Chris King has sponsored the Santa Cruz Syndicate for the past 5 years and we are proud to know that our hubs and headsets have helped the boys capture multiple world championships and numerous world cup wins. As a sponsor, winning results are what you hope for, but as enthusiasts and fans we wondered if there was something more that we could do to give the team a better idea of who we are as a company and what goes into the products that they ride. It was with this in mind that we hatched a plan to head to the Windham DH World Cup race and sit down with the team over dinner prepared by Gourmet Century chef Chris DiMinno.
Dinner was set for Saturday night and we had arrived in Windham a few days early. We wanted to be sure that team had all the support that we could give them in order to have a successful weekend. It turns out that the Syndicate crew of Kathy Sessler, Doug Hatfield, Jason Marsh, Tom Duncan and team physician Lawrence Van Lingen have things well in hand. “You can cheer,” Doug said with a smile so we hiked the mountain to find the best spot for verbal encouragement.
Videos and photographs don’t do justice to the speed at which the top pros hit the track. They’re by no means out of control cannonballs hurtling down the mountain catch-as-catch-can, rather they fly by with a deft control that can only be described as graceful. The quickest ride with such poise that there is silence to their riding, a notable lack of thumps, thwacks, bams, and other various onomatopoeia, a vacuum of speed that is immediately discernable by even the most novice fan. Observing this kind of skill can take your breath away. We sat alongside the courses’ most treacherous rock garden as all three Syndicate riders came through. Greg was smooth, fluidly picking his way through the jumble of microwave-sized rocks. Peat had unfortunately flatted higher up on the course and was slowly making his way down the track. And then there was Josh looking like he was just out for a ride with his mates, effortlessly making his way through the stony pile on his way to qualifying in first place.
The Santa Cruz Syndicate is made up of an elite and decorated trio of riders. The undeniable leader of the group is Steve Peat, who at 40 years old is routinely beating riders half his age and has no intention of retiring anytime soon. Then there is Greg Minnaar: the rangy South African is a multiple World Cup overall winner and the current World Champion, wearing his second set of rainbow stripes in as many years. Greg blew out his knee at the end of last season, and while consistent top 10 finishes would be a dream come true for most riders Greg is used to standing on the podium and we don’t doubt that it is only matter of time until he continues his winning ways. This year though belongs to the team’s youngest member, Josh Bryceland. Josh claimed his first ever world cup victory earlier this year in Leogang, Austria and has shown a new level of consistency this season that has put him in contention for the World Cup overall. With a top placing in Windham he would head into the seasons final race in Maribel, France in leading the overall.
After qualifications we learned that only 12 seconds separated the 80 qualifiers, this is very, very tight and on a short course like Windham one mistake could cost you the entire race. The winner would have to put in a perfect run. Our group once again clambered up the hillside and staked out a location near the top of the final rock garden where the racers would be coming in fast off of an open section and then launching a natural step down into a fast and loose off-camber corner.
First up were the junior men and as each rider passed the speed increased, the riders launching further and further out into the abyss forcing them to cut the following corner tighter and tighter. We were waiting for Luca Shaw, the current junior overall leader, North Carolina native, and BuzzWorks OffSet headset rider. The crowd was fanatical as he came through and it appeared that Shaw was on a flyer but in the end it was not to be and Shaw came away with second place and enough points to wear the leaders jersey into the final round.
Next came the women and as before with each rider the pace increased. Mid pack qualifier Micayla Gatto hit the deck hard after the big step down midcourse and forced a red flag. After a few minutes she was able to walk off the course and the racing continued. Despite the high speed and aggressive terrain there are very few stoppages during a world cup race. This is a testament to the skill and preparation of all the riders involved. After Micayla was off track the top five girls came down the mountain hitting this section at blistering speeds. When eventual winner Emmeline Ragot blasted through it was obvious to all that she was on pace to take the top step of the podium.
Finally the Pro Men started coming down and the pace with which they were carrying was much faster than anything we had seen all day. We watched as rider after rider laid it on the line, this isn’t a sport of dollars and fame but one of speed and focus, a race against the clock, a race against doubt and distraction. We watched the first half of the field come through this section, their speeds increasing, and we talked about the precision with which they were able to place their bikes on the trail. I don’t think one can readily imagine the focus that it must take and the reflexes that would have to be trained to ride a bike at this speed. After about half the racers had came through we began to walk towards the finish line hoping to see one of our riders finish in first.
On our way down we passed the speed trap where riders were hitting speeds of 65kph or more just before launching themselves off a huge wedge jump into the final leg of the course. The jump on approach is head-height, such that a rider cannot see the beyond the lip until he or she is traveling up the transition at 65 kilometers an hour. This is truly a point of no return and the riders fly, trailing away far down the transition, only to hit the ground and immediately set up for another series of jumps leading to the finish line.
We camped out towards the bottom of this hill waiting anxiously as each rider came down. Steve passed but was seconds back and on a bad run, then Greg came down the hill with a good time but in the start house there still remained a small group of the fastest qualifiers. Then it was down to the final three. Troy Brosnan was flying and took over that hot seat followed by teammate Aaron Gwin who bettered Troy’s time and set a mark that would be very tough to beat. Josh left the gate and the crowd was hushed. He hit the first split and the screen went green. He was up, up by almost a second at the first split, if he could just hold on. At the second split he was up by even more time and the announcers were screaming, “in this section all the other riders were pedaling like mad and look at Josh he is just coasting, he looks so smooth he looks slow.” Josh was simply pulling away and in the end he would best the field by almost 2 seconds.
Josh has been racing and riding under Steve Peat’s guidance since he was 14 years old and they have a special bond. While the crowd went bananas, Josh and Steve compared notes from the track, both were proud and humbled by this victory, one that they had both been working towards for a long time. While the team reveled in their victory our crew hustled back to our condo to prepare for dinner.
Chris DiMinno is an unbelievable chef and while he whipped up his magic we cleaned up the place and stowed away some of the more fragile decorations in preparation for a proper party. DiMinno was born and raised just outside of New York City and while planning for this trip he had called in a few favors to some of his old haunts. We picked up some beautiful desserts from La Tulipe Dessertswhere DiMinno spent two years during high school under the tutelage of chef Martin Steenman and then a flat of freshly harvested vegetables and herbs from Blue Hill at Stone Barns where Chris worked as a cook alongside head chef-owner Dan Barber and chef de cuisine Adam Kaye for three years before moving to Portland. Add this to the pork loin he smoked for 18 hours and the 24 hour slow cooked pork belly that he prepared at Chris King, an assortment of Olympic Provisions sausages and Stumptowncoffee our Portland friends had given us and we were well prepared for an amazing meal.
The team arrived around 8:30. We had cocktails, beer, and champagne and while we feasted our conversation, at first awkward and stunted began to flow. Our discussions ranged from racing, food, the cultural make-up of upstate New York, the nuances of the Chris King RingDrive, the eminent Super Moon, the best coffee in San Francisco – Greg says its Blue Bottle -, Josh’s Jack Kerouacexperience on the California coast, and more. In short it was like having dinner with friends. We hadn’t known each other long but this is the kind of thing that happens over a meal, this is a well-made meal’s magic. Josh and Greg sampled Fernet Branca, not fans, while Peaty admitted he had already been down that bumpy road. It was then that DiMinno dropped the piece de resistance, the Opera Cake, a layered chocolate and espresso mousse from La Tulipe Desserts that knocked the crews’ socks off. Afterward we had more cocktails but the team needed to get home before things got well and truly out of hand. Our condo was off the beaten path and far from the center of the town. Sated and satisfied we wished them a good night as new friends and fellow riders.
With only one race remaining and the point’s series tight we wish Steve, Greg, Josh and the rest of the team good luck in their chase for the title.
For more photos visit our flickr set.