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By KAREN KEFAUVER – Santa Cruz Sentinel
July 9, 2010
Link to Sentinel article

Low-down on Downieville ClassicThe Low-Down on Downieville Columnist aims to stay upright on technical mountain bike course

When I announced that I was going to race at the Downieville Classic this weekend, my mother offered to send me in for a psychiatric exam.

My friend Mari Anderson e-mailed, “I’ve done the downhill twice and each time I feared for my life.”

John Caletti, a custom bike frame builder and accomplished cyclist, recommended I pack extra food, water and clothing for the race because “it will probably take a long time to get through the whole thing….”

These comments did little to bolster my already shaky confidence about my first time riding in the mountains of Downieville. This historic Gold Rush town in Sierra County is a few hours northeast of Sacramento and is renowned for this mountain bike festival. Though I am an experienced mountain bike racer, I have not been training for distance, climbing or elevation. In short, my preparation has consisted mostly of napping, barbecues and easy, weekly rides with the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz.

My cross country mountain bike race Saturday is one of the few point-to-point races left in the U.S.: The route departs the mountain town of Sierra City [elevation 4,100 feet], climbs to the crest of the Sierra Nevada [elevation 7,100 feet], and then plunges 5,200 vertical feet into downtown Downieville. I’m not great with numbers but I can tell this is really going to hurt.

I looked at the 2009 race results from my age group — only 10 women signed up for the category of “Women Veterans” — and more than half of them took longer than four hours to complete the course.

Maybe I am not so good with words either, because it was only after I had registered that I noticed some major course features. Among them were the legendary climb called the “Trail of Tears,” which starts with pavement, turns to dirt, and then gradually steepens; the gruesome-sounding “Baby Heads,” a fast, loose, rocky descent that is responsible for numerous flat tires; and a river crossing that can span 30 feet and be up to three feet deep.

I have something to look forward to though. The race organizers will provide an overhead water mister at the 2-mile point. There are also aid stations at the 4 and 7-mile markers for water and snacks [there was, however, no mention of full body massage at those points].

Though my race is notorious for its combination of punishing heat, steep climbs and treacherous rocky descents, I am looking forward to the mental and physical challenge. After all, I have been hearing about this race for the 17 years I have been in Santa Cruz. At long last, I have the chance to go experience the adventure myself.

It is also comforting, in a twisted way, to know that I have friends out riding who are suffering even more than I am, and doing it by choice. For instance, also on Saturday, my neighbor Tim Park will make his first attempt at the Death Ride: Tour of the California Alps, a 129-mile road ride with 15,000 feet of climbing through five mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Also at the Downieville Classic this weekend, Alex Anderson of Santa Cruz, who works at Fox in Watsonville, has signed up for the All-Mountain World Championship. The event may best be described as a unique form of punishment. On Saturday, competitors race the cross country event that I am doing. Then Sunday, they race the Downieville Downhill Race.

The catch? The athletes must ride the same bike at both races. The lowest combined cross country and downhill race time wins. Riders must choose their weapons wisely. Ideally, they need a bike that climbs efficiently, descends with precision and can handle a high-speed race down for 46 miles on the way to victory. Just thinking about two days of racing leaves me tired.

Two bike shops will be celebrating their grand openings this month. Bike Station Aptos will celebrate its move to the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center this weekend. Next weekend is the grand opening celebration for the Bicycle Trip on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz.

Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, is a freelance sports and travel journalist based in Santa Cruz and an avid cyclist. Assuming she survives, Karen will post her Downieville race report here: www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside

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