The Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Games kicked off Friday with the return of the Kamikaze Downhill, an event that undoubtedly helped shape modern downhill racing. Racers took the gondola ride up to the summit of Mammoth Mountain to push their skills to limit as they plummeted 1,932-feet down the 3.2-mile course. New for this year, a second stage was added to the race which would have riders take a second gondola trip up to McCoy Station at mid-mountain and race to the finish at Canyon Lodge. After combining the two times, winners would be named in the numerous categories.
While racers of all ages and skill levels took on the Kamikaze, the event was headlined by the return of some of racers who helped make the Kamikaze the historic race that it is. The invite-only Legends of the Kamikaze Race felt more like a family reunion than a race at times, with the riders reminiscing and joking around before the start. However, being the racers that they are, as soon as the gate dropped, it was all business.
With numerous, multi-time Kamikaze Champions on hand, ironically, two first time winners would claim the title. Multi-time world and everything else champion Brian Lopes was clearly on a mission from the start donning a John Tomac-esque skin suit complete with shoe covers and a visor-less helmet for every bit of aero advantage. At the end of the two stages, Lopes would take the win over Rob Naughton by about 16-seconds. The women's Legends field was dominated by World and multi-time national champion Leigh Donovan. Donovan pinned it on the wide-open Kamikaze fireroads to take the win by 20-seconds over Italy's Giovanni Bowazzi.
Brian Lopes rocking his signature 55 number plate and holding it wide open near the finish line.
As riders push speeds into the 50mph range on the wide-open Kamikaze, aerodynamics matter. Lopes shows off his aero get-up as he scopes out lines from the exit of the start chute.
Lopes gets up close and personal at full-speed. Even after starting in 30-second intervals, Lopes seemed to always be catching the rider in front of him.
Rob "Fig" Naughton joked on the podium, that once you factor in the time penalty for Lopes' skinsuit, he actually won!
Shimano's Joe Lawwill stays focused on his way to third place.
Jeremy Purdy held it open for fourth place. While he may not have taken the top-step on the day, he still holds the record time for the Kamikaze, and that says something as equipment has evolved.
Dave "Cully" Cullinan has won the Kamikaze downhill more times than anyone and would go on to finish fifth on the day.
Cullinan just started a new position with Troy Lee Designs and was giving everyone a sneak peak of the gear to come from TLD next year. For 2014, the new Sprint gear replaces the SE Pro Bike line. The new Sprint pant that is designed for bicycles from the ground up and sheds about a pound and a half off of the SE Pro Pant. Don't worry though, the D3 Carbon helmet still comes with a visor.
Barring our "Down The Trail" department, it's been awhile since Cullinan has graced the pages of Mountain Bike Action. However, in the 80's and 90's, you could hardly turn a page without seeing a photo of Cully.
SRAM's Greg Herbold made the trip out to Mammoth Mountain to once again battle the Kamikaze. "HB" didn't pull out any of his classic gear for the event but he sure did bring his textbook riding style.
DVO's Tom Rogers putting their new suspension components to the test as mach speed.
Former Mountain Bike Action test-rider Toby Henderson with the eye of the tiger heading toward the finish.
Azonic's Lou DeAngelis gets aero on the classic Kamikaze course.
The men's podium. (L-R) Jeremy Purdy, Rob Naughton, Brian Lopes, Joe Lawwill and Dave Cullinan.
Leigh Donovan was on a mission and put together the two runs to claim her first victory on the Kamikaze.
Giovanni Bowazzi all the way from Italy to grab the second step on the podium.
Amber Naughton with no time to check out the beautiful surroundings as she lets it roll up top on the Kamikaze.
Mercedes "Speedy" Gonzalez living on the edge.
The women's podium. (L-R) Mercedes Gonzalez, Giovanna Bowazzi, Leigh Donovan, Amber Naughton and Penny Lundgren.