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By Ryan Newill, Special to VeloNews.com
When Nico Vouilloz and Anne-Caroline Chausson bowed out of the mainstream gravity scene, the possibilities opened back up for riders who carried something other than a French passport. But, at Sunday’s inaugural Jeep King of the Mountains event, which paired male and female racers into “national” teams, Cedric Gracia (Siemens-Cannondale) and Sabrina Jonnier (Intense) recaptured the glory of yesteryear for France, taking both the men’s and women’s titles and a commanding lead in the country standings.
The made-for-TV event, held in Wintergreen, Virginia on June 29, was the first of a three race series with the same “Y” course format as Jeep’s successful skiing version of the King of the Mountains. The course begins with a dual slalom start gate and side-by-side upper course, which gives way to a fast combined lower section featuring several rollers and two doubles. Eight two-person teams competed, with two teams each from the U.S., UK and Australia and one each from Holland and France.
With most of the competitors a bit groggy following a harrowing overnight trip from the Mont St. Anne World Cup race the day before, and their bikes still en route by van, things got off to a late start on Sunday, but heated up quickly – not a hard thing to do in an event with a field that featured a first round match-up between Steve Peat and Wade Bootes.
Peat came out of the better in that match-up, taking four-tenths of a second from Bootes in the first run and holding his advantage in the second run to advance to the semi-final, where he fell to Kirt Voreis (Allride). Voreis had defeated Dustin Adams of the second UK team in the first round.
The other semi-final featured Aussie Mick Hannah, who had previously downed Bas de Bever, and Gracia, who eliminated Mike King (Haro-Lee Dungarees) in the first round. Gracia gained a small gap on the dual portion of the course in the first run, but jumped away from Hannah on the lower combined portion of the course. Hannah couldn’t take back the 0.69 gap on his second run, leaving Gracia to face Voreis in the final.
“It’s a little scary,” Voreis said of the spacing of the jumps just prior to his first finals run, “You’re landing right into the faces. We can’t back it off though.”
Voreis’ words proved prophetic when he entered the final double of the first run side by side with Gracia and, after a near mid-air collision, hit the hurt hard on the landing. Voreis recovered quickly to take the gate for the second run, but couldn’t overcome the advantage that Gracia had gained on the first run.
The first women’s semi-final pitted Brit Tracy Moseley against Jonnier. Moseley rode strongly in the first run, taking time out of Jonnier on the top half of the course, and holding off the Frenchwoman’s charge to gain a slim :06 lead. On the second run, however, a small bobble by Moseley opened the door, and Jonnier advanced to the finals to face Aussie Tai Lee Muxlow.
Muxlow had topped Katrina Miller in the first run of her semi-final, and crossed the line alone in the second run when Miller crashed heavily in the doubles. In the finals, Jonnier took an advantage in the first run by turning on the speed as the course transitioned from dual courses into one, and put in a smooth second run to give France the sweep for the weekend and a healthy lead in the team competition.
The Jeep King of the Mountain series resumes July 19 in Telluride, Colorado. In addition to their prize money haul, individual men’s and women’s series winners will each walk away with a two year lease on a Jeep Wrangler X, and an additional $10,000 bonus awaits the winning team. Do they drive Jeeps in France?
Jeep King of the Mountains, Wintergreen, Va.
1. Cedric Gracia 50 points
2. Kirt Voreis 40
3. Steve Peat 30
4. Mick Hannah 20
5. Mike King 10
6. Wade Bootes 10
7. Dale Holmes 10
8. Bas de Bever 10Women
1. Sabrina Jonnier 50 points
2. Tai Lee Muxlow 40
3. Tracy Moseley 30
4. Katrina Miller 20
5. Fionn Griffiths 10
6. Melissa Buhl 10
7. Anneke Beerten 10
8. Jill Kintner 10Team Standings After One Event
1. Team France 80 points
Cedric Gracia & Sabrina Jonnier
2. Team Two Australia 70
Mick Hannah Tai Lee Muxlow
2. Team One UK 70
Steve Peat & Tracey Mosley
4. Team Two USA 50
Kirt Voreis & Melissa Buhl
5. Team One Australia 40
Wade Bootes & Katrina Miller
6. Team One USA 30
Mike King & Jill Kintner
6. Team Two UK 30
Dale Holmes & Fionn Griffiths
6. Team Holland 30
Bas de Bever & Anneke Beerten