Mugged by a Gypsy: Northstar mountain bike race packs punch for unaware
The day dawned bright and dry at Northstars bike park Sunday, as the sun and not a cloud welcomed the legions of dirt rippers to the fourth installment of Northstars five-event downhill mountain bike race series.The challenge at hand was the fast and notoriously loose Gypsy trail, a rowdy three- to five-minute thrill ride that had never been raced on. A total of 190 racers, including yours truly, padded up to bomb the rugged race course with divisions split by age and racing experience.Having felt the high of downhill racing at the Northstar series second event this summer, I rolled up to the race Sunday anxious to buzz off the clock again. Though the choppy Gypsy trail was not my favorite line on the hill, I had ridden it enough to feel confident I could step up the race pace. No obstacle felt menacing. I just had to suck up ruts, avoid the rocky chunder and stick the minor drops and jumps.The Pro racers went first, flying off the opening sequence of double jumps to the delight of my camera and the groan of many rear suspensions. With racers dropping every 45 seconds, it took less than an hour before the podium places were decided for the 35 Pro men and the 11 Pro women. Mikey Sylvestri took the top step for the men, finishing the course six seconds faster than second-place rider Scott Papola. For the ladies, Tenille Smith rode away on top, barely beating Asa Salas by only 0.3 seconds.The beep beep of the starting sequence never skipped a beat after the Pros finished as the race moved fluidly into the amateur classes. Soon it was my time to drop, but not before overhearing that the course had been duly massacred by the shredding rubber of 100-some previous racers. I took the news in stride, thinking to myself, How loose could an already loose trail really get?294, 294, youre up next!Tightening my helmet I rolled into the gate and awaited the odd sixth beep Go, go, go! Accelerating out of the gate, I railed into the first turn feeling fast. My choice of starting gear and tire pressure both seemed on the money. I drifted a little, but hooked up nicely sprinting through the corners exit. Blazing the easy quarter-mile opening stretch, I felt even better as I approached what I had deemed one of the crux sections of the course a series of nasty rutted S-turns that wove in and out of the trees. Though not too technical, these wheel-biting holes had buggered my pace in previous laps. With a final approach pedal I tightened my grip and barreled into the ruts.Lean left corner pedal lean right corner avoid rock! pedal pedal in the clear!Stoked on my smooth line and still flying by my standards, I blew past the rugged stretch beaming with confidence.Turning another corner I eyed the next feature, a minor rock drop of maybe four feet. Having hit this rock no less than 30 times, I barely even batted an eye as I rocketed into it. It was a no-brainer pull up, crouch, meet the flat landing balanced over both tires go, go, go!And so I launched Leaving the top of the rock near its left side, my eyes had mere milliseconds to focus before an overwhelming sense of despair sent my world into slow motion. Time hung in the air like my aluminum steed and my fragile skin and bones.Noooooo!!! I had forgotten that Northstar added a log landing ramp on this rock a few months back and my left-trending line had me destined to land just on the side of it. What I had remembered in my race state to be a buttery open landing on the left side was now the gruesome edge of a log pile. I landed disaster-style, one wheel off the ramp and one wheel just on. Id like to think I tried to ride out of it, but not a chance. As my chain guide caught the edge of the logs I cratered so hard over the bars and onto my face and left shoulder that I thought for sure I had just become a mountain bike collarbone injury statistic.But opening my eyes into a cloud of dust and instinctively picking up my bike, I felt little pain, only the burn of scrapes against the jersey. So I rode on, pale and shaken like Id seen a ghost, or rather, barely survived my hardest crash of the summer. Rolling on, all gusto was gone. I tasted dirt in my teeth and generally focused on survival m-m-m-must stay healthy for snow but I finished.Talking with other riders after the race I had several people echo my thoughts on the log landing ramp (sketchy at best and by no means a trail improvement), but conversations inevitably turned back to the good stuff.The course was super fun, said 17-year-old female racer Cierra Smith. It was a long technical run with a lot of different features on it.Wrapping up the race season, Northstars final downhill event will be the 2nd Annual Live Wire Classic on Oct. 5. Known for its slopestyle gauntlet of jump after jump after jump, the Live Wire race will undoubtedly bring out the regions best racers once again. Will I be there? You bet. Taking pictures. I cant race. Im officially in training for winter boardercross as of yesterday.