Hot Fun in the Lost Sierra - Downieville Classic 2023

Jul 19, 2023 at 10:45
by Dario DiGiulio  

After a four year hiatus, the venerable Downieville Classic returned to the gold-rich hills of Sierra County, greeting racers and spectators with some of the hottest weather the event has ever seen. The Yuba River proved to be a critical cooling zone for people pushing themselves over the two days of racing, though the heat still led to more than a few scratches and DNFs.

For those unfamiliar, the Downieville Classic is a unique race, with a point-to-point XC on Saturday and a 15-mile DH run on Sunday. The racing amounts to nearly 45 miles of trail and rough fire road, with about 5000' of climbing for good measure. To make things even trickier, your bike setup and weight has to be identical between the two days, making setup choice a fun puzzle. Certainly a test of rider and bike, earning the self-appointed title of All-Mountain World Championships. This was the Classic's 25th year going, with a family of regulars happy to see each other again after a few years away.

The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship trailer, painted by local artist Alex Dunn.
Tired rides.
Cheers, bike.

The heat put a damper on some of the typical extra events at the Classic, but folks were still out in droves having as much fun as they could without melting. The party took place in the river, and plenty of cold refreshments were enjoyed - be it Gatorade or Pale Ale.

With Crankworx coming up next week, this was my heading as soon as racing ended.
Room for a friend.

With nearly 800 folks racing, the tiny town and narrow river valley surrounding Downieville get packed pretty tight. Racers could be seen camping in every nook and cranny.

Rig of the day.
Impressive pile.
The luxurious amenities of a Pinkbike Tech Editor.

The rugged trails in town proved to be pretty taxing on bike and body, with some serious crashes over the two race days and mechanicals to match. Here's hoping everyone who went down heals up quick, and all those broken bikes get some love upon returning home.

Inserts were common, but not a panacea.
Downieville veteran Jason Moeschler finished out the DH with this accessory.
CARNAGE. This racer hiked her bike 13 miles to the finish line.

Whether they see each other every weekend or every couple years, there were plenty of groups of friends that came out together to race and hang out in the Sierra. With 25 years of history, the racers that come year after year feel like a little family; it was lovely to witness the reunion.

Friends in the shade, pt.1.
Friends in the shade, pt.2.
Founder of the Classic and master beard grower, Greg Williams.
Downieville legends.

As part of their Connected Communities program, the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship is fundraising to connect 15 rural mountain towns through recreation and land access. The Downieville Classic is a key part of that fundraising effort, and shows just how much vitality mountain biking can bring to a small town.

Clipless firefighter.
The homies at Paul Components were collecting tips for the volunteer firefighters.
Huge thanks to all the moto course sweeps and volunteers.

There were plenty of cool bikes to ogle around the event, but the community and culture of the event feels like the real highlight. Still, here are some cool details I spotted.

A Suntour index shifter on a Santa Cruz mechanic's bike...
...cleverly used as a progressive shock lockout.
My friend Myles is a machinist at SRAM, and made himself a singlespeed chain tensioner that uses a Transmission Full Contact attachment style and clutch internals. Very skookum, very cool.
No, you can't buy one.

All-Mountain Results

Pro Women
1. Katerina Nash
2. Alexis Skarda
3. Anna Yamaguchi

Pro Men
1. Keegan Swenson
2. Bradyn Lange
3. Cole Paton

Singlespeed Open
1. Clint Claassen
2. Maxx Chance
3. Scott Chapin

Expert Junior Women
1. Francisca Gomez Villafane
2. Savannah Pilkington
Exp. Women 30 & Under
1. Katy Greene
2. Diniana Piekutowski
3. Kelly Brennan

Exp. Women 31-40
1. Jenna Dramise
2. Jenna Kane
3. Campbell Steers

Exp. Women 41-50
1. Genevieve Evans
2. Brooke Summers
3. Sara Malm

Exp. Women 51+
1. Ellen Guthrie
2. Maria Alejandra De Bernardi
Exp. Junior Men
1. Simon Hewett
2. Dylan Finkler
3. Campbell Goddard

Exp. Men 30 & Under
1. Max Rehkopf
2. Austin Gilchrist
3. Dario DiGiulio

Exp. Men 31-40
1. Jeff Thayer
2. Nate Riffle
3. Frederick Stamm

Exp. Men 41-50
1. Justin Robinson
2. Justin Morgan
3. Zak Brown
Exp. Men 51+
1. Victor Sheldon
2. Jim Hewett
3. Romolo Forcino

See you next time, Downieville!

Check out the other shots here.

Author Info:
dariodigiulio avatar

Member since Dec 25, 2016
127 articles

  • 112 1
 3rd Place Dario!! Way to go.
  • 4 1
  • 7 0
 Had no idea Zac Brown rode bikes
  • 7 1
 Outside needs to pay you more, Dario!
  • 7 1
 Wow! Way to go Dario! Hey Pinkbike, give this guy a raise!
  • 22 2
 Thanks y'all!
  • 4 2
 Why are people down voting? It makes no sense!
  • 1 0
 Seriously impressive!
  • 32 2
 After falling off first divide on Friday's practice, finishing the XC while narrowly dodging heat stroke, a warped tire (FROM SITTING ON THE ASPHALT!) and sweating my ass off each night trying to sleep I bowed out of the DH on Sunday. I can't wait to go back and try to not whimp out.

Also, speaking of asphalt a wee PSA. I saw two dogs limping, one of which had blisters all over his feet. Take care of your pooches!
  • 29 0
 hey, that's my dad's truck as 'the rig of the day'! It drives as sweet as it looks
  • 2 0
 I thought I recognized that truck!
  • 3 0
 Had to google skookum. Dope word - do people use it casually in the PNW or is Dario somehow cooler than he appears to be.
  • 3 0
 @tomfoolerybackground: It's common among some circles in the PNW but still a bit of a shibboleth (there's another word for ya).
  • 3 1
 @barp: or is it sibboleth…
  • 2 0
 @bigheaddan: shibboleth is correct in English

Biblical Hebrew: שִׁבֹּלֶת‎, romanized: šībbōleṯ) is any custom or tradition, usually a choice of phrasing or even a single word, that distinguishes one group of people from another.
  • 2 0
 @vhdh666: Yes. In the story where it originates, the groups of people in question were distinguished from one another by their pronunciation of the word. One group pronounced it "sHibboleth", and the other group instead pronounced it "sibboleth".
  • 2 0
 Is that an Anthem? Trance? I'm pretty bad at identifying bikes.
  • 19 1
 Great article Dario. You said a lot while also saying a little, which is true journalism. Photos, captions, writing and the perspective are all intoxicating enough to make me want to go out and ride in the searing heat. I read to the end and realized you didn't say a word about how your own race went. I guess it's striking to see a journalist experience the event and report on the character and never say I. Again, true journalism.

So... Indulge me for a minute... How'd the race go for you? These are essentially conditions and terrain types you've cut your teeth riding in and you're true shredder entering a jack of all trades race. Did you still rock a cotton T and swamp man it?
  • 6 0
 I'll include some details in a coming bike check, but overall it was great! I played a dangerous game with water, and suffered a bit extra as a result, but the riding was wonderful as always and the bike/body held up well.
  • 14 0
 That's some savages racing those courses on single speeds.
  • 16 0
 And that chain tensioner is SSick af
  • 1 8
flag dmackyaheard (Jul 19, 2023 at 21:07) (Below Threshold)
 @nowthatsdoomage: totally pointless but dope nonetheless
  • 4 0
 @dmackyaheard: How is a tensioner totally pointless?
  • 10 0
 I really enjoyed the focus on the event and the photography rather than endless gear shots, nice one.
  • 6 0
 Oh man. Seeing that singlespeed podium reminds me of the old days. Used to trade blows with Clint and Scott back around 2010ish. It's rad to see they're still pedalling hard and crushing it in NorCal.
  • 5 0
 Interestingly, there were far more racers in the 31-40 category than the under-30 . And the older group was also faster overall when comparing the top 30 riders from each group. This race seems tough as hell
  • 8 0
 @DCF - Raced my first BME in the 50+ class last month and the rest in my group were all crushers. They finished faster than most of the 40-50 and were at least mid-pack in the open category. I think the older guys that still race are the hardcore guys that have been racing for years vs. the hobbyist that just race for fun or occasionally.
  • 13 0
 @motts: Yes and that is why it sucks for us older casual but habitual racing punters. The guys I race against in Open DH and other 50+ classes all raced MX and ask me if I had an Elsinore in the 80s. I was lucky to have had 1 skateboard. They're all rich, super-fit and mainly retired, with the best bikes and tons of time to ride them. Oh and they ALL have BMX backgrounds. I don't blame them at all for any of that. Hopeless yet I still try.
  • 5 0
 This is true, but also a lot of fast under'30's dump themselves in the Pro category for shits and giggles.

Older group being faster overall is very common in XC racing....old man strength, more experience, and maybe more a point in their lives when family and jobs (perhaps) have settled down a little and they have more time to spend on what they love doing (just a theory I've heard multiple times over the years at many races when the 40+ Master crowd is faster than the age group just below them.
  • 2 0
 @suspended-flesh: It didn't suck, I had a great time, mostly because I made it out in one piece and wasn't DFL. I've never been fast downhill, but I ride a lot and thought having a goal would be motivating.
  • 2 0
 @motts: Cool - Sucks was the wrong word choice on my part. There is almost no way to have a bad time racing when you don't incur an injury, especially at Downieville. Good work
  • 1 0
 @RR1: Backed, I have a buddy who fits that description to a T. Also he's not interested in riding in a way that might get him seriously hurt, so sticks to XC type stuff.
  • 1 0
 @suspended-flesh: Elsinore would the 70s.
  • 1 0
 @waxman: Maybe they were hand-me-downs but these cats are in their 60s.

Edit - aw man. One of them was Mike Too Tall Bell at the Sea Otter 'DH' just before Covid. I Googled him and found out he passed in 2021. An MX legend...
  • 7 0
 Look at all the dry sealant in that folded tire lol!
  • 4 0
 To be fair, it would have dried in about 5 seconds of exposure with all that heat.
  • 2 0
 Props to Greg and his beard and his unwavering vision all these years. Alas, no Bike Jump into the River 'contest' these days. I get it, though. Anarchic behavior is more and more confined to private property these days - like TDS down the mountain a bit.........
  • 6 0
 I believe they canceled the river jump due to high water flows.
  • 3 0
 @EricHarger: I suppose that's the best possible reason. Blessed are the meltwaters this year.
  • 2 0
 No mention that Katerina won BCBR, and a week later won Downieville?
I really would have liked to do DV this year but I did do BCBR and even a week plus later my 50yo body is still not recovered.
And both events were stupid hot.
Huge props to those that are capable of doing both let alone winning both.
  • 2 0
 Awesome job racing Dario! And even better account of this unique event. It’s truly an annual pinnacle and we’re all so happy it’s back (even though I’m still rehydrating). Best part of the Classic? Weighing each advantage/disadvantage of every single bike and part choice.
  • 5 1
 Love to see the articles from Dario. camping setup is top tier traveling dirtbag lifestyle
  • 2 0
 I used a Suntour friction shifter 40yrs ago to operate my HiteRite via an IRD RQR. Early dropper post setup with remote in other words. Glad to see they are still in good use!
  • 1 0
 Very cool! Thanks for posting this article. I am really intrigued by the Sierra Buttes back country riding. Side note: listening to Mark Weir talk about e-mtbs in a recent podcast has been an eye opener for me. I was last in Downieville in the mid 90s... need to get back!
  • 4 0
 Anyone have a link to the DH results cant find them online.
  • 1 0
 As of 15:08 PST on 7/19/23, they are not posted yet:
  • 3 0
 Dang. Can't imagine having mechanical issues or cracked rim on this (long) course. Lots of miles to get home
  • 3 0
 man the 31-40 category makes me feel old haha
  • 4 1
 Well done with Men's 30 & under 3rd place
  • 3 0
 I really like the way you put stickers that say things like milf on things
  • 6 0
 Probably the volunteer sweeper of the 50+ expert women group.
  • 3 0
 Crazy how much this event and Mark Weir shaped what we now ride today
  • 3 0
 Shout out to Paul Components!!!!!
  • 3 0
 Hiked out 13 miles?? No thank you
  • 2 0
 That is a gnarly sealant booger. Now have Mike do a write-up on the BCBR!
  • 2 0
 no mention of the actual temps. How HOT was it?
  • 2 0
 95 or so weather apps said, but people said it was 100+ in Downeiville, course climbs up a few thousand feet so might have been 10 degrees or so cooler at the top and before noon
  • 1 0
 According to my Garmin the avg temp for Saturday's race was 97
  • 8 1
 Goddamn they’d all die in the southeast this time of year. Those temps but 100% humidity. Actually, everyone would die, so it wouldn’t be much of an article
  • 1 0
 @TacosMcGee: yeah my GPS was similar. Hot AF
  • 2 0
 Siiiick! I love that Steel Hardtail SS!
  • 5 3
 i can't wait for the ironic hipster moustache trend to fade away lol
  • 5 3
 Good news: nobody's making you grow one!
  • 2 3
 To the triggered: y’all look lame. Get a f*cking job lol
  • 1 2
 @cuban-b: Seems to me that you were triggered by a stranger's choice of facial hair.
  • 1 2
 @barp: awww can’t take a joke Frown
  • 1 2
 @cuban-b: Joke's on you.
  • 1 0
 Sign me up for the T-type chain tensioner! SRAM can keep their electronic shifting
  • 3 1
 Congratulations Dario!
  • 1 0
 That sq labs ad hits different
  • 1 0
 Mark Weir!
  • 2 2
 Not a single photo of a person actually riding a bike.
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