Events

Rennie, Atherton Tops in the Sea Otter Downhill

Sunday’s Sea Otter downhill race served as the gravity season’s opener. While the cross-country competitors had a chance to dust of the cobwebs at the NOVA National in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago, the gravity crew had yet to meet up. The short two-and-a-half minute course produced a surprise win for Brit Rachel Atherton (Animal-Commençal), while Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his third Sea Otter downhill win. Saturday’s rain exacted chaos over the road, short-track and dual slalom races. The latter was postponed four hours — gravity riders finally took to the

Jonnier, Hannah tops in Dual Slalom

By Matt Pacocha

Atherton surprised the competition with a strong ride

Atherton surprised the competition with a strong ride

Photo: Robert Jones

Sunday’s Sea Otter downhill race served as the gravity season’s opener. While the cross-country competitors had a chance to dust of the cobwebs at the NOVA National in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago, the gravity crew had yet to meet up.

The short two-and-a-half minute course produced a surprise win for Brit Rachel Atherton (Animal-Commençal), while Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his third Sea Otter downhill win.

Saturday’s rain exacted chaos over the road, short-track and dual slalom races. The latter was postponed four hours — gravity riders finally took to the track in the chilly evening hours. Gusting winds bombarded Laguna Seca’s sloping hillside, home of the slalom course.

The men’s slalom produced giant killers in Bryn Atkinson (GT) and Justin Leov (Yeti-Fox). Atkinson disposed of Brian Lopes (GT) and Chris Van Dine (Santa Cruz) before finishing behind Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) in the consolation round. Leov, of New Zealand, made it through Eric Carter (GT-Mongoose) and Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) before Hannah beat him on his way to the overall.

In the women’s race, reigning downhill world champion Sabrina Jonnier (Monster-Ironhorse) proved too much for four-cross world champion Jill Kintner (GT). Jonnier’s strong pedaling was too much for Kinter on the wet, slow course.

Sunday’s downhill course reveled in the added moisture. The feeling that the rain improved the course was unanimous across the whole of the men’s and woman’s fields racing the mid-day downhill events.

Atherton who marked Sea Otter as her first non-world cup race in the U.S., is a young rider who has stormed the world cup circuit in the last year, though a nagging shoulder injury kept her from reaching her full potential in the 2006 season.

This past winter she underwent surgery to repair the damage and has only been back on the bike since mid-January.

“I didn’t expect to win because I’ve been off for a few months with my shoulder,” said Atherton. “I just wanted to see where I was lying and then I came down and saw I had a pretty good run and I knew I had a pretty good chance, but I surprised myself a little.”

For Atherton downhill racing is a family affair, her brothers Gee and Dan accompany her on the circuit and on the Animal team. Both finished inside the top 15 in the men’s pro downhill.

“I rode quite a lot with them and I think that helped as well,” she said. “Sort of riding with the boys all the time makes you confident in where you are on your bike and if I don’t try big jumps and stuff they push me on to do it. At this race I’ve noticed how good it is to travel as a family, because it’s not the usual people that I hang out with on the world cup theater, so you’ve always got them to hang around with so you’re not on you own and it makes you feel more comfortable at races.”

In the men’s event Nathan Rennie came across the line a full two and a half seconds in front of Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox); a margin that would be the equivalent to miles in any other event. The top 30 men all fell within 30 seconds of each other.

Graves rode his shorter-travel mountain cross. Bike choice was something that the pro field was split on.

“I’ve ridden it the last two years and I’ve won the last two years, so I wasn’t going to change anything,” he said. “It sort of suited a downhill bike more than in previous years, they sort of opened it up and it was a lot faster and more flowy, not so much pedaling.”

Rennie may have chosen the right bike, his full boat downhill rig — the Santa Cruz V10.

“I’m one of the only guys to ride the big bike,” said Rennie. “I’ve won this race three times now and each time it’s been on a big bike, everyone else is kidding themselves on the little bikes. There are so many fast sections here where a little bike simply isn’t going to go as fast.”

Rennie was clearly excited about his race win; he thinks it gives a good indicator as to who did their off-season homework.

“It’s the season opener you know and there’s so many good riders here that it’s a good indication of who’s been drinking beer in the off-season and who hasn’t,” said Rennie. “I’d have to say I have been so I’m pretty happy to get on top of them.”

Rennie didn’t leave any doubts about where the party is going to be after the race.

“Let’s go get drunk,” Rennie said.

2007 Sea Otter Classic – Monterey, California

Downhill
Men
1. Nathan Rennie (AUS), Santa Cruz Syndicate
2. Jared Graves (AUS), Yeti-Fox
3. Steve Peat (GBR), Santa Cruz Syndicate
4. Filip Poloc (F)
5. Chris Kovarik (AUS), MS-Intense Factory
 Women
1. Rachel Atherton (GBR), Animal-Commençal
2. Fionn Griffiths (GBR), Norco
3. Melissa Buhl (USA), KHS Bicycles
4. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Monster Energy-Iron Horse
5. Kathy Pruitt (USA), Jamis bicycle
 Dual Slalom
Men
1. Mick Hannah, Cannondale
2. Jared Graves, Yeti-Fox
3. Steve Peat, Santa Cruz Syndicate
4. Bryn Atkinson, GTWomen
1. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Monster Energy-Ironhorse
2. Jill Kintner, GT
3. Melissa Buhl, KHS
4. Rachel Atherton, Animal Commençal