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By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
Here’s how to watch a professional downhill race at Mount Snow, Vermont, site of the 2001 Chevy Trucks NORBA finals. Put on some sturdy shoes and head up the hill to the section known as “Yard Sale.” It’s near the bottom of the 1.5-mile course, so it’s not too far. You’ll know you’re getting closer from the roar of the crowd.
Once you’re at this mangled piece of hillside, where the trail drops 100 vertical feet through tight woods, pick out a stout guy and stand behind him — there is going to be carnage. Rocks, sticks and dust will fly. Bikes will fly and riders, too. And as the experienced spectator knows, this stuff doesn’t always go in the direction it’s intended to.
It was here at the Yard Sale where Matt Timmerman, a regional pro from New York, got squirrelly and flew over — yes, over — the heads of some very frightened spectators on Sunday. But Volvo-Cannondale’s French flyers Cedric Gracia and Anne-Caroline Chausson had no such troubles. They kept their flight paths in check and each went on to victory on an extremely fast course that produced its share of casualties and had some riders, including the world champion Chausson, saying things were a bit scary out there.
Chausson was the fastest in the final, but the means by which she got there didn’t win her any friends. After blowing out her rear tire in her qualifying run, Chausson’s team filed a protest, saying she went off course because of a last-minute course change and happened to get a flat in that very spot.
The world champion got the Michael Jordan treatment from officials and was granted a re-run, a puzzling decision considering the very essence of mountain-bike racing is dealing with the elements, whether they change or not.
“I think it’s bullshit,” said Schwinn’s Leigh Donovan. “No one gets a re-run. That’s just unheard of.”
“I’ve been a rider for a lot of years, and I’ll tell you what,” said Global Racing’s Missy Giove. “It’s impossible to tell exactly where you get a flat.”
But Chausson did get the re-run, and she made the most of it, winning with a time of 4:15.38. Fortunately, it didn’t effect the overall series standings, as Giove finished third to take the overall title and U.S. championship. Donovan finished second in her last NORBA downhill race.
It was the fastest downhill track at Mount Snow in recent memory, probably because it was the first time in three years that riders have faced a dry course. Several riders suffered season-ending injuries during practice, including Gary Houseman (Tomac) who suffered a compound fracture of his leg, Mick Hannah of Global (broken collarbone) and Steve Peat (GT), who re-injured his shoulder in a crash.
Peat is still hopeful for World Cup finals at Mont-Ste-Anne, but all those crashes led Chausson, for one, to call for a safer course. “It’s very dangerous,” she said. “We are getting better and better each year and we keep going faster and faster. It’s way too fast and way too straight. It’s better for security to have some chicanes.”
Giove disagreed, saying danger is part of the sport. “Hey, it’s a scary sport,” she said. “Those are my friends getting hurt, and I don’t want to see that, but it’s a hardcore sport. They could make it slow and technical, but that’s boring. It’s boring to watch. When I watch people racing on this stuff, racing fast, it gives me chills.”
Another person with chills at the end of the day was 18-year-old Todd Leduc (Foes-Azonic). Leduc may be the most unlikely national champion in the history of the NORBA racing. He never had a win this year, but the kid who got into downhill racing because his dad wouldn’t buy him a motorcycle now joins names like Brian Lopes, Eric Carter and John Tomac as a national champion.
“There’s a new group coming up,” said Leduc, a second-year pro who finished second overall in the series, despite having a season-best finish of fourth place. “We’re all young guns. We’re just a little bit more fearless than the older guys.”
The California resident was born in Massachusetts, Vermont’s neighboring state to the south, so his tearful mother and a posse of friends and family were on hand to see him win the championship. “It’s so awesome,” he said. “I don’t even know what to say.”
It was consistency that earned Leduc the U.S. title, and it was also consistency that earned New Zealander John Kirkcaldie the overall series title. Kirkcaldie, riding for Maxxis Tires, used a conservative style to lock up the title. His two main threats were Aussies Nathan Rennie (Yeti-Pearl Izumi) and Chris Kovarik (Intense), and Kirkcaldie played the game to do what he could to get past them.
Rennie flatted in qualifying and didn’t make the finals, and Kirkcaldie knew that if he and Kovarik both had perfect final runs, the hot-or-cold Aussie would lock it. So he went a little easier than normal, being careful not to crash. That strategy was good enough for second place, 4.06 seconds off Gracia’s winning time of 3:48.47. And Kovarik, known to usually bust out a spectacular run or DNF, did the latter.
“Chris is almost on another level than me,” Kirkcaldie said. “I figured I’d do a solid run, and if something happens to Chris, I get the win.”
And so he did, and in the final tally of NORBA titles at the end of the weekend, the edge goes to the foreigners. Three of 8 titles went to Americans: Giove (downhill), Donovan (dual slalom) and Eric Carter (dual slalom).
CHEVY TRUCKS NORBA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS, Mount Snow, VT. August 17-19.;;
1. Cedric Gracia (F), Volvo-Cannnondale, 3:48.47; 2. John Kirkcaldie (NZ), Maxxis, 3:52.52; 3. John Waddell (Aus), Sun Race-Santa Cruz, 3:53.60; 4. Sean McCarroll (Aus), Global Racing, 3:54.60; 5. Deri Stockton, Intense, 3:54.73; 6. Rich Houseman, Tomac, 3:55.35; 7. Joel Panozzo, 3:55.38; 8. Todd Leduc, Foes-Azonic, 3:56.20; 9. Nigel Page (GB), Intense, 3:58.12; 10. Colin Bailey, Maxxis, 3:58.43.;;
1. Kirkcaldie, 656; 2. Leduc, 562; 3. Rankin, 562; 4. Waddell, 544; 5. Bailey, 530.;;
1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F), Volvo-Cannondale, 1.5mi in 4:15.38; 2. Leigh Donovan, Schwinn, 4:21.17; 3. Missy Giove, Global Racing, 4:22.55; 4. Katja Repo (Fin), GT, 4:30.70; 5. Vanessa Quin (NZ), Intense, 4:15.77; 6. Kathy Pruitt, Dirt Works, 4:35.73; 7. April Lawyer, Maxxis, 4:35.87; 8. Lisa Sher, Chumba Wumba, 4:40.61; 9. Danni Connolly, Karpiel, 4:40.76; 10. Dawn Bourque, Rhino Bike, 4:40.99.;;
Overall standings; ;
1. Giove, 774; 2. Donovan, 720; 3. Marla Streb, Foes-Azonic, 642; 4. Lawyer, 618; 5. Pruitt, 594.