Leaving the snowy hills of Nevada City California behind, Team Geronimo/Banshee Bikes made our way up the coast to the first stop of the Pro Gravity Tour Series, located just outside the Port Angeles. Team Geronimo riders Graeme Pitts, Michael Buell and myself made the trip out. The Northwest Cup race organizers put together an incredible race, international competition and some of the world’s top teams were in attendance. The town opened up its arms to the whole racing community as Allout Productions held a video premier in town and hotels created bike washing areas for all to use. The vibe was really laid back and friendly when practice commenced on Thursday as the shuttle trucks chugged along up and down Dry Hill all day long making for optimum practice time on a fast and furious Pacific Northwest track.
The Team Geronimo/Banshee Bicycles pit was set up adjacent to the food cart and the shuttle truck queue, prime position as all competitors and spectators had to walk past. The Hayes Bicycle Group equipped Banshee Legend MKII team bikes were on display, clean and race ready. With everything buttoned down and the Team Geronimo flags flying it was time to get dirty.
Practice went off without a hitch as the shuttle trucks kept our Team moving up the hill for more. A far reach from the Sea Otter Downhill, the Port Angeles track was a big test for us and a great time to really hone in on our bike set up. The weather was phenomenal as blue skies and sunshine made for a fast track and happy riders. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many riders enjoying themselves, the track and the surroundings. The track was the same as last year’s Pro GRT track, a sub 3 minute, hot, nasty, white knuckle speeds through the tight woods smashing berms and getting loose over exposed, slick roots and rocks. It was so much fun to ride, each run getting faster and faster, the level of riding on the track was comparable to that of a World Cup race.
Saturday came with rain causing the track to slow down, ruts started to develop and the soil was less predictable in places, but it did not slow anyone down - the track was just too much fun. With our carefully- engineered mud fenders attached to the lower crowns of our Dorado forks, we were off to the top of the hill yet again to get our practice on. My practice session was cut short due to the most massive dead leg I have ever experienced, a lot of icing, stretching and pain management ensued all the way up 'til qualifiers that afternoon. Uncertain of how I would perform on my newly-sustained injured leg, I left the starting gate and had a steady run minus much pedaling. Michael and Graeme both had steady runs as well, all of us qualifying mid-pack in a World Cup caliber field of competitors.
Sunday morning greeted us with clear skies, which meant for a faster, drier track during practice. I spent my practice runs sectioning the track, making sure my speed was race pace to insure a successful race run. The atmosphere at the venue was electric, there was so much excitement and buildup to the Pro finals as the Port Angeles locals, equipped with their drums, bells, whistles and fog horns started their march up the hill. One hour before Pro finals started spectators lined the track of Dry Hill cheering on the Junior CAT 1 riders and the announcer was primed spouting off one liners - time to head back up the hill one last time.
Michael was the first rider to leave the start for Team Geronimo. Sprinting hard out of the gate he looked very focused and ready to improve upon his qualifier from the previous day. He had a burner of a run going, the bike was working great and everything was hitting on all cylinders until he clipped a root with his foot on a crucial short uphill section two thirds the way down the track causing him to lose all momentum and necessitate a sprint off his bike uphill. It was a catastrophic mishap that lost him a lot of time and energy. In the grand scheme of things it was a great weekend and learning experience for him as it is still very early in the season, he is getting back up to speed on the bike and is feeling more and more confident each run. Michael Buell, 81st on the day. There will be another day.
My leg was a big concern for me come race day, very uncertain how it would react overnight I was prepared to do anything to race to the best of my ability. A remarkable turnaround from the previous day, I felt strong - strong enough to give it my all for the final. My run started off very fast, the track was running very quick and I had to refocus as the speeds I was reaching were faster than I had run in practice. I was extremely pleased with my efforts up top but near the middle of the track I made some crucial mistakes the cost me momentum and time. I was pushing it to the limit and found the hill pushing back as I struggled to keep it upright. Nearly home free, I made one more mistake after compressing hard out of a turn and nearly into a frightened photographer. Once through the finish line I had a chance to relax and reflect on one of the most thrilling runs of my career. How I stayed upright is beyond me. I hit all of the technical sections of the track well and was very happy with how I approached my run. My bike was incredible and I could not be happier with my setup. I got a little overzealous in some sections and maybe a little unlucky which ultimately cost me. Brian Buell, 42nd on the day and gaining momentum.
Graeme was the top qualifier on Team Geronimo and he solidified his big dog status by doing it again with a good run down through the dense Pacific Northwest hillside. He was extremely focused before his race run, had a great warm up and visualization ready to take to the track. Cool, calm and consistent he threw down a smooth run with only minor mistakes, one of those losing momentum out of a key turn riding in the soft soil teetering on the edge of the track. Happy with his efforts and his run, he is still determined to get faster each and every time he is on the bike. He was on fire all weekend and when it all comes together, watch out as he is a force. Graeme Pitts, 30th on the day in a field that included a multitude of World Cup-level racers - his eye is on the prize.
It was an amazing weekend of riding and racing. The big guns showed up and everyone had their game face on. This “mini” World Cup was a great experience and the time on the bike was extremely important as the season continues to roll on. We’re back in California now to train and prepare for the East Coast swing that stops off first in Nathrop, Colorado for Round 1 of the Mountain States Cup Gravity Series and bit of gated racing.
Team Geronimo would like to thank Scott, Casey, JDD and everyone involved in organizing this race for being so helpful and putting on this amazing event. Team Geronimo would also like to thank its sponsors: Banshee Bicycles, Hayes Bicycle Group, Dainese, Wrex Racing, Intense Tyre Systems, Point 1 Racing, MRP, ODI, Smith Optics, Kali Protectives, WTB, FSA, Gene Hamilton of Betterride, MTB Strength Training Systems, Kryptonite, Crate Works, Obtanium, Crankbrothers, Frame Wrap, Cowboy’s Fuzzy Duds, RufusDesign, Basalt Bike and Ski, Shimano, and Ogio.