Posted May 8, 2004
Bass Lake DH bonanza

Thanks to Nemesis Racing for the course photo and Erron McCurdy for the people shots. Chart by me. Email me if you need infographics for your business, publication or bake sale.

One of NorCal's coolest downhills played host to good times, dangerous driving, and a mentorship-turned-rivalry.



The situation
The 007 Downhill Race zips though the hills above Bass Lake, Calif. This area is sort of the "Gateway to Yosemite" -- a seasonal thoroughfare for RVs driven by German tourists, but also a darn cool spot on its own. You've got lakes, hills and, of course, trails galore.

The course is full-on XC-style, old-school DH: moderately steep, not too rough and a pedalfest like few others. In four miles you drop 2,000 feet on 100% singletrack with 47 corners, 25 water bar jumps and a bonus gap. Fast riders do this in under eight minutes, which averages to faster than 30 mph: definitely a rip-roaring run.

You don't need a NORBA license. Heck, you don't even need a DH bike. Most riders run 4-5 inch bikes like Specialized Enduros, Giant ACs and Santa Cruz Hecklers. This year the course was dry and fast, with sand over hardpack making the flat corners sketchy but the many natural berms keeping everyone rolling.

"It's such a great environment," said Curtis Keene, "hanging with the bro's, eating dinner with Mark Weir and Mark Jordan [of Twentysix Magazine]. It's not high pressure. It's definitely one of the funnest races of the year."

The danger
The most dangerous aspect of the 007 Downhill is definitely the shuttle rides. Two flatbeds carry riders up the dirt road at full speed, honking around the corners and occasionally smacking rear-view mirrors. On Saturday one of the wooden sides fell out and racers almost fell out of the truck. On Sunday one of the same kids ran his head through a branch, knocking his helmet off his head, onto the road then off the embankment.

Yes, if you can survive the shuttle, you should be fine.

The speed merchants
The race for pro glory came down to Mark Weir, the king of pedally downhills; quiet Henry O'Donnell, also a Downieville winner; and Curtis Keene, the country's fastest pro downhiller and soon-to-be-ex electrician. Weir has mentored fellow WTB rider Keene over the past couple seasons, but as Keene's DH skills became outrageous and his aerobic fitness became ridiculous, the teacher-student role festered into a smacktalk-spiced rivalry.

The night before the race, Weir was waxing his frame for extra aerodynamics. Keene dribbled on some chain lube and was done. Weir took a look at Keene's Enduro and said, "That'll be good enough for second place."

Well, come race day Keene smacked down a record 7:13, with O'Donnell at 7:22 and Weir back at 7:23.

"I pedaled pretty f---ing hard," said Keene, "Plus I pinned it through the corners." (Keene ran a custom Fox DHX shock and 2005 5.5-inch fork with a 2.3 Weir Wolf in front and a 2.4 Mutano Raptor in back.) Despite all the pre-race smacktalk, Keene kept quiet after his victory. "Weir wore a skinsuit and everything. The one thing I said was, "And I didn't wear a skinsuit ..."

Weir came to Bass Lake hyper confident after winning last year and tearing up the pro XC scene so far this year. He says confidence stole his speed.

"I have learned that feeling like your stomach is full when others around you are starving can really backfire," said Weir. "Curtis had the fire and still does. I went down the mountain with 80 percent in mind, and he made sure I will never do that again, at least not on his watch. I needed this and no one better to give it to me then the USA's fastest DHer and maybe the best looking."

Over the past few years the pro class has gotten faster and faster, especially Keene (see chart below). The only guy to get slower from year to year was Weir, who's focused on cross country anyway. As he said before the race, "It will be pretty pathetic if I beat Curtis. The guy does nothing but race DH while I haven't touched a gravity rig in three months!" Just the same, says Weir, "It's hard for a man of my endurance to handle this great defeat. I have already logged over 300 miles in three days on the road."



For full results check out www.nemesisracing.net
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