As I spoon the freshly ground Major Dickason's Blend of Peet's coffee into the handle of the espresso porta-filter, a voice calls from the doorway, "You have to use exactly 30 lbs of pressure."
The voice belongs to Ross Schnell. It is 4:30 a.m. and we're preparing for an early morning photo shoot. But first I need to navigate the most impressive magic-morning bean home-brewing machine that I've seen this side of Italy. It's matched by a several hundred-dollar burr grinder. Ross Schnell is serious about his coffee.
I tamp the grounds to where I feel they ought to be, (aided by years of barista experience) twist the handle into the machine and pull a shot.
"That's not bad for a rookie," admits Ross. "But it should have taken about thirty seconds. That was twenty; you didn't tamp it enough."
Schnell snags a matching cup, reloads the filter, and expertly pulls his own shot.
"Hey, this Peete's stuff isn't bad," he states with an appreciative tone in his voice as the first sip disappears down his throat.
It turns out that Schnell not only sources his own beans, but he roasts them himself. This guy elevates his coffee consumption to elite status. Or fanaticism. I'm not sure which, but I soon reap the benefits. After I finish my first shot, Schnell brews me a second; it is 10 times better than what I had pulled only five minutes previously.
But Schnell has more than coffee on his mind this morning. We are headed for a ride and a spin on the Ribbon trail in Grand Junction. But Schell also is preparing to defend his title at the Downieville Downhill, a task made more difficult by his recently broken hip.
Before we head out, over a bowl of Cheerios, I ask his Radness a few questions about the injury, Downieville, and the upcoming Enduro of Nations race series.
Bike: You broke your hip, what 5 weeks ago? What happened?
Ross Schnell: I was screaming down a descent in a French Enduro race in Métabief, France, when I slipped on some grass and went down going pretty fast and I landed on my hip. It was a totally unspectacular crash, but I hit hard. It caused an avulsion fracture of my left femur. Not a good thing to have happen at the start of the season.
No cast, no surgery? How long until you are 100 percent?
Not sure. But I am on the mend. But getting back on the bike—everything's crooked and bent from compensating for the injury, so it all hurts: knees, ankles, lower back…. I mean, I went a month without being able to stretch my hips out, so it all aches from hobbling around. Things you wouldn't think about that have nothing to do with the specific fracture site. Plus, now I am incredibly out of shape.
How long have you been off the bike?
I took about a full month off. It's been a day short of five weeks, actually [as of June 27]. I've just now been getting back on the bike. Basically, I've got a week to get ready for Downieville [July 12 and 13].
Yeah, I'm committed. I've got the number one plate. Whether or not I'll be a factor is another story. Probably no. It's hard to be competitive when you take a month or five weeks off right before an event. But I'll go and I'll have fun and support my sponsors (Trek, SRAM, Oakley, Crankbrothers—awesome support from those guys this year! I haven't had to worry about anything—just focus on riding). It's such a cool event; I'm just stoked to return. My plan is to have a good time.
What's next after Downieville?
Getting back into form. The weekend after Downieville will be U.S. Nationals. I hope to compete in all disciplines, or as much as I can with a sore hip. After that, it's back to Europe at the end of July for Enduro of Nations, which is a composite Team USA collective effort. I'm really looking forward to that. I mean, we don't have anything like that in the States. We need to. I think that by sending U.S. riders over there and bringing that stuff back, we'll be able to shed some light on the next big racing format.
Enduro of Nations?
It's a composite team of three riders. It's 10 runs per rider, and then a final and eleventh, mass-start like a typical Super D stage. It's the overall time for all three riders for the ten stages and the mass-start stage that decides your nation's ranking.
Every run counts, right? And there's no forerunning the course?
You got it. In a normal Enduro, you get 10 runs, and it's your combined time that determines the overall winner. So for the Enduro of Nations, it's not just your time, but the times of your two teammates, too. Basically, this is the coolest type of racing out there. You have to be fit, and you have to be able to handle a bike. These events, I've definitely embraced. It's just amazing mountain bike racing. A few guys, like Mark Weir, have gone over there before. I just want to do my part in (hopefully) bringing this type of mountain bike racing back to North America.
Who are your teammates
I'm with some super honches: Chris Van Dine and also Olivier Guincetre from Ibis. Van Dine won the Pan Am champs DH and the Peru Megavalanche this past spring, and Guincetre has won a bunch of Megavalanches in the past. He's a badass rider. Technically, he's French. But he's been here in the states long enough we've adopted him [short laugh]. We're calling ourselves "Team USB" because Weir, Lopes, and Jason Moeschler are heading a team over there as well.
I might stay over there for some more enduro races. Then Crankworx Colorado, maybe, and definitely Crankworx Whistler. They have a new enduro style of downhill that's supposed to be lon. Then some Mountain States Cup action. Some big stuff in September, too. Oh, and Singlespeed Worlds in Durango.
Singlespeed Worlds? You?
Oh yeah! Way fun!
Do you feel like you have any kind of home field "elevation" advantage for that?
Oh yeah. I sure hope so! Especially 'cuz all those guys are way faster than I am! Seriously, though, it's gonna be a ton of fun. All those guys put on a good show. Plus, I wanna chase that elusive SSWC tattoo.
Current tunes to live by?
I got this new Oakley Thump MP3 player that I can't seem to figure out how to load—I'm missing some software on my computer, I guess. So right now it's just the wind in my ears.
Favorite pre-race meal?
Favorite post-race meal?
Beer is a recovery drink. And probably a burger. That's what my body craves after a hard effort and usually what your body craves is what you should give it.
Schnell pulls another shot, and then we're out the door, heeding Ross' own advice and giving our bodies what they crave most—some quality time on Grand Junction, Colorado's, Ribbon trail.