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By Andrew Juskaitis, VeloNews technical editor
With the promise of heavy rain in the late afternoon, dual slalom racersqualified early Saturday morning knowing course conditions were sure tochange by the 3:00 p.m. main event. And, almost as if on cue, Mother Naturelet loose a torrent of rain just as competitors lined-up for the firstofficial gravity racing of the weekend.
The dry course qualifying saw the usual suspects taking their respectiveplaces on the leader board. Chris Kovarik, Cedric Gracia were the onlytwo male riders able to complete both the blue and red courses under oneminute (59.86 seconds and 59.84 seconds respectively), while Katrina Millerand Tai-Lee Muxlow qualified first and second for the women.
But those times were achieved on a perfectly dry course. When the heavenslet loose, it was a whole new ballgame for the 32 men and 16 women qualifiers.As racers scrambled to switch to more mud-friendly tires (Tioga FactoryMud 26x.1.85 were the preferred tire for racers with the option), cornersturned slick and jumps perilous.
With Sabrina Jonnier out with a broken hand and Kathy Pruitt injuredin Friday’s mountain cross qualifying, the opportunity for a new women’sleader was left wide-open. And taking a remarkable stab at the top spoton the podium was none other than two-year retiree, Leigh Donovan.
Racing for GT/Hyundai, Donovan floored the hordes of spectators (whichremained thick throughout the deluge) and competitors alike with her advancementthroughout the round of 16, eight, four and eventually all the way intothe finals where she squared-off against Muxlow. Muxlow was able to fendoff Donovan, but not without the “retiree” putting up a valiant fight throughoutthe final two mud-soaked runs. The consolation round saw Miller and LisaSher go head-to-head, with Miller taking 3rd place honors.
The men’s round was a tale of upsets with notable performances by ColinBailey (who ousted Kovarik in the round of 16 and Mike King besting fellowHaro/ Lee Dungarees teammate Mick Hannah in the round of 32 (King is theteam manger, while Graves is under his charge).
With riders slipping and sliding their way down the course, the finalseventually shaped up with 2002 winner Gracia versus Eric Carter and FrenchmanKarim Amour and Colin Bailey in the consolation round. Amour managed toeke-out a surprising third place over smooth-riding Bailey, while Graciamanhandled the course the aggressive course to solidly beat Carter forthe win.
Gracia commented, “Brian [Lopes] pumped me up when he saw me qualifysecond. He told me he’s never seen me ride smoother which gave me tonsof confidence. After that, I knew I could win this thing.”
And win he did, which put him on the podium as the only repeat victorin the Sea Otter dual slalom. It also places him in the top spot for theoverall Gravity Omnium (scored by issuing racers with points whereby therider with the lowest amount of points will take the overall).
Sunday’s mountain cross and downhill finals will determine the overalloutcome of the Gravity Omnium.
Sea Otter Classic Dual Slalom
1. Cedric Gracia
2. Eric Carter
3. Karim Amour
4. Colin Bailey
1. Tai-Lee Muxlow
2. Leigh Donovan
3. Katrina Miller
4. Lisa Sher