Words and Photos by: Anders Nyström
As a whole, my National Dual Slalom race experiences ended up being a two-day affair, and the first day both set the tone and decided the mindset that I would have going into the actual race. With nonstop rain occurring the previous Saturday and Sunday plus a damp and misty morning of practice I knew I’d have one goal during my preview: to get a feel for the course and not let the current conditions go to my head. I knew there were only two other competitors in my category so I was interested in seeing what kind of set ups they would be running as well. I did 3 laps in each lane, more or less just rolling the course the first two times in each run and doing a race pace run in each lane at the end. Race pace in those conditions wasn’t much of a show, the sloppy wet mud proved to slow you down considerably through the rhythms between each corner. The corners themselves were slick and tough to gauge. I wouldn’t say I was frustrated, but it wasn’t the ideal situation for sure. Though I did end up seeing one of my other competitors in the practice and the set up he was on was really only useful for dry conditions. This was a small boost in confidence, but the following day, race day, was supposed to have rapidly changing conditions, which would really decide what the best set up was.
The morning of the race consisted of a 30 min practice from 7:45 to 8:15 am before immediately going into a qualifying round at 8:30 am. I did one run in each lane, and although the mud had dried considerably, it was still at the “peanut butter” stage that I was all too familiar with from racing Cyclocross. Qualifying began and the sun was out. One run in each lane, I ended up doing each lane about ½ second faster than my nearest competitor. The full qualifying results were up with myself in first place. Brackets were created which took about an hour for all the categories racing that morning and bracket racing began at about 10:30 am or so.
While waiting for brackets to form I pedaled around the course. The course itself was located at the bottom of the mountain, a bit spectator unfriendly since the mountain was inverted (with the resort and village being at the top of the mountain, not the bottom) so you actually had to ride the chairlift down to where the race course was. But I did run into a couple that was there to watch the race. I was on my own for the day and took time to talk to them. They were stoked that I was racing on a RIP for Niner since they also rode Niners; RKT’s for fitness mountain biking, which was awesome to hear!
Racing began and my two competitors raced each other in a bracket round to see who would race me in the final. The second fastest qualifier won, and it was our turn to run for the final. Looking back, he ended up having an advantage because with the sun being out and a warm and dry morning and previous evening meant the course had all but completely dried out by the time we were to race in the final. I didn’t know how much the course had changed since qualifying an hour ago and ended up riding the first run a bit too conservatively, losing by about 0.2 seconds to my competitor. I was actually extremely nervous when we were walking back up the hill to do our second round. I didn’t realize just how differently the course was riding and knew I needed a mental reset and to be much more focused during this second run. The same couple I had talked to before came down and helped me out by walking my bike up for me back up to the top of the course, which was so cool! Can’t show my appreciation enough for that, and I made up my mind that this final run would be for them. Sitting in the gate, I decided it was all or nothing. I was going to win, or I was going to go down trying. It ended up being the perfect run that I could have done. I had no awareness of where my competitor was; I completely focused on my run and only on my riding. This mindset is the best mindset to be in when racing Dual Slalom, if you focus on the other racer you’ll make mistakes. But if you focus purely on your riding, you’ll put together a really good run. I crossed the finish line and only then did I realize that the other racer had actually dropped his chain half way through the run. An unfortunate mechanical for sure, and I wish we could have had a clean run together to see what really could have happened, but what happened did and I came away with the title. I was beyond thrilled about it, and definitely look forward to next season and defending the title next year!
The bike set up that I run is almost identical to the standard 3-star build that Niner offers for their RIP 9 RDO. I run a Large frame size though I’m 6’ 4”, the Large allows me to have better handling and throw the bike around a bit easier which I love. The whips and berm slaps on this bike are so wonderfully easy. There are really only 4 differences that I have changed from the stock build.
I opted for upgraded levers to SRAM Guide RSC and larger rotors (180mm rear and 200mm front). This really improved stopping power and control of the bike, which allows me to race the bike on some of the gnarliest downhill courses that I know of and still handle them in stride. I race the entire Downhill Southeast series each spring that Neko Mullaly puts on and the Windrock Pro GRT in the Singlecrown class. Although I personally am still improving on what I can handle as a rider, the bike itself has proved time and time again that it is more than capable of handling anything thrown at it. It’s also worth noting that I run the brakes “moto style” with my left hand pulling the lever for the rear and my right hand pulling the lever for the front. This was a decision I made due to a biological issue. I have a plate and 6 screws in my left Ulna bone in my forearm, which causes the muscles in my left arm to pump and seize much quicker than my right arm. So having the less powerful brake on my left means I don’t lose control as quickly since my (much) stronger right arm handles the front braking duties.
The remaining 3 differences are all in the cockpit of the bike. I run ODI AG-2 Grips, I began riding for ODI earlier this year and have loved their AG-2 for enduro and DH riding. I also run Deity Components handlebars and stem. I run the BLACKLABEL 800 handlebar, which is 20mm wider than the stock bar that comes on the bike. Helps with me being a bit tall for the frame size I chose. I also run a Deity Components Copperhead stem. I chose Deity because it’s an homage to my home state, Idaho, which is where I grew up and began riding and racing. Idaho is also the home of Deity Components and I love to support a company from my home state and hope that I can ride for them one day!