By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
It’s not the world’s most challenging course, but with strong fields in both the men’s and women’s divisions, Nathan Rennie and Anne-Caroline Chausson could take satisfaction in their Sea Otter downhill wins on Sunday in Monterey, California.
A year after a surprising Sea Otter defeat, Chausson was back to her old self, bettering her closest competitor by more than six seconds on the short, twisty course. In fact Chausson’s time (1:31.20) was so good that it would have put her ahead of 27 of the 60 men’s finishers.
“I’m in better shape this year than I was this time last year,” said Chausson. “That is why I race better.”
Turner rider Maxine Irving took second in the women’s race, with Tai-Lee Muxlo (Dirtworks) rounding out the top three. Both Muxlo and Irving have been working with retired former world champion Leigh Donovan, who has been dabbling in coaching since hanging up her racing bike.
Last year’s Sea Otter downhill champ Marla Streb (Luna Chix) settled for sixth, after nearly crashing during her run.
In the men’s race, Eric Carter set the early fast time, posting a 1:24.42. That time looked like it might stand up after pre-race favorites Mickael Pascal (Be One), Chris Kovarik (Intense) and Cedric Gracia (Volvo-Cannondale) all missed. But Rennie changed that when he shaved a full second off Carter’s mark, crossing the line in 1:23.40. Gracia, winner of Saturday’s dual slalom, wound up third Sunday.
“I made one mistake and thought with the course being so short that it probably would cost me,” Rennie said. “But it worked out.”
The win was Rennie’s second Sea Otter downhill victory. He was victorious in 2000 as well.
“It’s just a straightforward course,” answered Rennie when asked about his success here. “It suits me.”
— A day after his ugly finish-line crash in the dual slalom, Mike King was back on his bike for the downhill, finishing 11th. A day earlier King was taken off the slalom course in an ambulance and received three stitches underneath his right eye.
— Wade Bootes made a rare appearance in the downhill start-house, taking eighth in the 60-rider field.
— Apparently the recently retired Donovan hasn’t quit kicked the racing bug after all. Dressed in Intense gear, the 1995 world champion took 11th in the women’s race. But afterwards she assured us that it was simply for fun, and that she has no plans of a return to serious racing.
— Trek-Volkswagen’s Mio Suemasa made her pro debut at the Sea Otter, taking ninth in the downhill. The 18-year-old reigning world junior downhill champion signed on with the trade team in December, marking Trek’s return to downhill after a several-year hiatus.
— In mountain cross action, Brian Lopes and Anne-Caroline Chausson repeated as champions. Lopes beat out Wade Bootes, Eric Carter and Cedric Gracia in the final. Chausson took down Katrina Miller, Tai-Lee Muxlo and Sabrina Jonnier.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC, Monterey, CA; March 21-24; Downhill; Men; 1. Nathan Rennie (Aus), Yeti-Pearl Izumi, 1:23.40; 2. Eric Carter, Mongoose-Hyundai, 1:24.40; 3. Cedric Gracia (F), Volvo-Cannondale, 1:24.80; 4. John Kirkcaldie (NZ), Maxxis, 1:25.0; 5. Chris Kovarik (Aus), Intense, 1:25.20; 6. Colin Bailey, Maxxis, 1:26.30; 7. Kirt Voreis, Haro-Lee Dungarees, 1:26.90; 7. Wade Bootes (Aus), Trek-Volkswagen, 1:26.90; 9. Bas De Bever (Nl), Be One, 1:27.50; 9. Rich Houseman, Team Houseman, 1:27.50; Women;1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F), Volvo-Cannondale, 1:31.20; 2. Maxine Irving, Turner, 1:37.30; 3. Tai-Lee Muxlow (Aus), Dirtworks; 4. Fionn Griffiths (GB), Rockyournokia.com, 1:37.80; 5. Tara Llanes, Yeti-Pearl Izumi, 1:38.50; 6. Marla Streb, Luna Chix, 1:39.30; 7. Kathy Pruitt, Santa Cruz, 1:39.80; 8. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Intense, 1:40.10; 9. Mio Suemasa (Jpn), Trek-Volkswagen; 10. Vanessa Quin (NZ), Intense, 1:41.30