Six years after winning the Junior Expert All-Mountain Titles for two consecutive years (’06-’07), I returned to the podium in the pro XC! Starting with a good climb and benefiting from Levi Lepheimer’s unfortunate flat, I snuck in for 3rd behind the Giant Bicycles duo of Carl Decker and Adam Craig
A Podium I Thought I'd Never Stand OnEight years ago, I had just started mountain biking seriously and rode a couple of times with MTBR.com founder Francis on the local trails (Fremont Older) and in Santa Cruz, where I was slowly figuring out the downhill part of mountain biking. That summer (2005), Francis offered to take my buddy Pierre and me to a race in this place called Downieville. After meeting my mom to assure her that this stranger could be trusted with some 15/16 year olds, we headed up the day before the race. I remember peeling my white-knuckled finger off my bars multiple times during our preride, and then suffering through the race on the single speeds we were riding at the time, in around three hours. After that, mountain bike racing became my passion. I won the Junior X all mountain the next two years (2006, 2007), and standing on the podium in 2007, I figured that was the last time I’d get a medal at Downieville, since the big boys go so fast! Those results set me up for a future of collegiate and national series XC racing, with a two year foray into road riding culminating with 2012 on Jelly Belly, which served to build my fitness and remind me that I really just want to ride my mountain bikes.
This year, thanks to generous support from Clif Bar, I’m back on the mountain bike circuit while I work towards my MS Geology degree at CSU East Bay in Hayward. I’ve been flying out to all the ProXCT for the last two months, and originally was planning on calling it a season after nationals two weeks ago, but a broken chain five seconds into the race led me to sign up for Downieville a week ago in hopes of a better end to the season.
I did my traditional warmup, leaving the car in town with my sleepy girlfriend and riding up Hwy 49 from Downieville, and then did my best to represent the brand by giving my extra Clif Shot to a late arriving rider who forgot to bring ride food. Confident in my pack skills, I lined up in the middle of the pro women, chatted with some friends, and then snaked my way to the front as soon as the race started. Two things played to my strength for the climb this year: compared to the ProXCT’s, this was the mellowest start all year, and also Levi Leipheimer showed up.
Normally, the road part at the start is relatively chill until suddenly everyone goes nuts trying to be in the top ten onto the fireroad. This time, Levi started grinding out the watts two minutes in, and it instantly went to single file, with everyone riding their own pacing, knowing that following the leader was futile. After five minutes on the dirt, I was already alone, with Levi in the distance, Adam Craig and Carl Decker a minute up, and Los Gatos local Alex Wild dangling fifteen seconds up. And that’s how it stayed until I finally caught Alex before the last climb to Packer Saddle. I slurped a Clif Shot as I went past the feed zone, and switched to my second bottle maybe ten minutes from the top. We crested the top together in about 51 minutes, just one minute down on the Giants duo and a whopping five or so on Levi.
Alex let me have the lead into Sunrise, and unfortunately had dust problems knock out both his contact lenses, shit-canning his race, and leaving me alone on the mountain. Opposite the experience of basically everyone else at the Classic, for the top ten pro men raceday is the one day all year where we don’t have to pass anyone at all, and I was in for a long and lonely descent. I didn’t know how far ahead I was of fifth, and knew I had no chance of catching the three in front, so I erred on the side of caution and rode a very mediocre descent for most of the way down. For example, I went a full 30 seconds slower down Baby Heads than I have in the past.
I probably should have ridden with more urgency, but out in the solitude and having kind of mentally checked out after XC Nationals, I was having a hard time convincing myself that I was in a race. As a result, about a mile before the bridge to the Third Divide climb I got caught by Macky Franklin. Since I’m not a dick and also wanted some karma points before passing on the climb, I let him go by, then found my race mode and went after him. At the bridge he had about ten seconds on me and Jason Moeschler was just about on my back, but I threw it into gear and stormed the climb in less than three minutes, passing Macky and putting at least forty seconds into the cramping riders behind me.
From there on, I was in full race mode, pedaling out of every turn with the knowledge that I was really racing for a podium place. Levi gave me a “go Menso!” as I passed him pumping his tube at the entrance to First Divide, and by the time I hit the pavement I was well in the clear and could coast in to town. This was a marked departure from passed years, when I used the short road section to pass a few more riders with my roadie power, even getting a silly Strava KOM for my efforts back in 2011. With the 3rd in the bag, I enjoyed my ride into town, swerving through the hay bales and high fiving people along the way.