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 five to six-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 its 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 third 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 seventh, 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 seventh in the downhill. That was enough for fifth 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, Idaho. 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 5km 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 eighth by the finish. That was my best nationals finish ever after a 13th place at Mt. Snow in Vermont 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 percent 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 got a cowboy hat and $200 in Colorado beef for the win! I diced with Bryan Alders and Kalan Beisel on the men’s side. Katie Compton ran away with the women’s race.
Lots on tap for August, I’m just hoping I can keep up with it all!
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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.
In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.
In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.
When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.