By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
In the offseason they shared an apartment in Spain. On Saturday Cedric Gracia and Anne-Caroline Chausson shared the spotlight, too, as the pair of French Volvo-Cannondale riders each earned wins at the Sea Otter Classic dual slalom.
For Chausson it was a repeat of her 2001 victory at the race in Monterey, California. And like last year, the reigning dual world champion had little trouble marching through the 16-rider field. After advancing to the round of four, Chausson took down Marla Streb (Luna Chix) in the semis, before besting Katrina Miller (Jamis) in the final.
“It’s a good start to my season,” Chausson said. “Now I hope I can win the downhill, because last year I did not do that.”
Indeed, it was Streb who won the 2001 downhill, then added her best ever, gated-race result at this year’s Sea Otter slalom.
“My gate start has gotten a lot better,” said Streb, who would eventually finish fourth after falling to France’s Sabrina Jonnier (Intense) in the consolation round. “Against Anne in the semis I tried to get her at the start, because once you’re behind it’s pretty much over.”
In the men’s race the big story was the rise and fall of Mike King. The 32-year-old Haro-Lee Dungarees rider/manager was the No. 1 seed after qualifying, and made it all the way to the finals, after knocking of the likes of Nathan Rennie (Yeti-Pearl Izumi) and Eric Carter (Mongoose-Hyundai).
In the finals, King came up against Gracia, who had beaten reigning Sea Otter slalom champ Brian Lopes (GT-Fox) in the other semi. In the first run Gracia nipped King at the line, taking a 0.461-second advantage into the last run of the day. In that final run it was Gracia on top again, as the pair came blasting over the triple jump that preceded the finish line. There, in the finishing stretch, King put in one final dig in an attempt to overcome his deficit, but instead slipped a pedal and went tumbling over his bars, before settling in a motionless heap just a few feet from the finish.
With the stunned crowd looking on, King was looked over by the Sea Otter medical crew for several minutes, before being placed on a backboard and loaded into an ambulance. Just before disappearing into the emergency vehicle, King raised his left fist to the crowd to indicate he was okay. And indeed, several hours after the incident, a member of the Haro staff said King had called the team mechanic from the hospital and told him “he better have his bike ready for tomorrow, because he’s going be ready to race.”
Gravity racing continues at the Sea Otter Sunday, starting with the downhill at 9 a.m., then the mountain cross at 1:30 p.m.
— Haro rider Mick Hannah will be out of action this weekend. The young Aussie hurt his shoulder while riding in Southern California earlier in the week, and is resting up for the start of the NORBA and World Cup seasons. “I tried a practice run today but it just was hurting to much,” said Hannah, who added that he dislocated the same shoulder that is now badly bruised during the offseason.
— Trek-Volkswagen rider Wade Bootes, who qualified fourth, was knocked out in the second round after crashing in the run-up to the finishing triple. The burly Aussie went down so hard that his seat ripped right off his seat post. A Trek-VW staffer said Bootes wasn’t hurt, though, and will be ready for Sunday’s mountain cross.
— As is almost always the case, the crowds for the slalom were the biggest of the weekend thus far. Despite on-again, off-again drizzle, fans were lined two and three deep along most of the course.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC; Monterey, CA, March 23; Dual Slalom; Men; 1. Cedric Gracia (F), Volvo-Cannondale; 2. Mike King, Haro-Lee Dungarees; 3. Brian Lopes, GT-Fox; 4. Eric Carter, Mongoose-Hyundai; Women; 1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F), Volvo Cannondale; 2. Katrina Miller (Aus), Jamis; 3. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Intense; 4. Marla Streb, Luna Chix