By Fred Dreier
For those not up to speed on the Rage, it’s a downhill road race. First comes a time trial; fastest man takes the prize. Next is a four-up competition similar to mountain biking’s mountain-cross. Four athletes shoot out of the gates at once and make their way down the treacherous descent; the first two advance to the next round while the second two retire for drinks at the bar.
Our good friends at Red Bull invited top-level road and mountain-bike racers to run the Rage, making the event a true battle of the disciplines. And the event is likely to bring out some cross-platform technology, too. I expect a fleet of road bikes with disc brakes and shortened top tubes, their pilots clad in body armor.
Unfortunately, a large number of the road racers invited chose not to attend. According to the race’s producer, John Mesko, the “not” list included the names Hincapie, Julich, Rodriguez, Yates and Savoldelli.
“We just missed Savoldelli,” Mesko said. “He emailed us and said this was an event he had dreamed of doing for 10 years. A lot of guys gave me the old ‘I have to wash my hair’ excuse. But for guys like them there’s just not enough upside for them to risk the injury. I can understand.”
This reporter can’t help but salivate at the thought of watching the elegant Il Falco, hands down the best descender in the ProTour, duke it out on the steep roads of California with SoCal mountain-bikers “Flyin’” Brian Lopes, Eric Carter and Duncan Riffle. Bummer.
I predicted earlier that more than a few of the athletes competing in the race could end up looking like this afterward. Well, several months have passed, and I haven’t changed my mind. More than a few of the top-level professional roadies and mountain bikers heading to Malibu for the race might find themselves scouring the greater Los Angeles area for Tegederm and Neosporin Saturday night.
The venue for this event is a narrow, squiggly band of asphalt called Tuna Canyon Road, which drops more than 2000 feet in just over two miles. Yup, competitive racers will find themselves nearing 50 mph on the steep straightaways, then quickly decelerating to 10 mph for the turns.
The average gradient on the road is 15 percent, and the entire route is peppered with blind 90-degree corners, swooping 180-degree switchbacks and (probably) teeth and bones from the unlucky blokes who pushed the envelope a tad too far.
“The whole thing is scary and really gnarly. You really have to memorize the curves in the road to have a clean run,” said Mesko, who climbed and descended the road during the 12-years he trained as a competitive cyclist in the area. “You can easily put two or three minutes on someone if you’re good at going down.”
On top of that, the road is constantly bordered on one side by a sheer cliff, falling over 100 feet in some sections. That could turn a simple flub-up into a life-threatening uh-oh in an instant.
Lopes, who ventured up to Tuna Canyon two weeks ago on a reconnaissance mission, nearly took the express lane to the bottom of the canyon. While he was flying through a corner, Lopes’ rear wheel fishtailed and slid out, sending the reigning four-cross world champion sliding across the asphalt on his body armor. A small curb on the road’s far side prevented Lopes from skydiving over the edge.
“When I pulled myself off [the curb] I saw I was basically hanging off of a cliff. I’d say it was a good 100 feet down,” Lopes said. “I thanked the good Lord for keeping me on top. I went back a couple of times after that and it’s been all good.”
Many see the bike handler extraordinaire as the odds-on favorite to win both the time trial and the four-up competition. The three-time world champ says he plans to do the race on a converted mountain bike with slick tires.
“I’m not a road biker, I’m a mountain biker,” he said.
After all, navigating technical tight turns, accelerating out of hairpins and flashing balls-out courage are checks on Lopes’ personal résumé.
While the mountain-bike crowd favors Lopes, the roadies see former world track champ Marty Nothstein, David Clinger and David McCook as potential winners, according to Mesko.
“I’ve talked to every competitor coming and almost all of them think that they are going to win,” he said. “That’s pretty cool. In a typical road race there are maybe 10 guys who think they can honestly win. I think since this is totally new no one really knows who to put their money on.”
So stay tuned to VeloNews.com this weekend for updates on the Red Bull Road Rage. Yours truly is catching a flight to Los Angeles in a few hours and will be roadside for the throwdown. And, if I find myself with a bicycle handy, I just might grab a helmet and some body armor and try my own hand at Tuna Canyon. I hope I survive.
Red Bull Road Rage
Saturday, November 4
Tentative start list
Marty Nothstein (Orefield, PA)
David Clinger (Woodland Hills, CA)
Erik Saunders (Twentynine Palms, CA)
David McCook (Mountain View, CA)
Steve Bauer (Ontario, Canada)
Carl Decker (Bend, OR)
David Richter (Seattle, WA)
Kayle LeoGrande (Upland, CA)
Eddy Gragus (Ft. Collins, CO)
Devon Vigus (Castro Valley, CA)
Dean Meyer (Covelo, CA)
John Wilke (El Segundo, CA)
Antonio Cruz (Long Beach, CA)
Brian Lopes (Mission Viejo, CA)
Eric Carter (Temecula, CA)
Myles Rockwell (Durango, CO)
Mark Weir (Novato, CA)
Travis Collins (San Luis Obispo, CA)
Colin Bailey (Big Bear, CA)
Duncan Riffle (Santa Barbara, CA)
Todd Tanner (Sun Valley, ID)