In just his first attempt at California’s Downieville Classic, Colorado’s Ross Schnell marched into the lion’s den of NorCal’s fiercest all-around mountain bikers and came out without a scratch.
He also came out toting the trophy for race’s self-coined All Mountain world championships, two new course records and some valuable bragging rights.
“The getaway sticks [legs] were working well this weekend — it feels good to finally have something good like this come together,” said Schnell, 27. “I thoroughly enjoyed coming in under the radar and beating the [NorCal] guys on their home course which they’ve probably ridden a million times and the rest of us got five runs on.”
Schnell won both of Downieville’s races, the 29-mile, point-to-point cross-country and rocky, 17-mile epic downhill. He also set new course records in each race, and his combined time of 2:41:33 netted him the All Mountain title by 3:29 ahead of three-time defending champ, Jason Moeschler (WTB-Santa Cruz).
Schnell is known as one of the best bike handlers on the domestic cross-country circuit — his nickname “Rad Ross” is a testament to his abilities on rough terrain. But coming into the 2008 Downieville, Schnell knew he was an underdog, riding in the shadow of the race’s two heroes, Moeschler and Mark Weir (both WTB-Santa Cruz). Other talents that showed included former Downhill greats Jurgen Beneke and Miles Rockwell, four-cross champ Brian Lopes, Canadian greats Andreas Hestler and Sheppard and freeride pioneer Wade Simmons.
“It was definitely a race that rewards an all-around mountain biker,” said Schnell. “It’s not just about pedaling uphill on a 19-pound hardtail, or blowing down the trail on a DH bike. It’s the coolest event I’ve been to.”
Indeed the Downieville Classic has forged a reputation in the world of mountain biking for crowning the best all-around rider — one who can climb a lung-busting ascent up 3,000 feet and survive one of the most challenging downhill runs in North America. The event forces riders to compete on the same bicycle setup for both events, meaning racers seek out the best all-around bike for the terrain.
Ross chose to ride a stock Trek Remedy 9, the company’s all-mountain six-inch bike, with a RockShox Lyric Solo air fork and a Monarch 4.2 rear shock, also made by RockShox. The bike tipped the scales at just less than 30 pounds — quite heavier than the carbon hardtail he races as a cross-country pro. Still, Schnell hung on the wheel of Canadian Chris Sheppard who lit the afterburners early in the cross-country. But with Sheppard suffering a flat tire soon after reaching the summit and beginning the descent into Downieville, Schnell took the lead.
“I looked behind me and saw [Mark] Weir and Moeschler maybe two minutes back so I wanted to take it conservative on the descent,” Schnell said. “They don’t call it ‘Baby Heads’ for nothing. I just wanted to get down in one piece.”
He did just that, and despite a small crash crossed the line with a three-minute advantage and a new course record of 1:56:58, 2:37 up on Moeschler and 3:22 ahead of Weir.
Schnell followed up that performance by winning Sunday’s downhill race, which descended 5,000 vertical feet over rock gardens, dusty switchbacks and high-speed fire roads. Much like a Super D, the Downieville race includes 1,000 feet of climbing as well. While others took to the course in full-face helmets and body armor, Schenll wore a skinsuit and his cross-country getup.
Schnell bested Moeschler by 52 seconds, but he also beat a handful of top downhill talent. Myles Rockwell finished fourth, 2:29 back, and Brian Lopes crossed the line in fifth, 2:47 back.
Taking the women’s competition was Rachel Lloyd, one of the nation’s best all-around bike riders. Lloyd, who lives in Fairfax, California, is the reigning Super D national champion, and represented the United States at the 2008 UCI world cyclocross championships, where she finished ninth. Lloyd, the defending Downieville champ, received her toughest competition from Schnell’s Trek-Volkswagen teammate Susan Haywood. But the Californian pulled out dominating wins in both the cross-country and downhill to take another title by nearly five minutes.
2008 Downieville Classic
1. Ross Schnell, Trek-Volkswagen, 2:41:33
2. Jason Moeschler, WTB-Santa Cruz, 2:45:02
3. Chris Sheppard (Can), 2:51:08
4. Mike Vine (Can), 2:53:48
1. Rachel Lloyd, Proman-Paradigm, 3:11:57
2. Susan Haywood, Trek-Volkswagen, 3:16:18
3. Sarah Maile, 3:41:41
4. Jamie Stamps, 3:44:17
5. Maureen Kunz, 3:47:25