From the archive: Big Bear national ’04
Originally posted Posted May 26, 2004 — Back when we raced gravity events at Big Bear (and I had time to do massive posts like this one. Tons of photos!).
Oh, Big Bear. El Oso Grande. The Jewel of SoCal Mountains. Womb of the SoCal downhill scene. One of the oldest, best-run venues in mountainbikingdom. Great things have a way of happening here, and this year was right on target.
Full Peaty effect.
All hail dual slalom. A good course takes all the elements of a good trail ride — corners, rollers, jumps and drops — boils away excess miles and pours them out onto a gentle grade. While mountain cross is a game of decisiveness, dual slalom is a game of precision. Who can lay down two clean qualifying runs, then do 10 more, each a bit faster?
The course was full-on circa 1996 with smallish jumps, lots of rollers, a few flat turns and a host of abrupt berms. These weren’t your Sea Otter Hot Wheels swoopers; they were like ramming into a brick wall. Bam! right. Bam! left. And the gates: we were hitting them with everything we had: knuckles, feet, tires, bars, forearms and even chin guards. This course required a lot more than pure BMX. To review:
Out of the gate over a little roller. Flat right. Step-up table into a right berm. Flat left, flat right. Drop. Flat left. Right berm. Pedal! Roller, step-up table, table, left berm. Pedal! Weave through a flat right, left, right. Cross the road. Hit the first roller to double or triple. Manual the other three or four rollers, then jump the table. Right berm, left berm. Low table. Roller into left berm then immediate right berm. Flat left, right, left over the line. Fun!
I ran my SX sprung a bit soft to adhere to the flat turns. Low bottom bracket, fork around 90 mm. A 2.0 women’s-only Roll X rolled fast on my rear rim, and a prototype 2.4 dual compound Enduro tire did the front grabbing. The bike did everything right; all failures were my own.
I laid down two nice qualifying runs and wound up 3rd in the 30-39 class. Stoked! That’s the best I’ve ever done at a big race. In the first run of the first round I waxed a German/San Diegan by the max margin. In run two I shot out of the first berm, my eyes locked on a line and I just nailed it. As I did so I thought “this was a lot harder last time,” then I saw my red gate go by — on the wrong side! Damn. I stopped, peg-legged back up around the gate then got back on it. I rode faster than ever and almost caught up enough to stay in the game, but that was it. Just call me the Spectator Formerly Known as Qualifier No. 3. Thank goodness I could still cheer for my bro’s; if all I had was my result, I would have been double bummed.
There was plenty of hot amateur action. Ha! that sounds like porn:
The expert women final was the Clash of the Titans: Patty Lenz, type-A NorCal queen bee and Sea Otter runner-up, vs. Bobbi Kae Watt, Colorado BMX princess, Sea Otter winner and Mountain States Cup dominatrix. Before the final Bobbi shivered behind a ski tower, happy with second place and just wanting it to be over. Patty seemed more in control, staying cozy in her short-shorts under a blanket with some NorCal friends. Bobbi got the gates as expected, but Patty charged the berms way harder and powered her way to a win. I predict many a matchup between these two.
Expert men 19-29 was chock full of bad asses. Eigil Bisgaard was in complete control the entire day, just working his ’04 SX with a playful deliberateness that said, “yes, I am in control here.” Jeff Kendall-Weed, one of the most enthusiastic people you’ll ever meet, wrung his Chameleon through the rounds with a frenetic, slightly random style. It turned out his rear brake barely worked, and his front brake wasn’t there at all. In the final with Eigil, Jeff hit the flat turns with absolute abandon. I couldn’t believe he’d stick it — and he didn’t. Blammo! White Chameleon and Jeff Kendall-Weed everywhere. In the second run Jeff pinned it and Eigil fell behind in the slower red lane. Eigil seemed to realize he was in trouble, gave it too much gas and crashed himself out! Jeff stayed on his brakeless bike to take the win. Too much!
Big Bear has some fun terrain, and I was stoked we got to race some of it this year. Pros had their own downhill mania situation. Beginners and Sports came down Log Chute. Experts came down Westridge, a mix of pedaling, trees, rocks, jumps, berms and off camber turns. This wasn’t merely a “pedaling” or “technical” course — it was both.
Practice was stupid fun. Despite the slow lift line I got 10 runs in three days. On my handlebar I’m running a Timex watch with a motorcycle kill switch to start and stop the timer. This is a great way to time runs and sections with minimal effort and maximum accuracy. I ran a cruiser run at 5:40, which felt good. On the next run I chased Brenden Newton, a Yeti-RPM junior ex. He was hauling ass. I was working to stay with him, and I was making mistakes. I would have sworn that run was faster, but the timer showed 5:55. it just goes to show, you have to find a pace that feels easy and flowy.
I ran my Demo 9 with a 2.5 Minion in the front, XC tube at 25 psi and a 2.5 High Roller in the rear, DH tube at 40 psi. I rear flatted in practice, and I was not screwing around.
Before the race I battled my standard self doubt, only it was magnified because I have never put in a decent run at a national. I’ve ridden too cautiously and slowly, ridden too fast and crashed, and I’ve flown into spectators, but I’ve never ridden to my potential. Well, this time I held it together. I did my normal warmup — a few hundred lunges standing with my bike — got into the gate and let fly the way I did at Sea Otter. I made good, easy power and stayed smooth just about everywhere. I passed my 30-second man in a wide spot before the final trees. In the third to last tree turn I hit something and both feet blasted out of the pedals. Yikes! Somehow I held on, made the corners and emerged to hit the final table fast and low for a sweet piece of back side. I bounced through the final little berm then laid down the pedal action to the line. When I crossed, the announcer was going nuts, “And Lee McCormack on the hot seat with a 5:26 …” As pain filled my legs, satisfaction filled my heart and tears began to fill my eyes. After nine years as an “expert,” I’d finally done it. This was it, the big show, a national. I watched my entire class come down, and nobody beat my time. I was beyond stoked, vacillating between a rebel yell and a big ol’ cry. As I coasted through the pits to get my Super D bike, I saw my boy and ex-training partner Curtis Keene. “I did it! I won the DH!” He gave me a huge hug, and I lost control, sobbing into his brawny shoulder. Hey, man, I’m in touch with my feelings.
Right before awards, I checked the result sheet What the … ? Another name stood above mine. Brad Beck, Team No Brakes, was 0.98 second faster. Bummer, I’d actually placed second. What a colossal psyche! I could have been devastated, but what could I do? I did my best. Brad did better. The win was arbitrary. The real victory was my clean run.
I’ll say this for Team Big Bear: They know how to use their terrain, and they know how to mix things up. Last year’s Super D course was a 19-minute pedalfest across the back roads and down the XC course. This year was a 200-yard uphill run to the bikes followed by an 8-minute DH run. We crossed the top of the expert downhill course, bombed down a rough doubletrack, then traversed to the bottom half of the pro mania course, which was ultra sketchy with the seat at XC height and 45 psi in the semislick tires.
As we lined up for the start, Brian Lopes showed up to see what was going on. His broken ankle is healing, and he’d just dropped a gang on the climb up the XC course. You could see he was restless — and mischievous. When the pro men went down to the start, Lopes messed with Mark Weir’s shifters. When Weir jumped on his bike — way out in front, of course — the chain was all over the place. “Damn you Lopes!” Weir went on to win the pro class by 30 seconds.
By the way, I’d love to see a showdown between Lopes and Weir. Two gifted, ultracompetitive athletes with vastly different styles: NorCal soulriding Weir in a skinsuit vs. SoCal smacktalking Lopes in his Oakley baggies. Winner races me. Ha!
The Mighty Chris Carscadden had men 30-39 in the bag. He is Weir-strong, a fast downhiller and hungry after a disappointing downhill. Me, I still thought I’d won the DH. I was feeling satisfied and uncompetitive, ready to find some gravel, spawn and die. Our group took off, Chris in front and me jogging at the back. Chris reached the bikes first. “I saw the Fox fork, 5th Element shock and the gray frame, and I just went for it,” he said later, “but I was like, dang, this seat is pretty high, and the bars are crooked.” After a couple hundred yards, he realized he was on the wrong bike and turned around! Meanwhile, I reached the bikes almost last and started working my way through anaerobic flatlanders. I looked up and saw Chris riding back, a concerned look on his face and someone else’s bike between his legs. I know this isn’t cool, but my thought were, “1) Oh, no, he took the wrong bike! and 2) Ha! I’m gonna beat Carscadden!” Chris handed the strange bike to its befuddled owner then got to work.
The descent was bad ass. Full speed, rough trail, XC bike with a bunch of strangers. I picked off riders one, two, three at a time. A DH bike with fast tires would have been the ticket. I feared every clank, bash and slap on my Enduro was a pinch flat or a broken steerer. I grabbed a few more people on the flats and hit the pro DH course with impunity. Without thinking I hit the big hip jump. I flew through the air, seat up my ass, thinking, “This is a bad idea …” I landed, sketched in the dust and took it easy to a fourth place finish. Meanwhile, Carscadden was laying down some of his insane power and passed his way all the way to fifth, only 15 seconds behind me. Pretty impressive considering the wrong-bike fiasco.
That’s racing, eh? Just take the Random-O-Meter and turn the dial to 11.
Special Olympics with Lopes
After Super D and during the pro slalom a few of us were hanging out in front of our condo, and Lopes rolled up on his DH bike. Maybe he was bummed he wasn’t racing and needed to destroy someone, because he challenged me to a sprint.
“Let’s go right now.”
“I’m wearing the wrong shoes.”
“I have a broken ankle.”
“OK, let’s do it.”
We rolled up the road a ways and my buddies called the start.
Crank crank crank crank. In four strokes Lopes got so far ahead he broke into a manual and looked back to see what I was doing. I maintained full power and closed the gap to lose by half a bike length.
Lopes was ebullient. “Dude, I waxed you.”
“Yeah, I know. But you know me, I’m up for anything.”
“That’s why I like you.”
Pro DH qualifying
By Sunday I was too exhausted to do much. I did manage to shoot pro DH qualifiers before I started the drive home. I shot the men in the final turns at the bottom of the course. I shot the women on the traverse leading to the hip jump.
Oh I miss those days.