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Windham: Mountain Bike Mecca for a Weekend

Team Bikeman - Race Reports

In previous years, I couldn’t really imagine why anyone would want to go to the Windham and Root 66 races: it’s a long way away and the course is on a ski slope, which to my mind raises serious red flags about its potential fun factor. This year, I could hardly imagine why anyone would pass up going to Windham. A lack of imagination either way perhaps, but my different attitude mainly comes down to more interest in gravity riding and watching Redbull TV. Redbull TV has enabled me to follow the World Cup series and get invested; dabbling in some downhill has showed me just how amazingly fun (and scary) it is. Now it also so happens that the women’s pro downhill category is dominated by British women, two of whom (Rachel Atherton and Manon Carpenter) live in my homeland of Wales, no less! Windham packs it all in: there’s a DH World Cup, a XCO World Cup, and a regular amateur race to boot. So I had to go. And I figured I might as well race.

The weekend did not have an auspicious start. Our car recently got side-swiped (boo!) and my husband and I discovered that, when loaded down with all the stuff one apparently needs for a weekend in Windham, the dent touches the rear wheel, gauging the tire and potentially causing a blowout. Undaunted, we switched to a zipcar, and tried to feel good about the “free” mileage. Unfortunately, these maneuvers got us too late to the venue to pre-ride the cross country course. If I wanted to pre-ride it would have to be prior to my race the next morning, before the already colossally early 7:30 a.m. start (there is no hiding the fact that the amateur races at Windham are slotted around the pros’ schedule, but I was ok with that). Still, one good thing about camping (all the reasonable nearby hotels were booked – if you’re going, book early!) is that it gets you up early. So we were at the course at 6:15, and I was more or less ready to ride. For reasons of ineptitude and suspect taping, I failed to find my way around the course, but I did somehow manage to see the most important features: two technical descents with multiple lines through them, rocky and chalk dry.

Onto the race! I was racing Cat 1 women and there were 8 of us on the start line, 5 in the 35+ group(including me) and 3 younger. Unusually, I didn’t know any of them. We set off up the hill. I haven’t described the course yet, but essentially it’s up and down. For me the uphill was, at best, not horrible. I am not a climber. I’m too big to be a true climber, but even for my size I’m not much of a climber. My favorite uphills have technical features; this one did not. My least favorite uphills are straight-up fireroads (or actual roads); this was not that either. There was a little looping and switchbacking, enough that it wasn’t excruciating. My poor climbing was evidenced by my position at the top: dead last. It was all a little discouraging, but I consoled myself with the fact that my race was only four short laps, and I’d probably be done by 9 am. I could even start drinking consolation beer then if I wanted to. It would all be ok. Going down, however, things got brighter. I caught up to the back two women in my field surprisingly quickly – at the first rock garden descent, where speed was your friend. By the bottom of the descent, I had caught and passed another woman. Given that I had only just passed her she promptly passed me back on the climb, as did one of the other women I previously passed, but I caught them again on the descent, this time a little sooner! Things were getting more interesting. Next time up, only the first of those women passed me, and it was closer to the top. Sure enough, I quickly came around her going down and for the fourth and final lap stayed ahead, catching up to another woman at the bottom, and just pipping her for the finish. Overall I was 3rd in my age group ($50 cash – woot!) and 4th overall, which, for a non-climber on a ski slope, felt pretty darn good.

What was also awesome was that it was indeed around 9 a.m., and I was already DONE (and most definitely dusted). Plenty of time to get ready for some serious downhill spectating! The downhill course was approximately 3 mins for the pros. I got my Welsh Dragon jersey on and Ethan and I joined our friend Isaac and started walking up the course as the Juniors, who were first up, hurtled down. Walking the course was truly humbling. The course was crazy steep in places, with gnarly rock gardens and some big jumps thrown in for good measure (think Pinnacle plummet, but much longer and with unfriendly rocks).

About 2/3 up the course is the “Road Gap”, and strategically placed next to it is a beer tent! We had fueled up on a beer before starting the climb, but hadn’t expected replenishment! Replenishment was nonetheless there to be had, and it was most welcome. We watched pretty much the whole women’s field (which followed the Juniors) at the Road Gap. The British Ladies represented: GBR 1,2,3 on the podium (Rachel A and Manon C 1 and 2)!!

We then continued the trek upwards, passing an impossibly steep section of course that had multiple lines down, all sheer, treacherous, and dusty as your grandma’s attic. Eventually we made it to the start gate and warm up areas; beautiful serene mountain views before the anarchic

After that, we made our way slowly back down, pausing at our favorite spots, and watching the final few riders on the big screen at the bottom as the huge crowd went wild for Aaron “Gwinner’s” US Victory.

The following day was the cross-country. It was awesome to watch all the biggest names in xc racing line up. I noted that the pros warm up on their trainers until approx. one minute before call-up, and also get shaded by holding parasols!

 

I also ride with Team Luna Chix, and was there to cheer on the Luna ladies. Unfortunately they didn’t have the best day, but it was an exciting race – Jolanda Neff, current world world cup leader, clawed her way miraculously from about 15th place back up to 2nd. Big cheers as well for US Lea Davison who snagged 4th!

All in all, Windham was a terrific weekend of racing and even more spectacular spectating. My advice: if you get chance to go to a World Cup Downhill and XCO venue, do it! Prepare to be amazed and humbled at the sport you’re a part of!

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