Having travelled for the last 20 years racing mountain bikes and competing in World Series, the events I’ve entered have mainly been dictated by my team or sponsors. Now that I’ve retired from all that, I have the opportunity to take part in the events I choose – and can go for ones that are a bit off the radar, the one-offs or old classics. It feels like that list of events just keeps growing as my enjoyment for different disciplines grows, my desire for adventure blossoms and my ability to see the enjoyment in suffering along the way improves!
The Downieville Classic has been taking place in California for the last 20 years. It’s listed as the unofficial All Mountain World Championships and has made it into my diary for the last few years – but I’ve never quite managed to get there. This year I once again had it pencilled in the diary and as soon as I realised I was free to race I set about making it happen in case I never had the chance to again! With the help of a few of my sponsors (Fox Racing Shox, Deity and G-Form), and with no specific training or race preparation I was on my way to San Francisco, not really knowing quite what I had let myself in for…
The Downieville Classic is a unique event in that you must compete in both the cross-country race and downhill race on consecutive days. You must also ride the same bike for both, which is weighed each morning to ensure there is no changing of parts to make it more suited for each event.
I took my Trek Fuel EX 29er (130mm travel) with some lightweight carbon wheels and some fairly robust XC tyres. It weighed in at just over 29lb (13kg) and I thought would be the perfect compromise between speed, handling ability and durability.
After a few days of blistering heat of over 35 degrees, I was really thankful to wake up to cloudy skies on XC race morning and temperatures around a more sensible 20 degrees. The XC course is a point-to-point race starting in Sierra City, a tiny town six miles up the valley from Downieville. Around 800 riders took over the streets as we set off on the 29 mile race. It started with an eight mile climb up into the mountains, and from there the trail slowly descended for 20 miles back down into Downieville. The total climbing was 1345 metres with 1734 metres of descent, making for a decent few hours in the saddle and a worthy old skool XC course.
Without any proper warm up or specific training, I don’t mind admitting I suffered a bit for the first hour. I was breathing hard but going nowhere fast! Most of the 800 people had overtaken me by the top of the climb and then I had the fun job of trying to overtake as many of them as possible on the descent. But a descent that lasts 20 miles over 1700m isn’t all that steep and still had a considerable amount of pedalling and climbing. Thankfully I started to feel stronger as the race went on.
I managed to salvage a few positions with some late overtakes to push myself to seventh in the Pro Womens standings by the finish, completing it in 2hr 40min. That was just over 20 minutes behind winner and World Cup XC racer Katerina Nash! Thankfully the overall ranking was worked out on a points system related to finishing position and not on combined times.
After a much needed swim in the beautiful Yuba river, it was time to eat, sleep, give the bike a check over and regroup for day two.
The DH race started at the top of the XC climb, but thankfully I didn’t have to ride the eight miles to get there this time. The course differed from the XC for the first half and then re-joined the same trail as the XC for the final five miles into town. The 15 mile DH course descended 1625m but also had a notable 307 metres of climbing, so not your average modern DH race!
During the days leading up the race there was lots of chat about what tyres to use, what pressures and the inevitable fate of punctures. I knew I had taken a bit of a risk with my tyre choice, but they had been fine all week in practice and I was using an FTD foam insert in the rear to help prevent any pinch flats. Sadly, not long after the start, I managed to put a tiny cut in my rear tyre in one of the small stream crossings and I was on the side of the course quickly trying to plug the cut, re-inflate and get going again.
I lost a fair chunk of time, but got back on course and was charging hard trying to make up some time. With about two miles still to go, I heard that dreaded noise again as air was leaking out of the same rear wheel. I stopped and found that the cut had been leaking, so needed to replug the hole with a larger plug. More C02 and I was back on my way again but by now a good few minutes had been wasted filling my tyre with air. I finally made it to the finish, pretty gutted that I had succumbed to the dreaded flat tyre. Somehow, I still managed to hold on to second place on the day, although a long way back from Katerina, who once again took a very convincing win and with it the overall win. My second place in the DH had given me enough points to snag third place in the overall!
What an amazing experience and event to be part of. It really did feel like I had gone back in time and was part of a piece of mountain biking history in the United States. A worthy ‘bucket list’ event made all the better in a beautiful location with a great bunch of friendly people. Thanks Downieville Classic!
You can see more from Tracy’s adventures at the Downieville Classic in a future issue of MBUK. Make sure you don’t miss it or any of our other great features by subscribing here.