Posted Sept. 7, 2004
And signing out from Bromont ...
The UCI World Masters Downhill Championship in Bromont, Quebec wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was a great experience. A tale of bitching, psyche-outs and stepping up your game.
International bitch fest
Out of 129 racers, only about 40 showed up for the "mandatory" riders' meeting the night before the downhill. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I was there for the freaking Worlds, man, and I wanted to taste every bit of it -- meat, bone and gristle included.
I expected someone to go over the procedures then break into an inspirational speech: "Welcome everyone to the UCI World Masters Downhill Championships. You are here because you are the best in your countries. As masters athletes you embody the spirit of downhill mountain biking. You are an inspiration to all riders who lowers their seats for descents ..." or something like that. If you've ever been to a Team in Training pre-event meeting, where they give speeches and introduce you to the kids with cancer for whom you've raised money and are about to run a marathon, if you've been to one of those meetings you'd know the type of rah-rah and emotion I was expecting.
The officials went over the schedule -- seeding runs in the morning then finals in the afternoon -- and the drug testing procedures -- after your run check the list on the results board then pee in the cup within 30 minutes; failure to do so counts as a positive test.
As soon as the procedures became clear, the international bitch fest began.
First on the docket: The course. Riders complained it was too gnarly for a masters championship. Said the leader of the charge, "We used to have the masters championship just to be nice and have fun. Now it's too dangerous. Two people have already been seriously hurt." This guy got pretty emotional, accusing the race organizers of being lazy and incompetent, which everyone saw as ridiculous. "This course is not difficult," he continued. "It's dangerous. And in the wet it's hell."
To be fair, it's a pretty tough course. A few root sections are super gnarly, and on the moist Saturday morning they were straight-up treacherous. The steep chute near the end of the course had people freaking out all over the place. In the dry it wasn't too bad, but in the wet ... watch out. Most riders took an insanely technical go-around, while a few (myself included) bombed straight down. The more people freaked out over this section, the greater the collective apprehension. To give you a broader idea, this course was used in a Quebec Cup pro race, and Fred the UCI official said it's tougher than the Calgary World Cup course.
Photo: 50-54 Danilo Spader does the tripod but gets it done. I defy most of you fools to ride this section. I'll be the last person to say downhill should be "extreme" and those who can't hang should try something else, but I gotta say I was amazed at the level of complaining. The bottom of the course has a 30+ foot tabletop. Right before that a little lip puts you over a drainage ditch. The gap is maybe three feet, with a rounded landing. One rider said that was too crazy, and asked the officials to fill the ditch so she could ride over it without having to slow down. Silly.
The overall consensus was to keep the tricky sections -- this is, after all, a championship -- but to offer B lines around them. It was too late to change this year's course, so we'll see about next year.
The second item of contention, disputed one-on-one after the meeting, really blew my mind. There were 10 women total, four in the 30-34 class and six in the 35+ class. One 40+ rider, who had struggled and clogged the course all day, threw a fit because she didn't want to race against a 35-39-year-old. As the organizer pointed out, there was only one woman in that category, and it would be silly to let her race herself for the championship.
The 40+ complainer wanted the "young" woman to race by herself, plus she wanted the other classes cut up so there'd be no more than three in her category. As I listened to her emotional plea, I realized she was arguing for a guaranteed medal! Unbelievable. If you're in your forties, and you're still that worried about getting a medal, then it's time to do some work on yourself. Geez, someone give this woman her medal, along with a truckload of validation.
Sorry to dwell on the negative here. It's just that I expected something special: the highest quality of racing and also the highest quality of humanity. What I found at a Masters Worlds was the normal collection of racers: most very cool, a few whiners and everyone over the age of 30.
On Saturday afternoon I told David Febris, a Foes rider from SoCal, that I cruised a run in 4:50.
"Oh," he said, "I just ran a 4:00."
What?!?! That really freaked me out. I figured I could run a 4:30 if I pinned it, but four even, there's no way. I knew David was fast, but geez, it looked like I'd be getting Turtle Waxed. This bugged me all day, until I saw David at the riders' meeting.
"Lee, sorry, I lied," he said, "it was a 5:00."
Wow, what a relief.
(Ol' David wound up running a 4:21, good for third in 40-44.)
The course dried nicely, creating the fastest conditions of the weekend. That is one heck of a course, and most people seemed super stoked. Semi-random observations:
This was a no chump zone. Everyone here is one of the fastest riders he or she knows, at least in his or her age group.
Racers came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States and Venezuela. The U.S. and Canada had the most riders.
Compared with a "youngster" race, there was a lot of cautious riding. As you might expect, the older riders tended to be the most careful, thus the most tense, thus the least flowing. And the less you flow, the more you crash. What a vicious cycle, eh?
Sarah Porter of Sweden was the fastest woman with a 4:44.
Trevor Porter of Canada was the fastest man with a 3:47. Last year's winner Lars Tribus of the U.S. came in second with a 3:50. Holy cow, those are some fast times.
There are some very fast guys in the older classes. Fast Tracy Oswell, a Big Bear ripper from way back, took men 45-49 with a 4:12. Scott Smith of the USA ran a respectable 4:36 -- in 50-54.
I'm usually the oldest person around, so it was a treat to hear guys tell me, "Sure, that line is easy for a young guy like you," or "Let's see how fast you are in 11 years." At 35 I felt like a punk kid, and that felt great.
Full results here.
How I did
I must say, I really struggled with the pressure. I've gotten to the point where the Sea Otter and Nationals don't phase me, but all weekend I vascillated between "Oh man, these guys are so fast, I should just take it easy and enjoy the ride" and "Dude. I can win this, but I'll have to do something special."
I learned the course on the first day of practice, but I never got that "I own this place" feeling that would allow me to really charge. My practice runs were clean and ever-faster, but when it came time to race I knew I had to do more. My best practice time was a 4:50, and I felt like I had a 4:30 in me.
My seeding run went careful and a bit slow. It was perfectly clean, except I overshot the turn at the bottom of the steep chute. Tick, tock. I'd practiced my banzai line in the mud, but the speed was just too much in the dry. I got back on my bike and rolled that 4:30, good for ninth qualifier.
I felt nervous and excited before the final. I knew I was only 13 seconds off the top time, with 5-10 lost to that missed corner and a few available elsewhere on the course. Could I win? Should I worry about it? I knew the answers were yes and no. I hiked around, stretched and did my lunges to warm up. I looked out at the green plains of Montreal's Eastern Townships, with the volcanic mountains erupting here and there, and tried to appreciate the fact I was in such a cool place competing in such a cool race with a bunch of like-minded dudes.
Deep breath. Aggression. Relaxed aggression.
"Four, three, two, one, Go!"
Bam. And the world goes quiet.
I friggen RAILED that course. The tech woods sections flew by without effort. I hopped rocks and pumped turns. I skated over roots and pedaled with easy power. It felt rad, accelerating on flat ground -- pedal shift pedal shift pedal shift -- until I spun my 38x11. Everyone should live at altitude.
Unfortunately, you can only race as fast as you practice. I hit sections way faster than normal, and things started to happen. I got off line here, I stabbed pedal there. I slid off an off-camber rock down into the grass and struggled uphill back onto the line. I entered the steep chute high, wide and slow. I set up my line, let go of the brakes and jumped straight over a tangle of rocks. The crowd roared. Flashes popped. I felt like a rock star. I didn't want to overshoot the turn again, so I focused on the inside tree. I got on the brakes, aiming for the padded tree ... and I hit the damn thing. BAM! Front wheel stopped. Feet blown out of pedals. Photographer falling backward. I got back on track and railed the rest of the way for a 4:25.
I wound up eighth, which is better than I expected. My goal was just to get to the worlds, handle the stress and ride the way I know how. I give myself a grade of B. I rode well, but not to my full potential. Next year I'll be neither naive nor intimidated. I'll bring more strength, better skills and absolute confidence. Hey, it's just another race.
Photo: I watch my time slip off the podium ... not that I care about that stuff!
This and that
Travel: My wife Tracy (aka Smootchie) and I flew into Montreal and drove a rental car to Ski Bromont. The drive is usually about 45 minutes, but we hit it during evening rush hour, and it took close to two hours. Yeah! Welcome to Canada!
Lodging: We stayed at the Chateau Bromont. It's a pretty fancy hotel on the hill facing the mountain. Our mini suite was very nice, but not cheap (around $200 Canadian per night). The location is perfect: a 10-minute walk or three-minute ride to the lift. The restaurants in the hotel aren't the greatest for the money.
Some of our friends rented a full-service condo a few minutes from the venue for $100 a night. If you have a group of bro's and an ample vehicle that's probably the way to go.
Riding: The mountain seems to have a great network of trails, not that I would know firsthand. I salivated all over the map, and after the race we took a fun run down trail 9. Steep. Rocky. Turny. Superfun.
Relaxing: After the fun run I took a dip in the Chateau's pool and settled into a lounge chair. My skin warmed, my muscles buzzed and I slipped into a deep nap.
Around town: The city of Granby, a few miles west on Highway 10, has a bustling main street with lots of restaurants and a theater. We ate tasty Vietnamese food with efficient, English-speaking service. The main street of Bromont is much quieter. A few of the restaurants look good.
Talking: French is the language of choice, but most people in Montreal and the Eastern Townships also speak English.
Feast: We got groceries at the Metro supermarket and ate most breakfasts and lunches in our room. You can't buy decongestant at the grocery store; you have to hit a pharmacy. Also, even though we were in the middle of a huge agricultural area, the produce sucked. The peaches came from California, and they seemed pretty wrung out.
Geology: Back in the day the entire area was a floodplain. The mountains are volcanic vents, which explains why they poke out of nowhere. The rocks have a much finer grain than you'll find in the Rockies or Sierra. That makes them extra slippery when wet.
Appreciation: Drive through town and around the mountain to Lake Bromont. Park by the grassy beach. Pick a table by the water. Spread out a feast of pesto-turkey sandwiches, garlic-butter croutons and local cheese. Watch the ducks fly a V across the glass. Feel the soft breeze. Behold the never-ending green. Savor this moment. Tell your Smootchie that you love her.
We took a few hundred photos over the weekend. Send me your number and description and I'll try to send you one.
Age groups, numbers of racers and winning times:
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