. I was passing riders again on the technical singletrack,
    especially on the climbs. It was strange to be dicing it out with people
    who were an hour to an hour and a half off the winning pace. There was
    still plenty of aggression, real racing in these people. It's a very
    different scene from road racing.

    Jen had mentioned it was only twenty more minutes to the finish. The trail
    was still dropping, now along a creek on steep cliff sides, crossing
    bridges over the creek. It was rocky, technical singletrack. My front tire
    blew and was instantly empty of air on a steep, jagged section. I had a
    split second to think "Ride it out!" then I was over the bars. I landed
    hard on my head and right leg. It hurt so bad, all I could do was lay there
    and shout curses. I couldn't move for what felt like a minute. Riders came
    up and I dragged myself out of the way. "Are you OK?" "NO!" I told them to
    go on and drew myself up painfully. My sunglassed were halfway around my
    head and my right quadricep felt like hell. I could barely walk. I knew
    that even if I'd bummed another inner tube from someone, I couldn't bend my
    leg enough to turn the pedals. The leg really hurt. Someone said "Two more
    miles!" as they rode by. I limped along on foot, pushing my goddamn
    bike. All the fun in the day was gone, any last vestige of pleasure had
    left me. I was hating my bike, the day, wishing I'd never come. I felt like
    I was in some cruel hell. Four flats, two endos, banged-up leg, cracked
    helmet, sliced tire. Curses went through my mind. I slowly made my way
    along the rest of the singletrack, stopping and moving over to let riders
    pass. The race entered the back streets of Downieville. Spectators who'd
    been clapping for the stragglers entering town fell silent as I went
    by. "Whatever works for you!" shouted one woman. I was just frustrated and
    miserable. I limped through town, through the finish line.

    There was a lunch for the riders. I got in line after dropping my bike down
    among hundreds of other bikes. I drank the last bit of my camelbak, then
    started feeling cold sweat, nausea, dizziness. I don't know if it was from
    the fall or not, but I had to sit down, get my head down. I was in hell. I
    was surrounded by happy, tired bike racers, happy kids playing in the
    impromptu water fountain the fire department had set up, booths of vendors,
    a whole sierra town with roads closed to celebrate a big fun day. Slowly
    the sick feeling passed. I got some food. Chatted with a friend from long
    ago, Kristin. Drank some water. Got my free Downieville pint glass with
    some beer in it from the fire department beer stand. Thanks guys. Chatted
    with a bunch of people who recognized me as the two-, three- or four-flat
    guy with the rigid fork. Talked bikes with some guys. I'm sure I'll
    upgrade.

    Long story short, I got the shuttle ride back to my car, gingerly loaded my
    bike and myself into the car, got home by nightfall. Even though we've
    never had enough money to spend on new mountain bikes, my wife agreed that
    I should get a new one. So that was a somewhat happy ending after all. I'm
    limping today, going through the elevation-tylenol-ice routine. I hope to
    be back on a road bike by Thursday.

    I'm thinking about getting a Santa Cruz Blur XC with a nice tubeless
    wheelset.

    Thanks for reading this far,

    Morgan




    This is my Otis Guy bike. I love it, but it was just not right for Downieville. The happy ending is that I've got a new Santa Cruz Blur on order, and it should be here any day.


  2. #2
    Old,slow,still havin fun.
    Reputation: fgiraffe's Avatar
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    Nice write-up!

  3. #3
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    I think once you do Downieville again with your new bike, you'll have a much better time.
    我的镀铬光泽的冰柱一样,我骑在镇附近在我的低骑手自行车

  4. #4
    bicycle rider
    Reputation: morganfletcher's Avatar
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    The happy ending

    My wife and I got new Santa Cruz bikes. I got a Blur and she got a Superlight. I've done three rides in the last nine days and I'm stoked. Riding it again tomorrow. I would like to get back up to Downieville before the weather turns bad. Here's a pic from my first ride:



    (ginormous pic here)

    That's my happy ending!

    Morgan

  5. #5
    aka baycat
    Reputation: Ryan G.'s Avatar
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    Riding that on D'ville you will be SO much happier!

  6. #6
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    excellent writeup!! So.. you replied to my post but I don't think you said if you'd be entering this year? What is the difference between the sport and beginner class?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrandonMiller
    excellent writeup!! So.. you replied to my post but I don't think you said if you'd be entering this year? What is the difference between the sport and beginner class?
    I'm registered for it and racing it in Sport again. I am really looking forward to it. In most races there are different categories, so that you are racing against your peers. The segregation is based on gender, age, speed, even size. ("Clydesdales" are riders over 200lbs.) This means that if you are a beginner man, your result is shown as it relates to the other people in your self-identified field, rather than the overall. Many races have separate start times for the different groups, shorter or longer distances or numbers of laps. It's up to the race organizer to choose which separate fields will be offered, and how their courses will differ. In the Downieville XC race there's only one course, one distance, but the starts are segregated. I think last year they started us in three "waves", with the fastest groups first and the slowest last. The idea is that the fast people aren't impeded by the slower riders, and the races are as distinct from the others as possible. So your wave might include a couple other categories. Let's say it's 100 people total. You might finish 34th out of that 100-rider group, but 4th out of the 25 beginners in that group. Some races will show elapsed time in the results, so you can extrapolate your overall result if you like. Make sense?

    Morgan

  8. #8
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    it does, but what "beginner" bike rider would do a 4,400’ ascent with 5,700’ descent XC course - I mean what classifies beginner vs sport? I guess I am beginner? I did notice the 5 min. time offsets. I'd guess I'd have a better chance in rating higher in my class as beginner. I think I will sign up today..

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrandonMiller
    I mean what classifies beginner vs sport? I guess I am beginner? I did notice the 5 min. time offsets. I'd guess I'd have a better chance in rating higher in my class as beginner. I think I will sign up today..
    It's a self-identified distinction. Anyone can say they're beginner, sport or expert. Pros have to have a different license I think, clydesdales get weighed at some races I think, juniors and seniors and masters and veterans have to have a certain racing age, and men vs women - that's pretty obvious, although there is one fairly infamous person who had a sex-change operation and is now racing relatively unsuccessfully as a woman pro downhiller. If you are a beginner you should definitely register beginner! At Downieville the only difference is in what grouping your result will be listed. By registering beginner you'll see how you did against the other beginners. You'll probably get a finishing time at this year's race so you can see how you did against the riders in other fields.

    Morgan

  10. #10
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    at 190 lbs I could probably go as clyde too - sice with gear I'm sure I'd top 2bills. I'll be in monterey this week/weekend, hope to get some good long rides in

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrandonMiller
    at 190 lbs I could probably go as clyde too - sice with gear I'm sure I'd top 2bills. I'll be in monterey this week/weekend, hope to get some good long rides in
    You've gotta be 200+ sans gear for Clydesdales. I'm stoked to finally not be a clydesdale anymore - I'm consistenly around 198 now. Been training a lot since 1/1/06, but still pack-fill at most races. I'm too big and too slow. My forte is track, criteriums and time trials.

    If you can get back to Monterey in two weeks, consider this. I think I'm gonna do that race.

    Morgan

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