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Pua Mata (Cannondale-ShoAir) and Howard Grotts (Specialized) won their respective cross country races on Saturday at the Missoula XC, round six of the USA Cycling Pro XCT.
The women’s race quickly boiled down to a three-rider contest — short-track winner Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers) took the early lead, chased by Mata and Evelyn Dong.
Going into the second lap the three were together at the Meadowlark climb. Then Mata, who skipped Friday’s short track, took over the lead on the technical descent and she and Woodruff left Dong a dozen seconds behind as they headed toward the start of lap three.
Next Mata shed Woodruff in the early part of the lap, putting 10 seconds on her by the Meadowlark climb.
Woodruff held the gap through the Cripple Creek corner, but by the switchbacked Dark Side ascent Mata was gone. At the top, of the course where riders could choose between the A Line and B Line — the former involving a big jump and a crucial few seconds gained (or lost) — the Cannondale rider had 30 seconds on Woodruff and another 20 on Dong.
Going into the penultimate lap the top three held their respective positions. Woodruff had slipped to 45 seconds on The Dark Side, and Dong was closing in.
Dong had fought back to within 23 seconds of Woodruff as the two took the B-line descent, and took back a half-dozen seconds more as the two headed into their final lap.
But Mata was out of reach. She hit the B-line descent with a 90-second advantage over Woodruff and cruised in for the win, one fist in the air.
Behind, Woodruff had rebuilt a comfortable margin over Dong and crossed for second, two minutes down.
BMC starts the war, Specialized finishes it
Stephen Ettinger (BMC) seized the early lead in the six-lap men’s race. Short-track winner Geoff Kabush (3 Rox Racing) took it from him on the climb and led Ettinger over the A Line jump.
Coming off the descent Kabush stayed in front of Ettinger, with Grotts and teammate Todd Wells chasing, but on lap two the four were together at Meadowlark with two chasers at 16 seconds, Jeremiah Bishop (Sho-Air-Cannondale) and Derek Zandstra (3 Rox).
Ettinger, Kabush and Wells hung together going into lap three. Grotts followed seven seconds down, but latched back on as the ground tilted up. Kabush led Ettinger, Wells and Grotz over the A Line jump, with Bishop trailing at 50 seconds.
The descent saw the lead quartet spread over 15 seconds, and with three to go Kabush had carved out a five-second lead over Ettinger. The two Specialized riders followed a handful of seconds later, but then Wells had to pit, and Grotz soldiered on without him.
He caught Ettinger and Kabush at Cripple Creek, but the mechanical left Wells a minute down and out of contention.
Ettinger and Kabush gapped Grotz slightly on The Dark Side, and Kabush took a slight advantage going onto the A Line. The lead three were spread out going into the descent, and once again Grotz lost ground.
Kabush and Ettinger were together going into two laps to go, with Grotz chasing a dozen seconds behind. But once again he closed the gap on the climbs. Grotz was just eight seconds down on Meadowlark, and by Cripple Creek he had rejoined the leaders.
And then the Specialized rider busted a move and took the lead on The Dark Side. Kabush followed, but Ettinger dangled, dropping to 14 seconds down at the A Line.
Kabush slipped back into the lead on the descent, and once again Grotz found himself chasing, this time with only one lap remaining.
The 3 Rox rider led Grotz by seven seconds at Meadowlark, but Grotz came back one final time, then roared past around the Cripple Creek right-hander. Ettinger was well back, more than a half minute down.
Grotz gave it the gas on the final go-round, hitting the A Line first, 15 seconds ahead of Kabush. This time he held his gap on the descent and roared toward the finish, taking the win with plenty of time to spare — Kabush held on for second, nearly a half-minute down, with Ettinger third at 2:40.