For those of you NOT in the know, The Downieville Classic is a two day stage race. XC the first day. Downhill the next. Lowest combined time wins and you've gotta use the same bike equipped the same way. They weigh your bike each day to confirm that you're playing by the rules.
The XC race is epic. 29 miles. Point to point. Always fun. Usually hot. Never easy. After a nice warm up on hwy 49 in Sierra City I pedaled into a mass of hundreds of people gathering at the start. I put all of my Squaw Valley lift line cutting skills to good use while working my way up to about the 15th row and awaited the start. Once we got "the gun", I shoved off and tried to stick to my plan of not "blowing it" in the first mile. At some point around the one hour mark, I'd reached the top and dove into the Sunrise trail (virgin trail for me) in a group of 5 other riders. After some fun twisty singletrack, there's another mile or so of fireroad then it's time to "get yer game on".
At this point, the race changes it's image dramatically. The next 17ish miles looses over 5,000ft of vertical with any trail condition imaginable. At the time, I had no idea where I was position wise but did know that the "baby heads" section was coming up and riding in a group of 5 unfamiliar riders would be dusty, dangerous and not that fun. Overtaking other riders would be next to impossible once we started pointing it downhill as the trail is fast and narrow. So, I did what any self respecting bike racer would do. I "pinned it". I clicked the shifter thingy on the right side of the bars, put my head down and gave it everything I had. And...by damned... it worked. I got a nice clear run into the baby heads and focused on riding clean lines and NOT FLATTING. The next couple of miles was/is kind of a blur. Trail, rocks, roots, water, fast, slow.... then you get to Pauley Creek. As is usual for me, Pauly Creek was a hike a bike through kneehigh snowmelt. I was caught right after crossing the creek on the steep pitch leaving the creek. I could tell by the guys bike that he'd ridden the creek AND the steep pitch... but he was paying the price. The next section of the course was a flattish two track and after getting the heart rate down (slightly) I was able to take a couple sodium capsules and drink some water. With both of us recovering at about the same rate, our speed steadily picked up. I knew the course got skinny and pointed slightly more downhill not too much further up the trail so I made the pass. Just as I started really letting it roll...."knock knock knock". Shit. The cramp monster. I tried to ease off slightly, let gravity take over and ride smooth lines mistake free while trying to forget about the cramp monster knocking at the door. The next couple miles of trail is soooo fun. Fast, swoopy and requiring only the occasionally burst of effort to maintain a high speed. Just the way I like it.
Enter, Pauley creek again. This time on the footbridge. You're 2/3rds done with the course at this point. I know this section well. After crossing the bridge, there's a 3/4 mile climb of a couple of hundred vertical feet. The trail is fairly easy, but it comes after many, many, many miles of downhilling without pedalling. If you're going to "blow up" this is where it's going to happen. I'd prepared for this. I crossed the bridge, yelled at a spectator in a chicken suit and drank the last remaining remnants of sun baked warm water from my bottle. 15 pedal strokes later "BANG, BANG, BANG". Again, the cramp monster's knocking. HARD! He's pissed. I "run for the door" but see that he's already inside. Ahh man! He's got his feet up on the coffee table, his shoes are dirty. He's getting chip crumbs all over the couch....shit! The inside of my thighs feels like someone has a dull fork jammed in them. I'm not off the bike, but I'm damn close. Then... then the inevitable happened. I'd get caught by four guys on this climb. I kept moving forward trying to limit the damage. Mark Weir would be the last guy to get by me and even my best attempts at swerving into him like a stumbling drunk (sorry Mark) did no justice to slow his pace. I crawled over the crest of 3rd divide and watched Mark coast away from me. Meh, at least I probably wouldn't have anybody in my way for the next bit of trail which points yet again downhill in a Star Wars Jedi type fashion.
I'd ride by myself until the end of upper First Divide where I'd be caught by my evil twin (Kenny Burt). He'd drag me all the way to the end of lower First Divide where I managed to hit THE LAST rock on the trail resulting in a front flat. Within' a mile of the finish in town, I'd ride it out but get passed yet again and almost take out a row of spectators on the outside of an off camber right hand corner close to the finish. For my efforts, I'd come across with a time of 2:04 and was sitting in 11th place.
Today was good. Tomorrow is the downhill.