Nevada City pro takes the Kamikaze crown

To Graeme Pitts, everything felt as if it were in place for a big day in Mammoth.

Just in from pro mountain bike racing in Canada and on his way to Norway for the UCI World Cup championships, Pitts bounced out of his car, straightened his 6-foot, 2-inch body into a semi-salute, stuck out his chest and took a deep, happy breath.

“I’ve always heard about Mammoth and the Kamikaze,” he said. “I wasn’t going to miss this.”

As it turned out, the Kamikaze mountain bike race on Mammoth Mountain on Friday, Sept. 6, will never forget Pitts, who made the famous downhill run in 5-minutes, 6-seconds—almost eight seconds ahead of his closest competitor.

It was a different kind of Kamikaze this year than in seasons past. 

The race featured two legs—the first from the top of the hill to Main Lodge, as usual. 

But organizers of the first Kamikaze Bike Games pulled off a dazzling addition this year, adding a second leg from mid-mountain to the base at Canyon Lodge.

It meant that racers had to climb onto another lift at Main Lodge for the start of the second leg, creating a variety of ways to fail.

The failure rate showed as several racers wobbled off the course finish, some nursing bloodied arms and legs, others on crutches.

Pitts, however, was not among the wounded. He bound off the course with the energy of a 23-year-old and received high-fives all around, most of all from his mother and manager, Leslie.

Even so, Pitts said he did not quite get what he came for.

“I really want to make my best-ever speed,” he said on the warm-up day before the event. “I’ve gone 69 miles an hour. With this race, I want to hit 72.”

However, he said weather worked against him on race day.

A stiff breeze blew sideways across the Kamikaze course, creating chaos in the ranks and slowness among those who sliced through the pumice-laden wind.

On top of that, Pitts said his GPS device had not been working properly, so getting a good read on his fastest speed was hard to come by.

If Pitts was disappointed at the end, though, it did not show, as he received congrats from his mom before mounting the podium as this year’s Kamikaze champ.