“Anytime an event has been around for 20-plus years, I think it deserves the title ‘Classic,’ which this one has…. People keep coming back.”
— Katerina Nash, Team ClifBar and Downieville Classic Veteran
There’s a reason the tiny town of Downieville swells to a population nearly three times its normal size one weekend per year. This race, the Downieville Classic, has a magnetic pull that has drawn riders and families back these past 22 years. The “greatness” measure of a race or event often can be decided by any one of these factors: the quality and setting of the course, the challenge of the competition or the spirit of the community it binds together. The Downieville Classic is, then, rich in all three.
The race is permitted under Tahoe National Forest, making entries scarce and hard to come by. They sell out fast, so getting a spot means earning a special place that is part of a special yearly tradition. While the XC race has 600 riders, the All Mountain Category is limited to 350. Top podium spots earn entry into the next year’s Downieville Classic, amping the already fierce competition.
Sunday’s downhill race determines the final positions in the All Mountain category. The overall winner is crowned as the All Mountain World Champ. Back when the Downieville Classic was a purely timed event, a dominating XC performance could clench the overall win. Now, however, points are awarded to the top 20 positions in both the XC and downhill races. The racer with the most points wins. In the event of a tie, first place is decided by the fastest downhill time. Even with nearly a nine-minute lead on the women’s field, ClifBar pro Katerina Nash still needs to have a strong finish.
Downhill start times are determined by finishing time on the prior day’s XC race. Reserved for All Mountain racers only, the downhill starts at Packer Saddle. It descends 5,000 feet in 15 miles. Though it may return to some of the trails from Satuday’s XC race, the length and speed of the descent make it one of the most challenging races in the country. Ever-changing terrain and speed demands constant focus and can require rapid-fire decision making. The Butcher Trail segment includes a field-sorting 700-foot climb. A wrong move on Sunday’s downhill race can often be the deciding factor in who earns the World Champ title.
By the end of the day, all three of Team ClifBar’s riders have secured overall spots in the top 15 of their fields. With a strong downhill finish, though, Katerina Nash came away with a spot at the top of the podium here in California’s Lost Sierra.
Words: Bryan Yates
Images: Jordan Haggard/Crystal Haggard