Downieville and Breck Epic are two of my favorite races of the year. And once again they started on back-to-back weekends. I'll admit that driving 2,000 miles in two weeks (from Winter Park to Downieville and back to Breckenridge) was a bit rough, but Syd and I had some good books on tape and a lot of food so we survived it.
This year at Downieville, I raced my Pivot Mach 5.7 Carbon. With 150mm of rear suspension and 160mm of front suspension, it was much more suited to the course than the 120mm Orbea Occam I raced last year. It was a bit heavier (29lbs compared to 25), especially with the downhill tire I decided to run after flatting a lighter one the day before the race but felt much more solid on the descent. Syd and I were also lucky enough to stay with a friend, Erin, at her house in downtown Downieville. The location was perfect for pre-riding and we had plenty of time to hang out, pick blackberries, and swim in the river, which made for an extremely relaxing week leading up to the race.
The cross country went well. I started off strong, slowed down partway through the climb, then came back after the first summit to gain five spots, finishing fourth. Menso de Jong, who finished third, wasn't racing the All-Mountain, so point-wise I was third. My time was just under one minute slower than last year, which I attributed to riding a heavier bike, and I knew that the bike would be more of a benefit in the downhill race than the cross country. Syd raced the cross country as well and finished second in her category, knocking 13 minutes off of last year's time.
The downhill was a blast. It was loose, fast and dusty. My average speed for the 14 miles was 18mph and my max was over 40. I finished ninth, two spots better than last year, but the stiffer competition this year put me in sixth overall for the All-Mountain compared to fourth last year. After the race, I decided that it would have been helpful to have practiced the downhill a few more times, but given that it was my fourth time riding it EVER I felt pretty good.
After racing the 29er hardtail REEB singlespeed at Breck Epic last year, I decided I wanted more suspension and more gears. I also wanted to give the Breck Epic Enduro a shot when I learned that I could race it in conjunction with the overall. So I overhauled the Mach 5.7 Carbon, re-greased all the bolts, replaced the drivetrain and put on new tires. It was like riding a new bike after all of the work and I was ready for the Epic.
Unfortunately my decision to overhaul my bike a few days before the race backfired on the first stage when one of my suspension bolts loosened itself and fell out. The rest of that stage was much harder than it should have been. I couldn't pedal hard in my little chain ring so I had to soft-pedal the climbs and the descents were terrifying. Fortunately, the bolt on the opposite side of the linkage was strong enough to last the day and I finished fourth. If I could have, I would have fired my mechanic. Unfortunately, I am my mechanic so I had no choice but to borrow the necessary bolt from my teammate Karen's Mach 429 Carbon and lock-tight it in hopes that that would solve the problem.
Stage 2 went better except for a flat tire. It punctured about half a mile before the end of one of the enduro segments so I rode it out before stopping to fix it. I lost a couple of spots but kept my fourth place overall. I also found out at the beginning of stage 2 that I won stage 1's Enduro and got to wear the sweet orange plaid leader's jersey.
Stages 3 through 6 were mechanically uneventful, which in stage racing is a big deal. I finished in the top six each day keeping my fourth place overall and, despite winning the stage 3 enduro, dropped into second in the enduro overall. I enjoyed the descents more than ever thanks to my almost-six-inches of travel and loved the 12,000ft bacon feed at the top of Wheeler Pass on stage 5. Syd and her family took great care of me after each stage with good meals, massages and bike cleaning, and I was able to focus on racing.
Unfortunately, I started to get some bad knee pain starting on stage 4. I was able to ride through it but by stage 5, it had spread to the other knee, and I was forced to ride quite conservatively. Then I found out that a friend of my family who was up to watch part of the race was a retired physical therapist. She worked on my quads after stage 5 and taped me up for the final stage so I was able to push harder than I had for two days. The final stage, I finished fifth on the day solidifying my fourth place overall and second place in the enduro overall.
As always it was a spectacular race. This year's edition included some course reroutes that added new singletrack trails and made the courses even better. It rained almost every evening so the trails were in perfect condition and the temperatures were perfect. I've only had a week to recover, and I'm already looking forward to next year.
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