Editor’s Note: After a long and storied pro downhill racing career that included a win at the 2010 UCI world championships, Brit Tracy Moseley has turned her focus toward other types of competition. She won the first three Enduro World Series titles (2013-2015) and recently took her first crack at California’s famed Downieville Classic. Here’s Moseley’s report from deep in the Lost Sierra. For full 2017 results head to downievilleclassic.com.
Having been involved in mountain bike racing for over 20 years, I have seen a lot of change and evolution in the sport. But it seems like the Downieville Classic, now in its 22nd year, is one of those classic MTB events that has remained unchanged. And for me that was the big appeal, to take part in one of the original old school races in the U.S.
I had done very little research on the event. I just knew I had to do a 29-mile point-to-point cross-country race on Day 1 and a 15-mile (yes, 15-mile) downhill race the next day. And you have to do it on the same bike with the same weight each day.
The first key decision was deciding what bike to bring. Do I opt for the 130mm Trek Fuel EX trail bike and go light on wheels and tires, while getting a slightly more aggressive geometry for the DH? Or do I go for the Trek Top Fuel XC bike and go heavy on wheels and tires? Well, I opted for the trail bike and set off on a flight to San Francisco.
Soon I was in the blistering heat of the Sierras, four hours northeast of San Francisco, pedalling from our campsite 6 miles up to Sierra City to pre-ride the XC course. An 8-mile climb in temperatures in the 90s was brutal. I wished I had a smaller chainring, as I was pushing hard to keep my legs spinning on the steep loose gravel surface and also wished I could carry more water as my 2 litres was never going to be enough to get me back to Downieville. Fortunately, my riding partners and I found a natural water spring and made it back in one piece.
After a huge feed in town we still had the 6 miles back to the campsite. I was ruined and have never been so happy to sit in an ice cold river after a bike ride.
On day two we booked a shuttle and got dropped off at the top of the climb to pre-ride the DH race course. It shared the same first couple of miles of singletrack as the XC course and then took a different trail before joining back up with the XC race course for the final 5 or so miles into town. It had a few rough sections but actually I didn’t think it was any more technical than the XC circuit. The only real difference was that I wouldn’t have dragged myself up the 8-mile climb before starting the descent.
Happy with my bike and tire choice I rested up, ready for the two days of racing ahead, watching as the tiny town of Downieville transformed itself into a buzzing hive of mountain bike racers and an industry expo. The whole town came alive as 800 racers registered and the show began with river jumping, bands, and great food.
One of the biggest differences for me coming from Europe was the amount of Lycra, open face helmets, and lack of any protection for the downhill race. Ok for a 29-mile XC race in that heat, Lycra is by the far the most practical clothing to wear. But for the DH riding speeds up to 40mph on rocky, loose terrain, it felt like we were back in the early 1990s as the skinsuit and the odd knee pad made their return to MTB fashion. It seems ages since skinsuits were banned from UCI downhill racing and now at many DH or enduro races, often a certain level of protection is mandatory. Somehow it seems like time has stood still here at the race, and it’s perfectly normal to wander around all day in your Lycra. I have always been against the no Lycra rule in DH racing as it’s a timed event against the clock and racing in Lycra is faster, but somehow in Europe we have got wrapped up with fashion. It was refreshing to see bike racing going on just like it did two decades ago, just on more capable bikes.
It’s fair to also say that the modern DH course is also a long way from the 15-mile pedal fest of a DH race at Downieville. None of the trails were super technical or steep, but you were going fast for large sections of trail. It was great to see the sport healthy and the community spirit alive, with huge amounts of volunteers and the work of the non-profit Sierra Trails Stewardship organization that puts on this race every year.
I found the XC race really tough. I couldn’t even blame the weather, as after 4 days of oppressive hot temperatures we were blessed with overcast skies on race day. I just couldn’t seem to get my body to go fast for the first hour of the climb. I was breathing hard but going nowhere. It felt as though the entire field of 800 riders had passed me by the top of the climb. Mentally it was tough, as I had to keep pacing myself because I knew I could make up time on the downhill.
I slowly picked my way past a lot of people and felt stronger as the race went on. A 7th place finished meant that I was going to need a really good DH race to get some points back in the All Mountain race. Thankfully the two race times were not combined. Instead it’s done on points, so the fact that I was over 20 mins behind Katerina Nash in the XC race didn’t matter as much.
In the DH I suffered a flat tire early on in one of the small stream crossings, and had to stop 3 times to re-inflate and plug the hole to make it to the finish. Fortunately, I had enough speed when I was riding to still hold on to 2nd place in the DH and finished 3rd overall. I was super happy to make it to the podium and one of my big MTB bucket list races had been completed.
A huge thanks to Mark Fitzsimons at Fox for helping make the trip possible along with my sponsors Deity and G-Form. I had a blast and have found yet another location I need to return to and explore more of the amazing riding and beautiful mountain and maybe one day to give the Downieville Classic another go.