Winding down the West Coast Summer
It’s been a couple months since I started this, well, couple-month block of racing and traveling… Inevitably, every summer there is a big chunk of racing smack in the middle. As there should be, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is typically perfect, everyone is keyed in on summer pastimes involving bikes and it’s just the right thing to do. That said, it’s always good to see the approach of fall and slightly mellower times. As I work on this transition back to Mountain Biking in the Mountains, the summer race block gets ever more complicated. This last month and change has included amazing riding in legendary places and racing on some of the best terrain in the world. It has also included some pretty ridiculous travel and plenty of equipment and logistical headaches compounded by solid fatigue. We’ll just focus on the good parts, maybe with a few struggling anecdotes for good measure and so y’all don’t think it’s just all fun and games around here… Not to mention The Olympic Games, which also happened for two hard-working Americans.
I’ve always said that you’ve got to be in great shape in order to dig deep enough to actually make your body genuinely fatigued. I was in shape at World Cup Finals. That, which was quite satisfying, has left me proper tired for the next two weeks. Having 48 hours at home between the France trip and the Downieville/Link/Whistler/Chilcotins trip was just enough time to scramble and develop the beginnings of a cold. Perfect. There was also enough time to drop off my XTC Hardtail at Sunnyside Sports to get torn down and re-built on a Reign X frame for the Crankworx Enduro. While at the shop, I ran into Carl Decker’s roommate and pro triathlete Matt Lieto. He high-fived me on the good World Cup race and joked that I should “take it easy” on Carl at Downieville this weekend. That wouldn’t be a problem.
Carl is also in an interesting transitional period in his career. The Giant Factory Team has shifted it’s focus to Enduro and Marathon events, so Carl, who loves aggressive mountain biking but is also quite happy training on his road bike and racing XC, has ended up doing a bunch of what amounts to downhill stage racing. He’s been a touch off the pace on the burly stuff… I was also secretly pulling for him at Downieville, knowing he races well there and that he could use a little boost to his summer of racing.
There was someone else pulling for him in Downieville too. As the cross-country race rolled off the pavement and started the fifty-minute climb up the Sierra Buttes, Junior National Champ Keegan Swenson went to the front and gave ‘er like only a junior who hasn’t yet ridden the climb can. (Ed. Note, on account of my long publishing timeline, I can report on Keegan’s 5th place ride at Junior World Championships in Austria last weekend. Dang, that’s strong work.) Carl eventually left the excitable youngster and went on to win the XC for the third year in a row. I got around Keegan as we dropped into Baby Heads, which gave me the honor of finishing second to Carl, again.
An even higher honor was bestowed upon me a few meters shy of the finish line when I was suddenly covered in beer. From someone’s mouth. I looked at my assailant, expecting to see one of Mark Weir’s cronies, but it was just some random derelict. He was working on a Wizard Staff (taping empty beer cans atop one another) that was about waist high at 11am… So I requested his staff, took a swig, and returned the favor. Turns out, according to Mike Ferrentino (knower of all things mountain bike underworld) this guy, named Darrin, used to race for the Retrotec team. Those jerks knew how to party… Fortunately, my new friend Darrin still does. He ended up making quite the Staff, and quite the scene, before ultimately getting Tazed, twice, for exposing himself at the bar, and dragged off to jail. Which was actually the first time anyone’s ever actually been arrested at the Downieville Classic. Impressive.
We all know it’s all about the Downhill in Downieville. Carl most of all, after coming up short the last couple years. I woke up feeling ever crappier and was happy to see Carl decently chipper, for 7am… We were both wondering how the day would shake out. Last year’s winner, Aaron Bradford, was in town and is always quick, and Moeschler can never be counted out, but we also had the wildcard of Frenchman Jerome Clementz. Dude is fast, but how fast? Not as fast as Carl. He laid down the fastest time of the day, which was only a few seconds up on perennial challenger Jason Moeschler’s. I fogged my way down the hill unsure of whether I rode smooth and fast or just lazy and slow. It was the latter. 5th place, which I should’ve probably sacrificed to silence some impressively cowardly hecklers at the bottom of First Divide the old-fashioned way…
Regardless of competitive success, the riding in Downieville is the definition of classic, as are the folks who put on the event. It would’ve been nice to stick around and relax, go for a swim, ride the Lakes Basin, etc. But, onwards and northwards. We had a flight to catch. From Bend. On Monday morning. At 5:30am. The drive home started at 5:30pm from Downieville. It’s seven hours, in my car, hauling ass. Carl and Kelli were in Carl’s new (to him) ’91 VW Vanagon. They didn’t sleep much… Josh Carlson and I got home in time to sleep for about 2 hours before driving the final half hour to the airport. Destination- Vail, Colorado.
Giant shows our beloved dealers a good time, and new bikes, once a year. The location varies but is inevitably in a spot that has solid riding potential. After a long trip and early wakeup call the freshly rained upon trails accessed by Vail’s Gondola were a sight for sore eyes. While there is plenty of business completed at The Link, the main reason folks come is to ride. And ride we did. Road rides up Vail pass (which I secretly wished I could do one of) and all manner of idyllic Rocky Mountain singletrack on the mountain kept folks entertained. Which is what we were there to do as well. Riding with our dealers is a good time, some of ‘em shred, some of them are just getting into bikes, but they all are stoked to be out. Us too.
Not for long though, the summer whirlwind continued for us North American Giant folks. After a hilarious/tragic dueling pianos accompanied dinner, we struck back to the Denver Airport. Destination this time- The Great White North. Crankworx Whistler was warming up and we were slated to compete in the Canadian Open Enduro on Saturday. This left Thursday and Friday to try and learn four different race courses (I thought Enduro was supposed to be raced blind?) and get our brains to work at the level necessary to blaze through the infamous Whistler Bike Park and down some lesser-known gems. In retrospect, folks also needed to learn the routes to Transit between the four stages, as time was of the essence.
A misunderstanding with the eleventh-hour communication of start times for each stage set off a chain reaction resulting in a whole lot of folks missing their start times. Which, at most of our North American Enduros, doesn’t really matter, they just assign you a new one. Not here in Whistler, the clock starts on your minute, regardless of your presence. The transits between stage 1-2 and 2-3 were tight on time, but completely doable if you had a plan. There was a whole lot of moaning about this, so I took a poll of my peers.
The question- “Do you have a watch?”
The answer for 2/3 of the sample pool- “No, why do I need a watch?”
Because you’re at a goddamn timed competitive event where it might be helpful to know what time it is, since you have a start time to adhere to… How many times do you have to say “time” before lazy-assed mountain bikers think having a watch might clever? I’m just bitter because the Rally Car racing community LOVES their watches and will smote down upon you with limitless vengeance if you’re late. Or early for that matter. Them’s the rules, you’d better learn…
Anyway, most of the contenders in the men’s race were on time to stages 2 and 3, so it didn’t really affect our results. Jerome Clementz won with an impressive run in stage four, which was an all-downhill test from the tippy-top of Whistler Peak. A genuinely challenging stage with amazing variety of trail, from alpine singletrack to bike park chunder. Our frothing youngster Josh Carlson won what I’d consider the most diverse stage, which also has the best name. Blackcomb Mountain’s Golden Boner. I was third in this, just a couple seconds off the pace. But I was WAY off the pace in the final stage, compounded by a small crash that resulted in a wardrobe malfunction. Namely, my pants fell off. Oops… I still managed 6th overall, so, solid, but not quite the mixing it with the fast guys I’d hoped for. Need to work on that ability to ride at DH bike pace on a trail bike…
The women’s race was a bit more of a mash-up with the times. A couple locals were on time and the rest was a bit grim. Rabobank/Giant teammate Rosara Joseph put in another impressive ride, winning the Golden Boner stage by 40 seconds but losing 3:30 on the first transit to finish second overall. What could’ve been… To her credit, she did have a watch… Overall, the Crankworx Enduro is the most diverse, interesting, challenging event of this discipline I’ve had the pleasure of contesting. Here’s to riding more downhill and moto, picking up that last little bit of pace to be in the mix when it gets hairy…
Next up- the middle of nowhere.
We’ve been working on the Trance X 29 for quite some time now, over a year since the first prototype. It’s a great bike. And we finally got to show it to the Media in possibly the most perfect setting imaginable. The South Chilcotin Mountains lie a few hours north of Whistler, on the east side of the Coast Range. Dale from Tyax Adventures will happily, for a nominal fee, use his ’61 De Haviland “Beaver” float plane to transport you and your bike buddies up to one of the myriad alpine lakes above their lodge. Then, it’s a lifetime of old prospecting trails to ride back down. Seems like a good place to take a mountain bike for a test ride. And we did. The editorial crew was comprised of entirely strong riders, most of whom were in town for Crankworx and on the shred program anyway. Fun was had, bikes were discussed, guides were pumped for more info on the area (thanks, Adrian and Emily.) We only had a day out in the hills, but it was enough to know that a return trip with plenty of time and provisions is necessary someday.
Hmm, after the lovely Chilcotin bookend to our busy summer season, what’s happened? Oh yeah, I haven’t left the state of Oregon for a few weeks. But there’s still been plenty of action… I sometimes wonder if Bend really is the perfect place to live for a bike rider. Equidistant to California and British Columbia, but with plenty going on close to home.
The Oregon Enduro Series held it’s final two rounds on August 26 and September 8-9 in Sisters and on the flanks of Mount Hood. They were very different events, showcasing the variety of riding in our little state. I won the scrappy, raw Sisters event and got smoked on the high-speed, committing, DH-style Mount Hood. Guess the Oregon pedal/coast racing win streak is over for me. Josh Carlson might be starting his own streak, as he sort of DOMINATED the Hood weekend to win the series overall in grand style. I’m glad I’ve gotten to see that guy ride a motocross bike, as it gives valuable insight into how brutally he attacks every inch of trail. A must for this kind of racing. Let’s do a winter exchange, Frother, I’ll give you a touch of diesel restraint and you work on my Race Gas consumption…
Last but not least was our second year of backyard Marathon National Championships. Myself and Carl had the #1 and #2 plates on our bikes from last year’s runaway 1-2. And we actually had sufficient time to prepare for their defense. The course was way better this year, taking in some of Bend’s finest trails and climbing up to 7000’ along the Cascade Crest. It was at this point, actually, that I liked my chances of a title defense. My clever line choices on the biggest climb and descent had opened a gap on perennial challenger Todd Wells and I was alone at the front. I missed Carl, but was glad to not have the prospect of a sprint finish with him… Fast-forward a couple hours and my impressively bonked, flimsy carcass was unable to sprint with Carl, except this time it was for 2nd place. Todd had ridden away after I exhausted the last of my bag of tricks (riding up the Octupus Log on Funner) and was no longer able to stay in front of him and ride at 200 watts, hoping he didn’t notice my (painfully obvious) grenaded state… It’s almost easier to lose a title defense when you’re so incredibly blown that there’s no possible recourse. Hats off, Todd.
And damn fine work at the London Games, I’m proud of you and Sam Schultz for finally ending our “Americans riding like poo” streak at the Olympics. 10th and 15th are right in there. And while we’re at it, sweet that Georgia Gould got a bronze medal. That’ll keep the stoke high for all those XC pinners out there coming up through the ranks. Pedaling bikes hard is a good time.
Speaking of good times and hard pedaling, I’m on a plane to Nice, France as I wind up this summer narrative. About to wind up the mountain bike season at Trans Provence. Much like that float plane trip into the wilds of BC, I’ve been looking forward to this event since I signed up last fall. It’s going to be pretty amazing to ride across the mountains of Haute-Provence, camping and racing on the downhills, for an entire week. Hope I have enough energy left for it…
Check out http://www.dirtragmag.com/ for updates from yours truly.
And http://trans-provence.com/ for info about this sort of amazing race…