Posted Sept. 9, 2004
Durango downhill and super-d

I got distracted by that whole Bromont thing, but I'm back with reports on the Durango national's two coolest events.

Downhill


Photo: Steve Wentz finds nice backside on the third drop. "It wasn't hard technically. It was hard mentally, You just had to go for it." Photo by Josh McGuckin.

I said this last year, and I'll say it again: the Durango course is fun, Fun, FUN. The top half is ultra-fast with drops, then you get some semi-technical woods then some more speed down to the finish line. This is not a pedaling course; it's a railing and bombing and flowing course.

The pro/expert layout was almost identical to last year (here's my 2003 report with lots of photos), except for two changes:

Distant drop
Course designer Greg Herbold added a third drop next to the technical rock section. Instead of threading through a small stand of woods and picking your way through jagged rocks, you made a couple flat turns and hucked yourself off a small cliff straight down the fall line.

In practice you were allowed a choice: either over the cliff or through the woods, which have been cleaned up considerably. While the section was tricky last year, this year there was a clean line straight through. Of course the drop is faster (by 10-15 seconds), and that's what I practiced.

The landing started out flat then got gradually steeper farther out. So if you hit the drop slowly you landed super hard then rebounded down the rest of the section. The only way to land smoothly was to haul ass and fly 30 feet or more to steep backside.

Apparently the drop created too much havoc in ecpert practice, and we wound up having to ride through the woods. it just goes to show, you should practice both options. In pro practice a ball-up of pro men stood at the top wondering what to do. Young Tracey Hannah, all of 16 years old, asked them to move out of the way and pinned it. Braaap. Yes!

Photo: 16-year-old girls had no problems with this drop, but many experts and pros did. Photo by Josh McGuckin.

Step it down
Last year the course emerged at the base area, made a couple off camber turns them bombed straight through the mountain cross course.

This year pros and experts skidded through the obligatory off camber right, hung a left in a tangle of wood and rock, scrambled through an off camber right then skirted around the 4X course. They made a 90-degree left, then a hard right. Berms held up the outsides of the corners, but the flat insides were faster. After the right came a nice lip, then a 25+-foot stepdown into a tight left. I caught backside once in practice and hit the turn so hard I came out dizzy and disoriented. next came a double roller, then some hard pedaling and a soft right to the finish. Great stuff.

This is one of those courses you practice too much because it's so fun. While HB caught flack regarding the 4X course, this DH course shows he does great work when he has something good to work with.

Action!
Last year's rain created deep ruts that gobbled tires but guided them too. This year's dryness scraped up dust that let tires slide until they glommed onto thin lines of hardpack. The course was a bit sketchy but very fast, especially on the top sweepers.

Kathy Pruit took pro women in 4:25. Tracey Hannah, the phenom from down under with the fast brother, rolled a 4:37 for second place. Watch out for this girl. She is all business. Missy Giove came out of semi-retirement for third in 4:40. I don't care what day of the week it is; Missy can kick your ass. Our own Lisa Myklak rolled a 4:52 for sixth place, her best national finish yet. Definitely watch out for her -- she trains with me!

The mighty Greg Minnaar edged high-speed Nathan Rennie for the pro mens win in 3:39. Local horticulturist Myles Rockwell bailed from his other engagements to roll a nice 15th. In semipro Sanjay Shanbhag continued his reign of terror with a 4:02. Young Evan Turpen from Aptos, CA was only a second back.

Photo: Mr. Minnaar makes hay of a fast sweeper. Photo by Josh McGuckin.

I finally won a national!
I went expert in 1997. Back then I expected to be a pro in one season, but I got mired in expert by a combination of factors: focus on work, a few ghastly injuries and a severe lack of talent. I struggled on and off for a few years until I finally "got it" in 2001 and started winning locally, but still blew it at the big races.

This is the first season when I've actually performed at major events. I credit great riding partners, a deeper understanding of myself and all the time I spent working on my technique book with Brian Lopes. When I say I won Sea Otter, got second at Big Bear and got second at Angel Fire this year, I'm not boasting; I'm just saying my skills have gotten to a certain level, and I've finally learned to put it together under pressure. Shoot, it took me long enough.

From the time we arrived in Durango until after my race, I was "Race Day Lee" -- learning the course, taking care of my body and staying away from all forms of tomfoolery. By the time the race came I knew exactly what I had to do, and I knew how to do it.

On the sixth beep I took off, and everything felt easy. I was having a "peak psychological experience," which only happens when the demands of the situation intersect with your skills, and you strike a perfect balance between being stoked and freaking out.

The raddest thing was, a bunch of my friends timed it so they could follow me down the course on the lift. As I pedaled to the first drop I heard them screaming for me, and where I'd coasted in practice and flown short to backside, I hammered all the way off the precipice and landed flat bottom. They yelled even louder, I passed my first guy and I just knew it was on.

I hit the chicane at mid-course way faster than ever. I hauled straight down the 45-degree slope, trying to control my speed for a quick left-right, but I kept accelerating down the dusty rut. In a flash I knew what I had to do: let go of the brakes and hip-hop over the leaning fence post. I landed on the second pitch and doubled some roots. At the bottom I G'd out harder than ever, and I knew it looked at cool as it felt.

Wow, what a feeling. I felt so powerful, so smooth, so confident. The details of time slowed down -- I set up for turns and hopped rocks in slo mo -- but the overall sense of time sped up -- each section flashed by without consequence. As I reached the base it was like, wow, am I already here?

I made one mistake and crashed, but no big deal. I crossed the line at 4:38 and waited for someone to beat me. Nobody did. My friends got off the lift and gave me huge hugs. I cried a bit. Then I was off to super-d practice.

Here's a quote from a book called "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," by. Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He didn't realize it at the time, but he's talking about the perfect race run:

An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.

Damn right.

Super-D
Super-D is becoming the coolest event at the Nationals. Courses employ tame downhill terrain with a bit of climbing. You can run pretty much any bike you want. You can be a downhiller, a cross country racer or anything in between. Different equipment and strengths work better for different courses, and so far every course has been drastically different.

Photo: Getting loose on my super-d weapon of choice. Training in El Corte de Madera.

Durango was pretty hectic. We set our bikes in the grass and walked to the start line. At "GO!" we ran down a hill, around a pole and back up to our bikes. As a terrible runner I'd prefer a time trial, but I must say the Le Mans start makes for an exciting race. Once we got on our bikes we let fly down ungroomed fire road and parts of the sport/beginner DH. With only one good line and tons of dust you had to be aggressive to make passes. After a short climb we entered the flowy singletrack of the cross country course. Another short climb. More singletrack. One last climb then bomb to the finish.

What a good time. You had downhillers, cross country racers and everyone in between, riding everything from hardtails to downhill bikes.

Arial Lindsey won pro men with a 10:04. Mark "the demons make me ride hard" Weir came in 10 seconds later after Lindsey passed him on the last climb.

Chrissy Redden took pro women in 12:03. DHer and 4Xer Tara Llanes came in third 33 seconds back.

I broke my perfect super-d podium record when I went for a superhero pass and got a 40-mph pinch flat. As I walked up a climb Leigh Donovan rode by. She was lagging but getting the job done. Turns out she's pregnant!

In super-d you can ride however you like: hard or soft, XC or DH, pregnant or not.

Random fun
The raddest downhill band in the world, Descender, played during pro 4X. Aussie pro DHer Joel Panazzo sings and plays guitar. Perennial NorCal expert maniac Chevy beats the hell out of a drum set. The Bay Area's Bob Cool whacks the bass. These guys rock, and they have a rad logo. Check 'em out.

This handlebar belongs to one Ross Milan -- Coloradan, working stiff, wrestling coach and new dad. This weekend his entire family is watching him at the Worlds in France. Go Ross!


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