Racing the Downieville Classic – A Report from Alex Grant.

July 2011 –

I finally got to race the Downieville Classic.  That one has been on my bucket list for years and this July I had the fortune of checking it out.   I’d heard the rumors of awesomeness and have been intrigued by the format: a two day stage race, one day more of a cross-country focus and the next an all mountain downhill.  The catch is that you have to ride the same bike with the same tires for both, and they weigh your bike and check your tires both days.

 

That leads to quite a bit of bike-tech geek-out potential: what bike should I run, what tires, etc.  Traditionally the tradeoff has been between a burly 5 to 6 inch travel bike that will handle the downhill well, or a light racy cross-country rig that will get you up the 3,000 vertical foot dirt road climb quickly on day one.

 

I didn’t have to make that choice since Cannondale just launched their new Jekyll this year.  With the flick of a lever it switches between 90 and 150mm of rear travel.  The geometry changes with the adjustment and it climbs like a cross-country bike but feels like a slacked out six-inch bike on the downhill.   Paired with a dropper post it was the perfect Downieville rig.  The only thing I would have done differently would have been run full UST tires.  I went with a reinforced sidewall tubeless ready tire but it wasn’t enough to fend off the razor sharp rocks on course.  I cut my sidewall while running 3rd in the cross country, a good solid two inch cut, and had to ride the flat in to the finish.

 

I lost a few places and ended up 7th, but since the all mountain was calculated on points instead of time this year I thought there was still a chance for a good overall placing.  The downhill course was a total blast and included everything from fast open roads with water bar jumps to slow, rough, rocky trail to fast, flowy singletrack.

 

I tried to keep it smooth and safe, and ended up 7th in the downhill.  That was enough for 5th overall in the All Mountain, which I believe is an automatic invite to come back next year.  I’ll be back with the Jekyll for sure!

 

The next weekend was the US National Championships in Sun Valley, ID.  I’ve done a lot of riding in Sun Valley and the trails are amazing.  Unfortunately we didn’t race on any of them since the cross-country course was limited to a 5k loop and it is hard to access the good stuff in such a short distance.  The track left a little to be desired as it was straight up a steep service road and down countless loose switchbacks.   It was a little hard to swallow knowing how much world class riding is in the area.  A bike race is a bike race though, and once the gun goes off everyone races to the finish line.  Steep climbs tend to play to my strengths as a rider and I managed to work my way up from a back row start, which involved walking up the first climb behind a pileup, all the way to 8th by the finish.  That was my best nationals finish ever after a 13th place at Mt. Snow a few years ago.

 

Last but not least I had the fortune of stumbling upon the Steamboat Stinger last weekend.  I was heading over to Steamboat to visit my sister, who lives there, and my parents who were out visiting.   I found out about this new 50-mile race that was 90% singletrack that happened to be going on the same weekend.  I had taken the week off after nationals to get in a little break before building up to Leadville and figured this would be a good way to open the legs back up.  The race was awesome- well run, sweet course, and best of all I won a cowboy hat and $200 in Colorado beef!  I diced with Bryan Alders and Kalan Beisel on the men’s side.  Katie Compton ran away with the women’s race.

 

Lot’s on tap for August, I’m just hoping I can keep up with it all.

 

Thanks for reading.

[This post also appeared on cyclingnews.com]

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