GJ pro mountain biker wins Singlespeed World Championships

Ross Schnell’s mountain biking season started off rough, but finished better than even he could have imagined.

Schnell, 29, was persistent in overcoming two injuries and finished the 2009 season by winning the 24-mile Singlespeed World Championship a week ago in Durango. He celebrated by getting an unplanned tattoo.

“It was a big surprise,” Schnell said. “It was a huge accomplishment. I didn’t plan on getting a tattoo.”

In what has become a tradition, the men’s and women’s Singlespeed world champions get tattoos — a ‘champion’ banner with an intricate design surrounding it acknowledging the accomplishment.

“It was pretty nerve-racking. I didn’t plan on winning it and haven’t even given a thought to where I’d put a tattoo on my body,” Schnell said.

“I saw this dude that was fully tattooed and he said don’t put it anywhere your mom could see it, your boss or your preacher.”

He opted for the tattoo on his chest.

Schnell has come to appreciate the meaning of the tattoo, especially after what he’s been through this season.

“It was a feather in my cap after a very frustrating season,” he said. “It basically salvaged my season and then some. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Schnell started the season with a hip fracture in a French Enduro mountain bike race in May in Metabief, France. That kept him off his bike for a couple of months.

He took third place in the Downieville (Calif.) Classic downhill when he returned, but broke a hand in his next French Enduro race in Vars, France.

“Those things were very frustrating and definitely held me back, but maybe were a blessing in disguise,” Schnell said. “I was probably fresher than a lot of guys out there (at the Singlespeed World Championships). If I can get my butt in shape, I’m fresh and motivated toward the end. That works to my advantage.”

Schnell, whose first race of the 2010 season is an invitation-only event at the end of January in Nepal, said he had second thoughts about competing in the World Championship after a film shoot in Switzerland a few days prior to the event.

Schnell and seven-time Megavalanche champion Rene Wildhaber were selected to ride down glaciers with studded tires for a film produced by Ionate Films. A trailer is scheduled to be released in January, with the hour-long film out later in 2010.

“That was terrifying,” Schnell said. “This guy that invited me said we’re going to ride down a glacier.
I’m thinking 100 meters of a nice, mellow slope. We’re hiking up this glacier in our bike shoes. We have axes to chip out foot holes. There are mountaineer people looking at us like we were crazy.

The pucker factor was high.

“It was amazing the grip we had. Your mind doesn’t believe you have that much control. Hiking up was absolutely terrifying. There was nothing where we could get seriously hurt. The consequences weren’t catastrophic, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t absolutely terrified.”

He returned home Wednesday night, adjusted his Trek Top Fuel bike Thursday afternoon and headed to Durango.

“I was thoroughly jet-lagged and thought I was pretty out of shape,” Schnell said. “When you’re filming a movie, you don’t really ride or train much. It’s a lot of dinking around.

“I got sick (in Switzerland from the cold). I was exhausted. I thought I might as well go to the (Durango) race. ... I signed up.”

Schnell said he was one of an estimated 2,000 competitors in the World Championship.

The race started on Main Street in Durango with a police escort and continued up the road to the

Fort Lewis College campus, then onto a dirt road along Raider Ridge into Horse Gulch.

“It was a very physical race,” Schnell said. “It was one of the harder ones I’ve ever done because of the amount of climbing it had. There was a one- or two-mile hike-a-bike, super-steep, straight-up (section). It is pretty uncommon in a mountain bike race.

“It had probably one of the most technical ridgeline single tracks with exposure I’ve seen in a long time. Earlier in the week a guy fell off the edge and really messed himself up.

“The course had everything.”

Schnell said he estimated he was in 30th place when he hit the hike-a-bike section, moved into the top five through the technical section and took the lead about the halfway point.

Schnell finished four minutes ahead of the second-place rider and close to 10 minutes ahead of last year’s champion. The U.S. cross country champion, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, took fifth.

“I didn’t have any choice but to just charge it,” Schnell said. “It seems like when you’re leading, you should ride pretty hard.”


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