Race Report: Art’s goes to the 2013 Pro GRT Reaper Madness

Several Art’s Cyclery employees and racers made the trip to Boulder City, Nevada in March to compete in the first race of the 2013 Pro Gravity Tour, the Reaper Madness, held at Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park. Here, Pro Class racer and warehouse dominator Daniel Brisbon reports on the experience.

Bootleg Canyon Bike Park, Boulder City, NV What do Bootleg Canyon and San Luis Obispo have in common? Rocks—lot’s of ‘em. The rocky, fast trails of SLO and Boulder City demand all of your attention if you wish to make it to the bottom, and always push your limits as a mountain biker. However, there are probably more trails packed into the Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park than our whole county, so with excitement running high we struck out for the middle of the Mojave Desert for a weekend of racing. The first official stop of the 2013 Pro GRT series was beckoning, and we were ready to see what we were made of.

Dan Brisbon Art's Cyclery

This shot shows the unforgiving terrain of Bootleg Canyon.

After a day of fixing customer’s bikes and shipping orders at the shop, our carload of five set out on the eight-hour road trip, towing a trailer filled with bikes and gear so we could stretch out and enjoy the ride in luxurious comfort. Anticipation of the world-class trails and competition we were soon to encounter kept excitement running high for the entire drive. The seasoned Bootleg veterans among us told tales of desert glory while the neophytes dreamed of rock drops and carving turns through the sandy singletrack. As we headed onward to Sin City, conversation turned to alien abductions, the Sasquatch, and tales typical of Las Vegas adventure—as well as could be remembered. After putting Highway 15 behind us and locking up the bikes, we attempted to get a few precious moments of sleep, knowing we would need all our resources for the weekend to come.

Loading The Trailer

Loading The Trailer

Friday’s first light revealed a demolished breakfast buffet table in our wake as we sped towards the bike park, eager to feel the crunch of gravel beneath our tires. In the Bootleg Canyon parking lot, we scrambled to dial in suspension and tire pressure settings before a mellow climb to the top of the Super D course. At the top of the climb, with our legs warmed up and our adrenaline flowing from anticipation, Cory led the way down the course, which consisted of Skyline and West Leg trails. Skyline is a perfect trail for five to six inch bikes, with numerous short, steep, rocky outcroppings which must be blasted up and then dropped over, with a few twisty turns thrown in near the end. West Leg is fast and pedally, filled with high speed carvy turns and momentum-robbing rock sections—ideal for twenty-niners. One of Skyline’s exposed rock clusters snuck up on Cory and knocked him off trail, tumbling him down a ten foot cliff into a pile of sharp-edged, crumbly rocks and tough desert bushes. After a team rescue effort returned him to the trail, damage was assessed as a leg gouge and scratched shock — not the solid start to our weekend we were hoping for.

After running the Super D trails we donned our full-face helmets and knee guards to shuttle our long-travel bikes to the top of the DH course, which followed Snake Back, Kevorkian, and Diva trails to the bottom. A mix of rock drops, high-speed ridgelines, and rough, technical zones, the DH track would be a true test of skills, fitness, and desire. Fatigue and dehydration are always factors at Bootleg Canyon, especially when wearing DH gear and pushing big bikes, thus we each had our share of spills and crashes on Friday trying to dial in our lines and figure out the flow of the punishing trail. Day’s end saw us tired, bruised, and bloodied, ready for some quality recovery time, which we started off with a visit to Lake Mead’s cooling waters.

The crew at Lake Mead.

The crew at Lake Mead.

While Bootleg’s crowd on Friday was light, Saturday brought packed trails, so I decided to put down just one quick practice lap on the downhill course before gearing up for the Super D race. Stopping at a particularly technical section to observe some other rider’s line choices, I watched a train of about five guys hit the section, including Logan Bingelli, Mitch Ropelato, and the one and only, Aaron Gwin. None of them were going at full race speed, but watching them rip down the rocky and brutal desert terrain was inspirational. We usually only get to see these guys in videos and magazines and to witness them in the flesh was a dream come true.

Art's mechanic Cory Sullivan (red shirt) on the Super D Podium

Art's mechanic Cory Sullivan (red shirt) on the Super D Podium

Finally, at twelve-noon the Super D race began. We knew this race was going to be challenging and painful; the course was littered with rocky uphills and flat turns, while pedaling was mandatory down the whole course in order to keep your speed for the entire fourteen minutes. Riders were released at thirty-second intervals with the pro category going last, resulting in a long wait under the hot sun for our turns. Even after our practice runs, Cory and I had issues on the Skyline section with it’s surprise sharp switchbacks and rocky uphills, but we were ultimately able to keep our composure and put down a solid race run to the finish line, or so we thought. After running to the faucet for water and catching our breath, we checked our times only to realize that the winner, Waylon Smith, had beaten us by a whopping one and a half minutes. It was a demoralizing experience, but Waylon had expertly used his twenty-niner to maintain speed and roll all the rocky sections for the victory. Cory was able to take 3rd place in the Super D, pocketing a little money, which he took to the Vegas casinos, since we were racing in gambling central.

When qualifying runs for the Pro Downhill race began, Cory and I were tired, sore, and in no mood to race our DH bikes down the hill, but we saddled up and pedaled nonetheless. After unsuccessfully completing a clean downhill run on Friday, I only wanted to make it down without falling; not the mentality you want when facing World Cup racers. Cory was slotted right in front of me, and after getting smoked by him in the Super D I had a strong desire to return the favor now. With all the professional racers watching, I entered the starting gate slightly nervous, but eager to one up my racing buddy. The top half of the course was technical, steep, and rugged, so getting through clean was all I was thinking about; after that it was full throttle to the finish line down an exposed ridge line. As always, once on course, my mind cleared and I put down a smooth upper run. As I entered the pedally part of the course I encountered a cloud of dust with Cory on the other side! After pedaling hard enough to go blurry I was almost able to catch him, fully intending to rub it in his face, but instead saw that he was cut up and bruised—he must have crashed. I decided not to gloat, and ended up qualifying mid-pack. I was excited for what was to come for Sunday.

On Sunday, we were all up early to pack the trailer so that we could leave after the race. Bootleg Canyon was packed with racers, spectators, and sponsor’s tents, with everyone putting on their Sunday-best racing gear and tuning up their bikes. We had two hours to dial in the course, and I was eager to get comfortable hitting the track at race speed.

Daniel Brisbon Art's Cyclery

Daniel Brisbon Ripping the Reaper.

Although my aspirations were high, the rock gods had other plans for me. Half-way down my practice run, my bike abruptly ceased all forward motion, nearly sending me over the bars. Upon inspection I discovered that my derailleur hanger had sheared off the frame, causing the derailleur to be sucked into the rear wheel. Luckily, my trail bike was willing to donate the necessary parts, and after a frenzied operation, I was able to get my DH bike running again. Unfortunately, I had used all my practice time performing repairs, so when I got to the starting gate, I lacked the confident, trail killer mentality I wanted. Even though I felt timid and slow the whole way, I was able to get down the course with no crashes. I was not hitting sections as fast and as clean I as I was during practice and I knew it. Once I cleared the finish line and stopped frantically sucking air, I consoled myself with the knowledge that myself and my bike were in one piece; the number of slings and casts being worn indicated many others weren’t as lucky.

Even though I wasn’t able to beat Bignelli and Gwinn, I had a great time riding with friends and experiencing trails outside my regular loops. In the end, going to races is an excuse to push it a little harder than normal, meet new people and solidify existing friendships, and learn a little more about ourselves—all accomplished. Bootleg Canyon is an amazing venue…I can’t wait for our next trip to the desert.