Ride with me!
My first ever attempt at the Downieville Classic was more interesting than I’d planned. I entered the Sport class 35-44 age group for the XC event. I’ve ridden the downhill run there a couple of times but had never done the climb. I was curious to see what it’d be like after hearing so many stories about it.
I got to the start a bit late and squeezed my way up to about row 84 of 90. I was surprised to see no break-out of the various groups, just all sport riders going off at the same time. As the first riders left the line those of us in the back waited a minute or so to get going up the road. I knew that to be anywhere near competitive I’d have to make a move before the singletrack started or forever hold my peace. Right away I lit a couple of matches out of the book and got to the far left side and started to try to get by the mob. As I squeaked, and I mean squeaked, by the edge of the pack with as little as an inch of room between me and the drop off the side of the road, I did as much passing as I could while it was still at bulk rate pricing. Up and up and up the road we went. I wanted to go as hard as I could, without detonating early, to get to the front. I had some success and we got to the double track part of the climb where it gets a bit steeper and out of the trees. Here the double track is one side nice hardpack and the other loose. I tried picking off the riders that were falling into the mule-train mentality by going around them through the looser line. The heat was intense for me (I live in foggy SF) and I was managing my heart rate as best I could without getting stuck in a long line of slow movers. As I looked further up the mountain all I could see was one solid line of riders all the way up as far as I could see.
Further and further up we went. I spun out a couple of times and had to dismount and push across a couple of particularly steep loose sections, much to the dismay of a couple of peeps behind me. There was much gnashing of gears and gasping around me. Slowly but steadily I kept trying to improve my lot amongst the hoard. My trusty bottle of Cytomax was getting ever and ever lower as I’d take a gulp here and there whenever the grade reduced itself down to a mere four percent or so -- almost level ground when compared to the rest for this climb. I went for the Cytomax bottle after a strong effort to pass three people who had piled up when one at the front of their small group stalled. I got it out of the cage and up into my hand and Snap! went my hand, sending the bottle off to my left and down the embankment. C’est la vie, mon ami. Now the only respite from the heat was the occasional breeze that would come from the left side. I continued up the trail, merely grinding my way to the top.
At the top there were some fantastic folks handing out water. Sweet! I guzzled a bottle quick and tried to stay on the gas.
As we rolled fast along the gravel road a few stronger riders passed me. I decided to let them do the work and merged behind the three fast movers, wheelsucking as best I could without choking on the thick grey dust. On and on we went, the gravel road winding ahead of us. Then came the rollers where I went back and forth with guys who looked to be way stronger than I.
I managed as best i could to not peter out and quickly arrived at the top of the baby head section. I’d not ridden this before and was in for a rude surprise. Not so much baby heads, but more a long winding river of rounded rocks that seemed to be a mix of cantaloupes and basketballs. There was a brown ribbon of hardpack dirt that snaked its way through the rocks and I chose to ignore it and just ride the jackhammer across them all. By just letting the suspension slam its way across the top of the rocks, I passed maybe half a dozen other riders who were carefully picking their way down the line. Seriously, it was like putting foot pegs on a jackhammer. I had inflated my 2.3” Maxxis Ignitor USTs to 40psi for this event hoping to avoid a flat and get some good traction up the hill. My Fox RP3 on the rear was set to 145psi. I flipped it over from firm to the middle setting at the top of the run. Given that I’m 170lbs, I thought this would be a fast, if somewhat rough ride.
I was correct.
Down, down, down I went. Picking off some riders in front of me with some very well timed if not sketchy passing. I got down to a section of concrete erosion barriers that resemble lattice work laid into the ground. On one particular downhill left hand turn switchback the concrete piece was wet and my front wheel slid to the right (outside) about six inches. I corrected fast enough to get through it but realized I was very, very wrong when the ass end of the bike came up off the ground and pitched me over the bars. I went down, face first into a felled tree trunk.
My face hit the log and my body came crashing down on my head. I got up and fell over a couple of steps downtrail and tried to regain my bearings. My glasses were on the ground in about four pieces and I grabbed them and slipped them into my camelback harness and got my rig up off the ground. Two other guys went by me during this and both asked if I was ok, one exclaimed ‘holy crap!’ or something like that. I untwisted my front end and got the handlebars back straight over the front end. I remounted and off I went. I was a half a step slower now. A woman rider called out and passed me as we entered the creek section. I was running some negative self talk through my head about taking it easy and being careful or some such nonsense when I got my nerve back and got it back up to speed. Now I really had to get going. I shook the crash off as best I could. I ran my gloves across my nose a couple of times thinking maybe I had broken it, but, as they didn’t come up dark and wet, I thought I must be fine.
The dust now was a factor as I tried to chase down the people who had passed me and as I overtook some slower riders. The dust was thick.
Really, really thick.
With no glasses my eyes were involuntarily opening and closing on their own trying to blink it out. It was like riding the down hill and seeing every third frame of film.
I made it to the river and across the bridge having passed a few more riders on the way down and trying not to stack it again as I tried to keep my sight. My eyes were starting to hurt. As I scooted up the hill on the far side, I was overtaken by a woman in a Deathstar jersey. I made it up to the top of the climb in time to pass one more guy and start the downhill again. I quickly caught up to the Deathstar rider and executed a pass in a clear spot. I was running pretty wide open through here. Not much dust for about a quarter mile. I was on the gas hard in a tall gear, pointing it for the clear spots in the trees. Then I came into the rear of a knot of three riders. The dust was both choking and blinding me at the same time. As I heard a slapping chain approach me from behind, I slingshot-ed through a couple of bermed turns to pass some guys just ahead of me as well as losing the one running up my arse. Then I was across the last bridge and out on the gravel road. I grabbed a couple of shots of water from some more spectacular course volunteers and wound it up again.
Now the dust was like following a Panzer column into El Alamein. It was like charging into thick fog not being able to see off the end of the hood. I was alternately opening and closing one eye to try to clear the dust.
My eyes were absolutely on fire.
I held my position most of the way, making only one or two passes before the next singletrack section. I tried to overtake another rider at the big rock table just as she stalled on the rock face. I called out early and repeatedly and she managed to get her ride clear of the trail in time for me to pass. I dropped the chain off the big ring down into the middle ring and, with a couple of big grunts, got it up and over – then flicked my bike off the far side and threw it back up into the big ring. My ears told me that my unknown pursuer was not so lucky.
The creek now ran along the trail. Undulating up and down, with quick jibs to the left and right I gained on the next knot of riders. Where the tail narrowed up onto the parapet like ridge I saw about seven riders up ahead of me. I settled in knowing there really wasn’t anywhere to pass until the next gravel road ahead.
A few riders ahead, I saw a big, black dot up in the air. “That’s a big bug.” I said to myself. It spiraled past them and came at me. Neat.
Right into the front of my helmet it went. I felt it pinball around a few times and I grabbed the rear of my lid, pushing it forward so the bug could get free.
This is the part where it felt like someone shot a red hot finishing nail into the center of my forehead.
MOTHERPUSSBUCKET!!! That farking thing STUNG me! OW! (expletives).
I was REALLY hurting now. I could hardly see and this big damn bee or whatever had just drilled me. I reached up and wiped the area to dislodge the stinger burning into my forehead. I thought “Great! What’s next?”
OW. OW. OW. (Forehead on fire)
I may have gagged for a moment but kept it going focusing on staying with the guy ahead of me.
I headed into the thick grey dust trying to sense the gap in fence leading to the road -- hoping I didn’t get it wrong.
Eyes: Searing, burning pain.
I found the gap in the blindness and launched onto the gravel road.
I knew where it went and I made one pass on a guy and got up to the off camber lift on the right side of the trail. A couple of flashes went off as I tried to get around the corner. Nice. I’m sure I looked like crap in the pics.
I gained on a rider ahead of me and latched onto the back of a four rider train as we made the last dogleg right and down to the road. As we exited the trail a couple up front let off the gas. I reached down to lock out my shocks and wound it up as best I could. I drafted off the guy ahead of me and we passed a couple of slowing riders. As he eased up at the top of the little rise in the road I slingshotted out of his draft and passed him, topped out around 160rpm in my next to biggest gear. I tucked up flat and held the burn all the way down to the turn and to the hay bales. I hit the brakes hard to stop in time for the nice man who took my number; my rear end coming up slightly off the road as I did so.
THANK GOD THAT’S OVER.
(What a good time!)
I make my way to the first aid site, I let my bike drop to the road from under me and grabbed a bag of ice for the sting. I wiped the globs of teared up dirt from the corners of my still burning eyes. My eyes had passed the point of watering and moved on to feeling like someone had made a couple of passes over them with 220 grit sandpaper. The bee sting wasn’t swelling much but hurt like hell. I need a new helmet too as mine is busted up in front from the crash.
The Pink Lidded Wonder found me and got me somewhat sorted out. I ran into my buddy Bret near the finish and started comparing horror stories.
I am not sure how I did. A buddy of mine told me I came in around 2:34. Good enough for a 10th place Sport finish, 35-44.
Next year I’ll be sure to get to the start earlier. See ya’ll then!
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