Gold Rush: Alex does Downieville

July 21, 2008 · Print This Article

By Alex Fabros
San Luis Obispo, California

Well, let me just start by saying that I’m no Jeannie Longo. I was barely hanging in there for this epic cross country, and I’m four years younger.

Anyway, my drive from San Luis Obispo to the CA Gold Country town of Downieville got progressively smokier, with a really thick pall hanging over the Sierras. That was on Friday, the day prior to the XC. I had a super-fun pre-ride down First Divide trail and cleaned everything, even this one rock step-up that I regularly screw up. My tire choice was perfect and I felt like I had good legs.

On Saturday, the air quality was surprisingly much improved from Friday. It was still uncomfortably hot, and I can’t even say that it was typical Sierra dry heat ’cause it wasn’t, but it was manageable. The number of racers was huge this year – too huge, really, for how the race is started. There were 800 racers divided into Pro/Expert, Sport, and Beginner, starting in 5 min waves. The trail really can’t handle this surge, and it can turn into ridiculous and unsafe passes, especially on the descents.

Back to the start, though. Bellas Heidi and Julie were racing Expert and started at the same time I did. Too bad we hadn’t hired a photographer, as I think we looked pretty good motoring up the initial fire road climb. We stuck together for a while, then I made some headway around some riders, and still the road continued, up, up, up, for 8 miles and 3000+ feet. A bit of a descent, then – guess what – more climbing. Finally it ended, and a new trail, Sunrise, got its debut in the Classic. Sunrise is fun and twisty, but I certainly didn’t make up much time on it. Personally, I think it’d be much more fun to ride rather than race it. After that, the real descending and fun began. I was pretty happy, passing racers and not getting passed myself. I thought I was rockin’ it, but others were REALLY rockin’ it, specifically Heidi and Julie. I’m not sure how far in front of Julie I was on the climb, but I’d been around 10 min ahead of Heidi. As I stopped to tighten my front skewer for the second time (mental note – just replace the damn thing!), just before the final descent on Third Divide trail (about 20-25 min left in the race), Heidi politely inquired if I was all right there on the side of the trail. Dang, she must’ve bombed the baby heads to make up 10 min!! We descended together for a mile or so, kind of tweaked that these Sport guys wouldn’t let us by on the singletrack, and then Heidi did something about it. I closed my eyes as she made a couple of risky passes that would’ve had serious repercussions for her had the passes failed, but they didn’t and she broke free of the traffic jam. I was just not aggro enough to try that, which maybe isn’t the best race attitude, but I’m very injury-averse.

So, I ended up plodding in with a time of 3:04, which got me fourth place, just on the podium (for some reason, the organizers awarded top-four). Julie was right behind me, so she made some time on the descent, as well. I’m not sure why Shannon E couldn’t race, but there were at least three Bellas representin’ (and I saw several former Bellas, as well). And this year, I didn’t have to dash off to get back to work or whatever, so I could finally stick around for the festivities like the river jump (Heidi and Abby Hipley were the only women competitors), the pixie cross, and the Saddle Tramps. Definitely a fun time!

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