Bear Mountain Downhill 2006, the 10th year and from what the organizers have told us, the last year of the race. This is the 3rd time I have raced the Downhill race at Bear Mountain in Mission B.C. Each year I have walked away from the race learning something and yearning to ride my bikes faster and faster.
The atmosphere at the race this year was not as jived as it was in years past. I think this is main due to the fact that people were saddened by the fact that this is the last year of the race. The weather this year could not be any better. I was dry and hot but with just enough moisture in the early morning air to leave the course damp with dew until the riding started at 10am. The course could not have been any better. There were new jumps added and allot of the chunder at the top had been worked to make the course substantially faster and a few more lines opened to keep the flow in some tight spots.
I arrived relatively early in the morning geared up, met with Tim and Rob and our mandatory pre-ride if the course was complete. During this re-ride of the course I decided that I really wanted to hit a gap at the top of the course that would help trim a few seconds off my time. So I hung out on the jump for a few minutes to watch others hit this gap jump and I determined how much speed was needed to make the gap. So up I went, pedalled in and clean as a whistle. A couple more times and I was 98% confident that I would be doing it in my race run. The 3 of us continued down course to finish our run and line up for another lift up the hill in the back of a cube van. Yup, we get shuttled up the hill in the back of a moving truck. 15 or so guys and their bikes at a time. So after 2 runs we were ready for the race. Tim's bike needed a little TLC with the rear wheel but once this was taken care of we just chilled until it was our turn to go up to the top for our race runs.
Both Tim's and Rob's wives and kids were there to wish them good luck as we headed off up the hill in the trucks. Nicole was far too pregnant (9 months) to attend the race and little Norah isn't even 2 years old yet so she would be way too much of a handful. So up in the trucks we went the 30-39 Masters sport men and the over 40 guys. One can only imagine of totally different the conversations are in our truck as compared to the U-17 racers.
At the top of the course we all picked our spots in the shade waiting for the race marshals to call out our names and numbers. For a few of us it was time to crack the RedBull to get the juices flowing and jived for our turn on the course. Last year I placed 2nd, 1.5 seconds behind the winner and this year he was riding last down the course in our class. In my head it was up to me to do the best that I could. I knew that I was a faster rider this year than I was last year, the course is faster and the conditions were mint. As I said, it was up to me. All I wanted was to improve on my overall time and accept where ever that put me in the standings.
Both Rob and Tim were ahead of me in the start order so in the line I was able to wish both of them luck in the race before they started. I believe there was one rider between each of us and there was one minute between each rider. When I was in the start gate waiting for the race marshal to give me the 5 second count down to go there was an announcement on the radio that ripped through the air...."RIDER DOWN, SEND THE MEDICS!!!". This statement was repeated several times and that the rider was off course and the race could continue however each time you could hear more and more concern in the voice of the corner worker. Then I heard the number plate of the fallen rider #601......Tim was down. I now had to try and keep the thought of a fallen buddy out of my head and concentrate on task at hand, The Race. So my count down started and down the course I went.
I had ridden the course about 10 times now in the last week. I had helmet cam filmed the course and watched sections over and over and over again. One could say I knew the course really well and knew what to expect at speed. The top sections for me were good. This course has a few spots in it where you can really blow up and have nothing left for the rest of the race and the first 400m or so it one of those spots. I basically just concentrated on staying off the brakes and railing turns. Though the rough stuff and through "The Abortion Corner" (After the race we found out the name of this particular corner. It is a 180° turn that has lots of chunder and holes all over the place). From the abortion corner it is a few hard pedal strokes to the gap that I had worked on earlier in the day and I nailed it smooth as silk and continued down the course at a good pace. There is a really fast section that leads into the biggest gap on the hill, the spot were in training last year I went down hard casing the jump and hurting my knee. I decided long before the race that I would skip the jump and I just railed on past with tons of speed. Down the course to a small step-up and then a few corners more to the fist big doubles. I didn't rail the corners before the double jumps and knew I would not have enough speed to make the 2nd big one so I pedalled through them as fast as I could.
From this point down I can say that I rode the course perfectly. For my abilities I could not have had a better race and was not upset with myself in the least. So after the doubles up top it was 2 more corners then the small doubles that when hit just right pop you to the next and a few pedal stokes to the step-down shot between the trees. The next 4 corners by far my favourite 4 turns on the course which include 2 berms that you can rail like none other. These all lead you to the table top jump where you can just send it. Surprisingly there weren't and spectators of years past at any of the jumps except for the corner workers, everyone was at the new double section by the rock.
Next is what I refer to as the fast single track section where you don't pedal, just rail the all dirt slightly banked corners of the track. The gap on the left of the trail is really easy to clear with all the speed carried from the corners before and then there was a new jump that send you straight down the trail to some descending bermed corners. There are 4 corners in total that I nailed perfectly. And considering how dry and dusty slick it was I even surprised myself with the speed I maintained through this section. There were even a few people clapping and cheering at that corner which helped to keep me focused on keeping up my speed. My memory of the course really helped in this next section as there is only one FAST line and all other lines waste a lot of time.
It almost seems like the section leading up to the up down depression in the course is the rest spot for "The Big Show". When I say "The Big Show" I am talking about the rock drop, the announcer, the crowds and this year two gaps that offer lots of jump style and photo opportunities. At the depression I heard a spotter calling out my number to the announcer Brad Ewen, likely the best announcer out there for the sport of mountain biking. In fact I think that guy could inject excitement into calling a play by play for a game of chess. Once again this year I was sporting my red and white stripped soccer jersey that I also wore last year as did Rob and Tim. Brad the announcer recognized me from last year and I could hear him call out my name as well stating that I was another candy stipper rippin the course. So rather than dropping the rock, I shot the gap on the side of the rock which is MUCH faster than dropping the rock and then railed the berm and began pedalling to hit the new 18 foot gap on the course. I basically has tunnel vision but could see all the spectators that were missing up course down here watching people send it on a beautiful set of jumps. As I said the first one is an 18 footer that launches you perfectly and places you gently on the tranny to allow you to coast to a 10 foot hip to the left and back onto the single track course. Lights camera action. I saw several flashes while in the air and then my focus was turned back to railing turns and carrying speed for the rest of the course.
I knew I was having a good race, I was tired but had the energy to keep pushing. Right after the new jumps there is a tight left hand turn and then you need to pedal to maintain speed. This is where I met up with the racer ahead of me. Yup, I knew I was having a good race when I realized I made up the 1 minute gap between me and the racer in front. I really would not have wanted to be this guy because I could hear people yelling at him then as I was 10 meters behind him I started screaming at him to get off the line and let me pass. Fortunately he pulled off and I ripped by without incident and I made sure to thank him as I went by.
The rest of the course was fast downhill single track with lots of opportunity to pedal, which I did as much as I could but by this point I was pretty much spent. Across the line and basically rolled up a small hill and threw my bike on the ground to catch my breath. 00:04:16.23 was my time. Second place, but as I said I wanted to improve over last year and I would say 25 seconds off your time is a pretty good improvement.
Yours truely on the right.
It turned out that Tim crashed in the new jump section, he cased the second jump and incurred a concussion. He has no recollection of what went wrong but I have heard from witnesses that it was really ugly and he is lucky to only have a grade 2/3 concussion and a bloody nose. Rob finished the race in the top 10 and achieved a personal goal of hitting the new jump section to the roar of the crowd and finishing the race under a certain time.
I stayed around for the medal ceremonies and a wicked jump contest into the lake. Overall I am ecstatic about my result and time in the race. I cannot wait to get out on my bike each day and ride a little faster every time I board my bike.