“The racing here is world class. It’s the All Mountain World Championships. It doesn’t get any tougher. But what we bring in the festival atmosphere is for everybody. It’s for the kids, it’s for the parents, and that’s what we try to embrace every year.”
— Greg Williams, Founder of the Downieville Classic and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship.
Once a year, the heart of California’s Lost Sierras beats with a pounding excitement. For a place with some 280 permanent residents, Downieville is a town that has learned to throw a major bash for visitors these three days every summer. In its 22 years, the event has grown from a hard-core race amongst friends into a destination festival experience for the whole family.
The weekend is about camping, getting into nature, enjoying the area’s famed former gold-mine trails, swimming in the river and reconnecting with old friends. For many families, a trip to Downieville is the annual summer vacation. The entire town gets involved for this familiar rush of annual visitors. It’s this vibe that brings racers and their families back time and again to this Lost Sierra Brigadoon.
The fun starts on Thursday with the rowdy volunteer appreciation party. There’s a DJ and breakdance competition to set the spirit for the coming weekend. Like any good recovery day, though, Friday is mellow to build up for the intense days ahead. Saturday’s cross-country race formally gets the weekend underway. The festival spirit comes alive with the BMX river jump, log pull and awards ceremony, all followed by a night party with a live band on the town’s main street. Sunday’s fast downhill event is the focus for racers, while families carry on with more festival activities.
The racing format at the Downieville Classic is unique. As the All Mountain World Championships, the event combines an XC race on Saturday and an enduro-style downhill race on Sunday. These two distinct disciplines would typically require two distinct set ups–a low-slung purebred speed machine for the climbing-heavy XC race and a slacker, higher-travel bike for the fast, technical downhill. At the Downieville Classic, however, racers are allowed just one bike that is set up the same way for both races. That means every racer’s bike must be thought through to the last detail. Even a change to a different tread tire between races can lead to disqualification. The winner is decided based on a points scoring system, rather than the fastest cumulative time.
The Downieville Classic may be about racing and fun to the weekend’s visiting crowds. For founder, Greg Williams, it is much more. He’s quick to remind that the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship non-profit was founded out of the earliest editions of the race. That non-profit has 30 full-time employees who work with the Forest Service to preserve the very gold-rush trails that are used for the race and expand new ones.
For Team ClifBar it’s this heady and festive brew of hard racing, camping and community that draws them back into the heart of the Lost Sierra.
Words: Bryan Yates
Images: Jordan Haggard/Crystal Haggard