Earning sweet success at the Downieville Classic | SierraSun.com

Earning sweet success at the Downieville Classic

Emma Garrard
Sierra Sun
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunTyler from Yuba Expeditions launches the winning superman seat grab during the River Jump contest at the Downieville Classic MTB race Saturday. The two-day mountain biking event has gained a reputation for its challenging races and festive vibe.
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Ask pretty much any mountain bike racer about the Downieville Classic, and they’ll speak only to its elusive qualities.

Maybe it’s the challenge of the difficult course, both ascending and descending, the need to get revenge on a previous year’s mechanical failure, or just the dust-and-beer heavy air at the finish.

It’s a special race ” but winning it is almost otherworldly.

More than 700 racers competed Saturday in the sold-out two-day festival, which featured a 29-mile point-to-point cross country race with a 4,413-foot ascent followed by a 5,692-foot descent. The main event, Sunday’s Downieville Downhill, featured 5,333 feet of descent and 1,010 feet of climbing.

Among the riders looking for that fleeting moment was Conrad Snover of Truckee, who did manage to take the men’s single-speed division with a time of 2:16.57.

“Downieville is one of the small number of epic races in California,” Snover said. “It’s a super hard, raw mountain bike race. It’s a unique course because it’s straight up, straight down and very technical. But it also has a real festival feel; they close off the streets, you can drink beer afterwards, have fajitas cooked by Chris King and go jump in the river.”

Snover was one of four racers competing on the Truckee-based Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries team at Downieville. Matt Chappell, also from Truckee, placed seventh in the expert men’s 19-35 division with a time of 2:25.28. Justin Thomas of Reno won the men’s pro cross country race with a time of 2:06.11.5, and Forrest Huisman of Reno placed sixth in the single-speed division with a time of 2:30.01.7.

“All four of us had such good results,” Snover said. “I like to joke that we’re all a bunch of ‘has beens’ who used to race seriously, but now we try to focus on having fun and we’re racing well.”

Preparing for the race with the team led to Snover’s success, he said.

“It was very satisfying, a major accomplishment,” Snover said after the race.

Snover, who said he has been bike racing since he was a child, started competing in single-speed events because it was different.

“It makes the same trails fun again,” he said. “You work on momentum and not using your brakes. There’s also a lot of weight on equipment choices.”

Race tactics include picking the right gear to use for the eight-mile climb on exposed fire road, trying to draft off a geared rider on the flat-ish fire road sections and coasting on the downhills. What makes it challenging is riding a hardtail on the loose, rocky descents.

What also makes competing in the division fun is the type of racer it attracts, Snover said.

“It’s a more laid back group,” he said. “Everyone’s friendly and supportive.”

Mario Gallardo of Incline Village, who won the men’s 35-44 expert race with a time of 2:16.58, was equally reverent about the Downieville Downhill.

“It’s the hardest mountain bike race in the country, harder than (mountain bike) nationals,” Gallardo said. “The last true mountain bike race.”

A 13-year veteran of the race, Gallardo said he could not believe it when he won his division for the first time Saturday.

“I was keeping my fingers crossed on Baby Heads. There were so many guys, I was ripping through some really rocky sections but held it together,” he said.

The race came down to a four-man sprint to the finish, where Gallardo edged out fellow Incline racer Scott Vaughan by 35 seconds.

“I was breathless,” Gallardo said when he found out he had won. “I’m so stoked to win that thing. I’ve always dreamed of winning Downieville.”