Downieville, what a weekend! It started with a 27 mile, 4,413 feet of climbing, point to point cross country race on Saturday, and finished with a 15 mile downhill race on Sunday. Most people have ridden these trails, but not me. When I made the trip to Sierra City and Downieville for the first time this last weekend, I would be riding these trails blind.
4:30 Saturday morning came early, but the excitement took over pretty quick. The sunrise on the drive over was beautiful. First thing when I got there it was time for packet pick-up and bike check. My Scalpel weighed in at 25.10 lbs, a bit heavy for an XC bike, but with indestructible tires (Maxxis High Roller II front/Maxxis Ardent Rear) and a new dropper post (Rockshox Reverb) on board, I was happy with the weight. Next was the warm-up, so Scott Williams (Bicycle Guys/Cannondale) and I spun up and down the hill for a while, and then with what we thought was enough time left before the start we lined up; however there were already hundreds of people lined up. We scooted our way in and got as close to the front as we could and just had to accept that the warm-up was going to go down the drain in the next 45 minutes.
It was finally time to start, the pro class went off at 9:30, and we went off 5 minutes later, starting the brutal climb up the Sierra Buttes. I started aggressively and soon found myself in a good spot trying to keep a steady pace. The pitch of the climb continued to get steeper and looser which made it difficult to keep a rhythm. I was right where I wanted to be, Jason Perez and Ryan Thym were 5-10 seconds ahead of me and I was on someone’s wheel gradually making up the ground. This guy that I was following spun his tire out on an especially loose and steep section, forcing me to put my foot down. I got off my bike and ran up the hill with it looking for a spot where I could start again without spinning out too much or cutting somebody else off. Unfortunately this put me much further back from Ryan and Jason than I would have hoped, but I gutted out the rest of the climb. I just didn’t have the legs for the high speed pedaling after all the climbing. Kudos to Paul Miers for the efforts he gave and the wheel for me to grab a hold of.
After the ruthless climb, it was finally time for the descent, the famous Downieville downhill. My legs were rubber and all I could think about was the fact that I no longer needed to pedal. Before I knew it I was having a blast, passing person after person. Baby heads rocked me around a bit (pun intended), and going down third divide at warp speed had to be the coolest thing ever.
I have never had an issue with cramping before, but the climb between third and first divide locked my right leg up like Fort Knox. I had to get off my bike for a bit and stretch it out, and overall it cost me about minute or so, but I was able to make up the ground I had lost. After that last climb the last 5 miles or so of the race are full of pedaling, high speeds and a beautiful view of the Yuba River down below. I pushed it with all I had anticipating jumping into that same river the moment I crossed the finish line.
I crossed the line a sweaty mess in 4th place, just glad to be done. It was the most grueling, physically demanding, yet amazing race that I had ever competed in, and it was only Day 1. The rest of the day consisted of a lot of food, water, and fun. Thanks to the guys over at Cannondale for the VIP treatment, it made for the optimal recovery environment!
I didn’t have a place to stay that night yet, but thanks to the wonderful Bedient family, I was able to pitch my tent in their campsite. That night I tried to sleep through the coolest thunder and lightning storm I’d ever seen, emphasis on the “tried.” Who needs rest for a downhill race right?
Sunday morning wasn’t as tough as the day before, I had a 10:21 start time, which meant no getting up at the crack of dawn. I was even able to enjoy a fantastic egg, sausage, and hash brown breakfast cooked my Mrs. Bedient.
There would be no trail of tears on this day. After a quick warm-up I got in line and was ready to go. They were starting racers off at one minute intervals, so when it was my turn I put the pedal to the metal and sprinted out onto the Sunrise trail. The waterfall was a section I was worried about because of its reputation for sending people over the bars, but it fit right in with the rest of the trail and didn’t pose a problem. Aside from getting hung up on some slippery rocks about halfway down, I rode fast and I rode well. The trails were absolutely perfect after a light rain, very little dust and super tacky. Overall my run went relatively smoothly considering this was only the second time I’d seen any of these trails, and the first time I’d seen parts of it.
I was beyond stoked to look at the results and see that I crossed the line in 3rd place with a time of 50:43.4, way better than I thought. Ryan Thym came in first and Tyler Jones second, a repeat of the podium the day before, except I was able to edge Jason Perez out for third instead of fourth. This third place in the downhill meant that I would also be third in the all mountain category, something I wouldn’t have thought possible a week before. I was exhausted, but ecstatic at getting onto the podium. More than satisfied with the weekend, I was ready to enjoy another fine day in Downieville with the family, friends, and dogs.