Carter Takes Dual Slalom Series|
Thursday, August 30, 2001
WEST DOVER, Vt. (Aug. 18, 2001) - Entering the finals of the Chevy Trucks NORBA National Championship Mountain Bike Series, Eric Carter (Mongoose/Hyundai) and Brian Lopes (GT/Fox) were tied for the series lead, with World Champion Wade Bootes (Trek/Volkswagen) sitting just 20 points away in third.
Despite several strong challengers in the early rounds, Lopes and Carter bashed their way down the course towards a Herculean final against one another. Lopes posted the fastest time in the qualifiers, with Franceís Cedric Gracia (Volvo/Cannondale) second, Carter third and Bootes fourth.
But as Carter proved, racing against the clock is different than racing against a rider. In the upper bracket, Lopes defeated Kyle Ebbett (Iron Horse) in the first round, averted a second-round upset when Nathan Rankin (Foes/Azonic) crashed, and then beat Mike King (Haro/Lee Dungarees) and Bootes en route the finals. Bootes narrowly won the first run, but Lopes came to win.
Carterís path to the final went through Ryan Smith (Oakley), Sean McCarroll (Global) and Mikeal Deldycke (Schwinn) and brought him up against Cedric Gracia (Volvo/Cannondale) in the semifinals. Carter lost the first run, but came back strong on the faster course to knock off Gracia and advance.
The Mount Snow course completed the set of courses these riders faced during the series. Coming off the high-speed Mammoth course that included a half-pipe, riders in Vermont faced an unusual course. With a steep drop out of the gate, the riders completed most of the jumps before the course flattened out for berm turns. By the final berm, the course had just about drained all speed out of the bikes. Riders had to blast out of the turn like criterium riders, with the blue course having an inside line to the finish. Hence, the blue course nearly always produced the winner.
In the finals, the contrasting styles of Carter and Lopes became evident. "Heís definitely faster coming out of the start," said Carter. "I carry more speed out of the gates."
Carter, the 2000 National Downhill Champion, had won two straight NORBA dual slaloms going into the final. All had been after facing Lopes in the finals; in all Lopes had crashed out once.
The first ride put Carter on the faster blue course. Lopes, knowing he had to be aggressive on the red course, crashed near the bottom, giving Carter a 1.5 second advantage.
"I was just trying to get any advantage I could because that (blue) course is faster," said Carter.
In their second run, Carter found himself struggling to keep up with the aggressive Lopes. In the middle berms, he found his bike washing out. "I thought for sure I was going to get killed," said Carter. He kept it up, but struggled to get out of the final, crucial berm. "I thought, ĎPull it together, regroup and ride like I know I can rideíÖ My legs just froze, I couldnít move."
He narrowly hung on to Lopes, losing the round, but winning the event to hold on to a national championship jersey for another year.
In the consolation round, Gracia defeated Bootes to win the bronze medal.
Hereís the story: World Champion Ann Caroline Chausson (Volvo/Cannondale) posted the third fastest time in qualifiers and then went undefeated the rest of the night on both courses to win the whole thing. She knocked off, in order, Melissa Buhl (ODI/KHS), Tara Llanes (Yeti/Pearl Izumi), Sabrina Jonnier (Intense) and, in the finals, Leigh Donovan (Schwinn). She beat all riders in two straight rides, proving her worthiness of the rainbow jersey.
Jonnier defeated Brutsaert in the consolation round for third place.
The storyline in the womenís dual slalom, however, would be Leigh Donovan, in her last NORBA national race.
"Itís sad," she said. "I cried a lot of tears today. Iím really going to miss all this."
Donovan set the fastest time in qualifiers. She then defeated Gale Dahlager (Razor Rock), Marla Streb (Foes/Azonic), and Elke Brutsaert (Schwinn) en route to her appointment with Chausson.
In the finals, Chausson, 24, simply out powered the 30-year-old Donovan. She took the first run with a 1.5 second advantage after Donovan slipped a pedal in the middle berms. In their final run, Donovan - on the faster blue course - drove hard to the line but still could not beat Chausson. The French riderís red course victory stamped her passport to dominance in this event.
"Itís a good event. Itís good for spectators," said Chausson. "The course, it was a bit too easy, but I liked it."
As for Donovan? "Iím thrilled. Iím happy. I won the national championship," said Donovan, reminding herself and her fans of what a great ride it has been.