Gracia, Chausson Takes NORBA Downhill Finals |
Thursday, August 30, 2001
WEST DOVER, Vt. (Aug. 19, 2001) - The Chevy Trucks NORBA National Championship Mountain Bike Series received a French kiss on its last day, with Cedric Gracia and Ann Caroline Chausson scoring a double for their Volvo/Cannondale team and their native France.
With several favorites landing on the casualty list instead of the podium, a nervous 22-year-old Todd LeDuc (Foes/Azonic) sat at the finish as the lead American in the series. Going into the event, LeDuc had a slender lead over defending national champion Eric Carter (Mongoose/Hyundai).
"Eric had to get a podium to beat me," said LeDuc. "I knew E.C. would push it, so I pushed it more."
After simply training on the mountain several name-brand pros admitted to being scared of this course.
Mick Hannah (Global) ruined his season and collarbone when he tried to clear the 30-foot stair steps drop off. Steve Peat (GT/Chevy Trucks) was also injured in a training run that would likely end his season. California’s Tammy Pickerell (Santa Cruz/Risse) had only to walk down the course to claim a national title as an expert, but a severe training crash hospitalized her for much of the weekend.
Often wet, the Mount Snow course had drained and dried to afford fast conditions. The course opened with a precipitous jackhammering on granite. After plummeting down two huge drop-offs, the course opened up to grassy slopes with occasional water bars. Then the riders fired into a keyhole of dark single track through forest that drained into Mount Snow’s infamous "Yard Sale" section. There the riders pick their way down a 100-foot rock, root and tree-marred section before they empty into a grassy freeway to the finish.
The women’s race had a degree of controversy, but nobody could deny the dominance of Ann Caroline Chausson. During her qualifying run she crashed and ruined a wheel, as did Kathy Krause. The riders claimed a hay bale had been moved into their path. The re-ride was granted and she posted the fastest qualifying time.
In the finals, Marla Streb (Foes/Azonic) flatted up top and sought a re-ride. An official initially granted the request, but a jury overrode the decision.
"I had to re-run so I did three runs today," said Chausson. "It’s always the same with girls. Had I known there was going to be such a fuss, I would not have had my team protest."
Missy Giove (Global) posted a 4:22, only to be bested by Leigh Donovan (Schwinn), who delivered a 4:21.
Chausson, who made a huge save on the stair step when she vaulted onto her own stem, rocked the house with a 4:15.
This gave the series and the U.S. title to Giove, who finished 54 points ahead of Donovan.
"I was trying to actually go slow today and have a good solid ride," said Giove. "I knew I could go faster but that is for the worlds. Still, I won my first ever race here, a dual slalom, so this was important."
Marla Streb (Foes/Azonic), April Lawyer (Maxxis) and Kathy Pruitt (Dirt Works) rounded the series podium and the national championship top five.
The men’s race saw a huge casualty rate that intensified in the higher ranks of riders.
Sean McCarroll (Global) shocked all with a 3:54, becoming the first rider to break the four-minute barrier. Eight riders later, Johnny Waddell (SunRace/Santa Cruz) went a second faster to take the hot seat. With so many riders with such great pedigrees yet to come, few expected to Waddell’s time to last. He sat there for 23 riders until John Kirkcaldie (Maxxis) delivered a time just one second faster.
Down the hill, cleanly, came LeDuc, to deliver an impressive 3:56. He then assumed a position on an equally hot seat waiting for the top-ranked riders to finish.
The crowd looked up the hill for one minute, then another minute, then another minute until the announcers, through radio contact farther up the mountain, learned that Kurt Voreis (Haro/Lee Dungarees), Carter and Michael Ronning (Intense) had all suffered mechanicals or crashes.
Then down the Yard Sale section, to the roar of the crowd, came Gracia. Where others had slugged their way down, Gracia danced to the delight of the crowd, and then powered toward the finish.
And to finish with a deflation, the crowd learned that the final rider on the list Chris Kovarik (Intense) had also pulled off the course. Gracia got the day.
"Two years ago I won on this and it was wet. This year it was dry. It was scary," said Gracia. "In my final I just rode for fun."
And LeDuc scored the national title with an eighth-place finish.
"I never even thought I would be close to a national championship," said LeDuc, 22. "I think there’s definitely a new wave of younger riders."
The overall series title went to John Kirkcaldie (Maxxis) of New Zealand, who never won a single event but reached the podium consistently. Validating his national title, Leduc ended up second overall with Australia’s Nathan Rankin (Foes/Azonic) in third. Waddell and Colin Bailey (Maxxis) rounded out the podium for the series.
1. CEDRIC GRACIA (Volvo/Cannondale) France 3:48.47; 2. John Kirkcaldie (Maxxis) Santa Barbara, Calif. 00:04.06; 3. John Waddell (SunRace/Santa Cruz) Australia 00:05.13; 4. Sean McCarroll (Global) Australia 00:06.14; 5. Derin Stockton (Intense) Temecula, Calif. 00:06.26.
1. JOHN KIRKCALDIE; 2. Todd Leduc; 3. Nathan Rankin (Foes/Azonic) New Zealand; 4. John Waddell; 5. Colin Bailey.
1. ANN CAROLINE CHAUSSON (Volvo/Cannondale) France 4:15.38; 2. Leigh Donovan (Schwinn) Capistrano Beach, Calif. 00:05.78; 3. Missy Giove (Global) Durango, Colo. 00:07.17; 4. Katja Repo (GT/Chevy Trucks) Finland 00:15.31; 5. Vanessa Quinn (Intense) Australia 00:15.77.
1. MISSY GIOVE; 2. Leigh Donovan; 3. Marla Streb; 4. April Lawyer; 5. Kathy Pruitt.