A crew of Durango mountain bikers descended on Downieville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California ready to be thrown out of their element and test themselves across two disciplines of the sport.
The Downieville Classic, held each year since 1995, raged on Aug. 1-4 with cross-country and downhill mountain bike racing. Combined results across both events are compiled to determine Downieville’s “All Mountain World Champion.” This year, the men’s title was awarded to Durango’s own Stephan Davoust, who won both the cross-country race and the downhill by a narrow margin ahead of Canada’s Geoff Kabush. Meanwhile, Sarah Sturm of Durango was second in the cross-country race and ninth in the downhill to finish fifth in the all-mountain points standings. Liza Hartlaub, who recently moved to Durango, was the second woman in the all-mountain standings.
“Downieville is an interesting place in the sense that everything is so technical and different from Colorado. It’s big mountains but in a totally different sense,” Davoust said. “I did it last year, and it was eye-opening. Going back the second year, I was able to prepare for what I was getting into a bit more. My confidence was up, my bike setup was better, as well, and I had a bit of luck play into my favor and made smart bike choices.”
Kabush, 42, suffered a flat tire in both races. Davoust, 25, finished the cross-country in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 4.2 seconds to edge Kabush by nearly 14 seconds. In the downhill, Davoust finished in 45:22 to beat Kabush by 15 seconds. Like cross-country running, one point went to first place, two points to second place and so on. Tristan Uhl, a Giant Factory Off-Road teammate of Davoust, earned eight points, with five in cross-country and three in downhill to take third.
Davoust was impressed by Kabush’s ability to recover from flat tires and make both races close.
“I definitely look up to (Kabush) and respect him as a mountain biker almost more than anyone else in the cycling world,” Davoust said. “I’ve been battling with him all year. To actually beat him and know it’s possible, it’s pretty awesome. Geoff is a rad dude, and I’m honored to race with him and impressed by how long he’s been doing it.”
FLC mountain biker Henry Nadell, roommate of Davoust, had finished third in the cross-country, but misfortune in the downhill saw him finish 47th and fade to 26th in the all-mountain standings.
Another teammate of Davoust was Carl Decker. He has won five times at Downieville and went on to finish fourth this year.
“I could tell by the way Stephan was riding in practice that he’d be hard to beat this weekend,” Decker said of Davoust in a Giant team news release. “It usually takes a year to get up to speed here, and after a couple top-five finishes last year, he was visibly faster and more confident in the chunderous hills of Downieville.”
Sturm, a Specialized rider still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered earlier this season, opted for a beefy bike that made it tough for her to keep up with champion Katerina Nash, formerly of the Czech Republic but who now calls California home. The 42-year-old Nash finished the cross-country event in 2:29:03, while Sturm was second in 2:39:46.
Nash then won the downhill in 50:37.1, while Sturm was ninth in 1:01:03.2. Hartlaub, who moved to Durango in April, finished fourth in cross-country and third in downhill to take second in the all-mountain standings, while Caitlin Bernstein was third in cross-country and fourth in downhill to also finish with seven points, but a total time tiebreaker gave Hartlaub second overall and Bernstein third.
It also was Sturm’s second time competing in the race that is run by her good friend and former Durango star Teal Stetson-Lee.
“This year, specifically, the Durango crew was very strong,” Sturm said. “This is a crazy race. Picture a town a quarter of the size of Silverton with no train for tourists to come in. There is no gas, no amenities and really not much camping, and yet you’re in this magical place in the Sierras. The riding there is just insane.
“There’s all this talk about options for bikes because you have to race the same bike set up for both. Do you run a bigger bike to help on the descent or run a cross-country rig? With more bikes comes more problems. I ended up running my Stuntjumper, which is too much bike for that, but with the injury earlier this season, I played to my weaknesses and not my strengths. I’d rather try to keep up with Katerina on a big bike on a big climb and then try to keep my teeth on the downhill.”
While Sturm put in the effort a week before she makes her Leadville 100 debut, the race came days after Davoust shined at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships in Winter Park. Fresh off two podium finishes at nationals, Davoust was proud to return back to Durango with a Downieville championship and his nationals success.
“Part of what makes a good racer is being able to adapt to not only different courses but also different environments,” he said. “You go from Winter Park, which has food and gas everywhere, to Downieville, which is smaller than Silverton with gas a half hour away. It definitely takes mental preparation and physical preparation to be ready for that stuff.
“I tell people all the time that if you look at a swimmer, yeah, they go to some cool places, but the arena they compete in is the same every time. In mountain biking, it’s one of the few sports where the arena is intimately different every time. It makes it such a challenging, dynamic sport, and that’s what makes it fun.”