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Graves, Moseley defend DH titles; Lopes, Kintner repeat in mountain cross
By Matt Pacocha
For the second consecutive year four racers took convincing wins in their respective events. In the downhill, under clear skies, 2005 Sea Otter omnium winner Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox) won by nearly three seconds over current DH world champ Fabien Barel (Kona-Les Gets), while Tracy Moseley (Kona-Les Gets) defended her 2005 Sea Otter DH title. Later in the afternoon, the temperature dropped and a steady rain greased the mountain-cross course. Undaunted, reigning world champions and Team GT riders Brian Lopes and Jill Kintner took comfortable wins in the men’s and women’s races, respectively.
With many top racers posting times significantly slower than last year (over three minutes compared to 2:30), it was clear that anything around 2:50 would hold up for a top-10 in the men’s event.
Most of the time differential could be attributed to the last quarter of the course, which flattened dramatically, looking more like a cross-country’s mud bog than a downhill. Moseley took the win in 3:24.3, while Tara Llanes (Giant) trouble while trying to pass her minute-woman.
“I was having a clean run,” said Llanes. “I wasn’t setting the world on fire, but I was probably top five and caught the girl a minute ahead of me. I yelled, ‘I’m going left,’ she went left and we crossed wheels and I fell off the bridge. It was right at the finish so that was really hard, because I made it that far. It’s just bad luck and I’ll take it and get it out of the way now.”
In men’s racing, Graves posted a 2:43.7 to win. He called his run perfect “except for one major stuff-up where I got caught in a big bog hole, it probably cost me three or four seconds and my momentum.”
“Apart from that,” he said, “it was perfect.”
Cedric Gracia (Commencal) posted a 2:50.3, good enough for fourth place, something he historically wouldn’t have had the fitness for. “I’m in the middle of my training program now,” said Gracia. “This is the first time I have a trainer. I understand why I didn’t win races, I guess – I never had a trainer.”
His strong performance gave Gracia a commanding lead in the running for the omnium title, while John Kirkcaldie (Maxxis) and Graves remained within striking distance.
A cold, steady rain greeted the mountain cross, adding another element to the already volatile discipline. Sixty-four men qualified; fastest was Lopes, the reigning world champion in four-cross, the European World Cup equivalent of mountain cross.
Kirkcaldie bounced out in the quarterfinals, and in the semi-finals Gracia crashed hard, endo-ing off of a hip jump late in the race; the move left him on the ground checking his jaw for damage. He would have to settle for the consolation round, where a win was a must if he were to retain his lead in the omnium. He got it, finishing fifth and clinching the 2006 overall.
“I just want to ride everything as fast as I can, try to kill it,” Gracia said. “It’s good – I’m stoked.”
Meanwhile, Lopes won the final over Roger Rinderknecht (Commencal), while Graves took third.
“A couple of the corners started getting slick,” Lopes said. “I mean, I almost crashed in my semi. I took the inside and just washed out and had to unclip. I thought for sure I was going to get passed and somehow I pulled it off.”
In the women’s race, world champ Kintner took the final over Llanes.
“Even though it was a bit muddy it was fun to ride, and you know, you just torque it and that’s it,” Kintner said. “It wasn’t really slippery — there were a few ruts on some of the inside and a couple of the outside lines. I really liked this course. It really makes you think. And there was a bit more of an unknown — it’s not so much follow-the-leader and the racing’s tight.”
As for Llanes, she was happy with her finish, if not her start.
“I had lane one and Jill was next to me and they got me out of the gate, but I drag-raced Melissa [Buhl, (KHS)] to the first turn and got her,” said Llanes. “I think Jill and I started to pull ahead and we stayed the same distance the whole way, so it was a clean race and it was a good one. I was just a little slow off the gate today.”
When the points were added up, Anneke Beerten (Specialized) won without taking a single stage. The Dutchwoman was the most consistent finisher in the women’s field, a task hindered by tough course conditions and the cold, wet weather. Even after placing fourth in the dual slalom and second in the downhill she remained reserved about her chances in the overall competition.
“If I get on the podium I’ll be really stoked. I did good last night with fourth place so I should be in the race for overall,” said Beerten. “I want to have a podium in every race I enter.”
After her overall win Beerten summed up the week best: “I am pretty satisfied with how this Sea Otter went. It was a muddy one, but it was a good one.”
2006 Sea Otter Classic
1. Cedric Gracia (F), Commencal, 11pts
2. Jared Graves (Aus), Yeti-Fox, 14
3. John Kirkcaldie (Nzl), Maxxis, 19
4. Ryan Finney, WTB-Fox-Santa Cruz, 24
5. Bryn Atkinson (Aus), GT Bicycles, 25
1. Anneke Beerten (Ned), Specialized, 19pts
2. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Monster Energy-Ironhorse-Madcatz, 11
3. Vanessa Quin (Nzl), Dirt Magazine-Intense, 13
4. Tara Llanes, Giant Bicycle, 20
5. Tracy Moseley (GB), Kona-Les Gets, 20
Dual slalom: Brian Lopes, GT Bicycles; Jonnier
Downhill: Graves; Moseley
Mountain cross: Lopes; Jill Kintner, GT Bicycles