Last sunday in Spokane (WA) was the opening of the local DH race season. A friend and I decided to drive up and give it a shot. I consider myself reasonably competent on a bike, but I'm not very comfortable yet going fast. I've never even watched a DH race and had no idea what to expect, so I entered Beginners 30-39.
We drove up Saturday morning for a day of practice runs. I was super nervous, hoping there wouldn't be too much that I couldn't ride. Every obstacle on the course has a ridearound if things got too hairy. Rather than take the shuttle up, we pushed our bikes up, following the course to see what it was like. Didn't look too bad, nothing seemed over my head, but I was nervous about hitting some of these things with speed. We ended up taking two practice runs. I cleaned everything, but rode the brakes a lot. I knew I could do much better, but at least I had a good feel for the course.
On sunday I went up early to get another practice run in, but while I was in line for the shuttle, some kid crashed really hard and had to be brought out on a stretcher. I decided to bag it, avoid the crowds and went back to the truck to relax for a couple hours.
When I got to the top before my first run (It was a two-run combined time score) I was a nervous wreck. I watched the last of the sport class take off from the starting gate. I started chatting with the other guys in my class. From the sound of it we were all fairly similar in abilities and none of us had raced before. There were 9 people signed up for our class, but only 6 showed up for the start. I was the fifth to start.
Most of my nervousness went away once I heard "4, 3, 2, 1, go!" I took off and all my focus went to riding.
At the top of the course you start out with a small 12" or so drop, followed by another double drop that you can hit with speed and clear the 6 foot or so gap to a nice little transition. This leads to a couple banked turns and then a 5' or so drop, then a decent sized jump. Then it's up over some rocks, down a straightaway, and another 5 foot drop. Another burm, then a straightaway. You have to do some serious pedalling here to keep speed, but there are a series of small whoop-de-do's to keep you on your toes. This leads to another rock drop with a wooden landing. It's super fun and pretty easy. It's easy to overshoot it and land at the bottom, though. I know a few people did that and tagged a tree at the end of the runout that weekend.
Here is a shot of me hitting the drop taken last year:
This leads to a double jump/drop that I never quite figured out. You need to keep speed up and clear the second drop, but I chickend out every time and hit them slower, one at a time.
Next up are a couple of good sized jumps. Again, I didn't hit them nearly as fast as I should have, but I did pretty good. Jumps aren't my strong point. After the jumps are some S-curves, then a big hip jump. I skipped the hip jump as well, just rolling it. Too big for this kid. After the jumps are past, it's around and over some rocky sections, over some drops, and down a really steep rocky chute. The chute starts with a steep roll in, down 10 or 12 feet or so to a 2 foot drop to flat, over some rocks, down another rocky chute to a 90 degree turn and off a rock drop, through some more rocks to a straightaway that leads to one last big jump and the finish line.
I finished the run in one piece with a time of 2:46.8. A good 45+ seconds slower than the pro's and experts, but good enough for 3rd place for my beginner arse.
I felt okay with that run, but I knew I rode the brakes way more than I needed to. I also wasn't hitting the lines I knew I should. I definitely had lots of room for improvement.
For run two I shifted up a couple gears. I wanted to go fast this time! For most of the run I was faster than I truely thought I had in me. I hit all my lines, it was unbelievable! I don't know that I could have ridden any better than I did....until the end of the rock garden at the bottom. After the 90 degree turn, you come up on a rock. It's easy to drop off, maybe 3 feet below it is another rock, your back tire lands nicely on the downside of it and off you go. I'd hitten it perfectly all the previous times down the course. I'm not sure what happend, but I think I just nosed into the bottom rock. The wheel yanked sideways, my chest slammed into the end of the turned bars and over the top I went. I slammed down into the dirt and rocks flat on my back HARD. I knew I hurt myself, but I hopped right back up onto my bike to ride out the last couple hundred yards to the finish. The spectators got a good showering of profanity as I cursed at myself for screwing up such a great run.
I went straight to the medics tent. I had a road rash (dirt rash?) about the size of a rugby ball right in the middle of my lower back. My back was also swelling up pretty quickly and getting really sore as well.
I knew I had done okay, even with the crash, though. I was hauling ass the whole top of the course. (Well, for me anyways.)
The timing company ended up screwing up the results, so I would have to wait to find out how my second run was. I know the 4th place guy had a crash as well, so I was confident that I might be able to hold on to 3rd place.
Two days later I was really sore, and really swollen. No serious damage was done, though it will probably be a couple weeks before I can get on the bike again. Climbing into my car is an adventure in pain. They finally posted the race results online, but they are still messed up I think. They gave me exactly the same time as my first run. 2:46.8 Maybe it is correct, but what a coincidence! I think it is probably at least close, though, even with the crash. It's also good enough to move me into 2nd place. Sweet! The guy in first had a combined time close to a minute faster than me. That's faster than a lot of the sport guys. And he was racing on an Enduro, a cross country bike!
Despite the crash, the pain, and the hassle of not knowing if my final time is accurate or not, I had a great time. I plan on doing it again as soon as I can. The course was amazingly fun, and everybody there was really cool.
Here's a pic of me about to hit one of the drops. This one actually has a bit of a transition, but many of them were to relatively flat landings. It led to a right turn over the rock in the foreground, to a jump.
Here is me coming down the start of the rocky chute. Quite a bit STIL. I crashed shortly after this pic was taken. (photo courtesy of Derek Pearson) Some of the pros were launching off the top of this thing. Pretty impressive to watch!
And finally, it's not me, but this is the last jump just before the finish. If you were really fast you could clear the flat and land on the transition, but most people were landing it flat. It got pretty rutted out and sketchy by the end of the weekend. Lots of scary crashes here.
Next time I think I'll try entering Sport. I'll be bringing up the rear for sure, but at least some other newbie can get into the beginner course and get hooked like I did. What a blast, I can't wait to do it again!
Thanks for reading my ramlings,
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