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By Ryan Newill, VeloNews Correspondent
World champion Wade Bootes (Trek-Volkswagen) proved why he wears the rainbow stripes Saturday, topping a strong field to win the dual slalom at NORBA National No. 2 at Snowshoe, West Virginia, while Leigh Donovan (Schwinn) continued her storming farewell tour with a split-heat victory over Tara Llanes (Yeti-Pearl Izumi).
The slalom got off to a shaky start when qualifying was postponed Friday evening. The same line of thunderstorms that nearly drowned cross-country competitors fed foot-deep pools in some sections of the slalom course and reduced the rest to oil-like slickness. As a result, one large jump was removed from the top of the course, and qualifying resumed in misty conditions on Saturday morning.
While the damp, foggy, but not-quite-raining weather did not help the conditions, things took a turn for the better as the sun came out in the afternoon, drying a course rendered even more rutted and abused after the soggy morning runs. Dryer dirt and the motivation of the finals combined to produce heats that put the qualifying times to shame, and the crowds emerged from hotels and coffee shops to bask in the sunlight.
While Bootes’ first two rounds were aided by the crashes by Scott Ybara and Chuck Pitts, respectively, things did not go as smoothly once he ran into the more than capable Eric Carter in the quarterfinals. Carter jumped to a .56 second lead after the first run, but Bootes battled back in the second, taking .77 seconds from Carter to take the round by a scant fifth of a second. In the semis, Bootes faced UK native Steve Peat, who lost the first heat to Bootes after an early crash, but returned with a fantastic second run, beating Bootes by 1.26, but coming up short on the needed 1.5 seconds.
On the other side of the bracket, top qualifier Brian Lopes (Mongoose-Hyundai) was cutting through a field that included Mike King (Haro-Lee Dungarees) and Shaums March to face Frenchman Michael Deldycke (Schwinn) in the semifinals. Lopes swept Deldycke in two close heats to set up the showdown with the world champion.
The first run was a back and forth battle that saw Bootes edge into a .43 second advantage on the faster blue course. To hold on, Bootes would have to overcome the red course disadvantage to win the second run, or stay almost imperceptibly close to Lopes at the finish. In the end, Bootes had to settle for the second choice, as Lopes put in a fantastic run to get through the timing trap first, but not far enough first to overtake Bootes.
Despite his dominant performance, Bootes cast the victory in a different light, noting that shoulder injuries that he sustained at the Maribor World Cup were taking their toll on him in the later rounds. “I was lucky to win, but Brian did a bobble, and that probably cost him the win. That’s racing, you’ve got to be perfect every lap to win,” Bootes said.
In the women’s race, Donovan made it look easy. On the second stop on her farewell tour, the Schwinn rider didn’t flinch, fall, or sacrifice a single tick of the clock until the final, when Llanes turned in a strong run to edge Donovan by a scant .11 seconds. Effectively tied on time, both riders would have to put everything into the final run to have a chance at the victory. Donovan’s everything turned out to be just a little faster, surpassing the gap and giving her a much-desired win in the dual.
“I’m really focusing on the slalom. It’s always been my baby. Since (Katrina Miller) has been dominating it, I’ve never beaten her, so I felt that if I really put some effort into it, hopefully I could challenge her for that title.” If Donovan continues to cruise through the gates as she did Saturday, it may be difficult to pry that series lead from her hands.
Missy Giove (Global Racing) had a difficult day to say the least. The gravity queen downed Lisa Sher in the quarterfinals by winning the second run, after the first run saw her lose time at the top of the course and regain it in the middle, only to slip a pedal over the stepped jump near the finish and sacrifice .70 seconds to Sher.
She was then handily defeated by Donovan in the semis, and relegated to the consolation final where she faced Katrina Miller (Jamis) in a battle for third. Giove pushed a bit too hard at the top of the course and slid to the ground as Miller sped off down the hill to take the run, but handily proved why she’ll always draw a crowd. Dropping her shorts below what even most plumbers would consider acceptable, Giove rode out the rest of the course, complete with a no-footer across the line. Though Giove failed to make up the time on Miller in the second run, she could rest assured she’d already turned in the most memorable performance of the day.
Pro Men’s Dual Slalom
1. Wade Bootes (Aus), Trek-Volkswagen
2. Brian Lopes (USA), Mongoose-Hyundai
3. Michael Deldycke (F), Schwinn
4. Steve Peat (GB), GT
Pro Women’s Dual Slalom
1. Leight Donovan, Schwinn
2. Tara Llanes, Yeti-Pearl Izumi
3. Katrina Miller (Aus), Jamis
4. Missy Giove, Global Racing