It’s called the Sea Otter Classic, and Saturday the event lived up to its name, providing a pair of classic match-ups in the finals of the dual slalom.
On the men’s side it was defending world champion Wade Bootes taking on reigning World Cup champ Brian Lopes. The women’s final saw American Missy Giove taking on her nemesis, Frenchwoman Anne-Caroline Chausson. Give round one to Lopes and Chausson. Each drank in the first taste of victory in 2001, after picking up wins on a warm, sunny day in the hills outside Monterey, California.
For Lopes, the road to the final proved tougher than the final itself. After cruising through the first two rounds, the GT-Fox rider lost the first heat of his round-of-eight match-up with Global Racing youngster Mick Hannah, and had to make up 0.136 seconds on the 16-year-old Australian. But Lopes has been through the wars, and was able to come back in the second heat, cranking his way across the line for a 0.439-second win and spot in the semifinals against Greg Minnaar.
“I just got to know the guy these last couple days,” said Lopes of Hannah. “He was flying in that first heat.”
Lopes fell behind Minnaar early in the first heat, but caught the South African at the end, taking a 0.309-second advantage into the next heat. There the SoCal native nearly saw his day end when he landed wrong off a small jump and went barreling into a hay bale. But somehow Lopes managed to keep it together, and held on to stay close enough to Minnaar to advance to the final.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Trek-Volkswagen’s Bootes had the tougher draw, but an easier time. The Australian had little trouble dispatching Haro-Lee Dungarees Mike King in the round of eight, before holding off Mongoose’s Eric Carter in the semis.
In the final, Lopes and Bootes battled to a near standoff in the first heat, with Lopes scratching out a miniscule 0.131-second advantage. But in the second heat, Lopes put an early gap on Bootes, and in an attempt to make up some ground, the bulky Aussie slipped a pedal during the final third of the course and went down hard, allowing Lopes to soft-pedal across the finish for the win.
“I just wanted to keep it close in the last heat because 0.131 isn’t anything,” Lopes said. “Fortunately, Bootes made it easy on me.”
Carter beat out Minnaar in the consolation final to take third place.
The women’s semis saw Volvo-Cannondale’s Chausson square off with Schwinn’s Leigh Donovan, and Giove take on Jamis’s Katrina Miller. Neither match up was particularly close, as Chausson blew away Donovan by 1.5 seconds in the first heat, then cruised in the second for the win, while Giove beat Miller in back to back heats to advance.
In the finals it was all Chausson, as she again put the maximum 1.5-second time differential on the board in the first heat, then held on for the win in the second.
“The first race of the year is always tough,” Chausson said. “Plus, facing Missy in the finals was pretty stressful. But everything worked out and that was good.”
Miller took out Donovan in the consolation round to earn third place.
Moments after awards were passed out to the dual slalom winners, spectators headed back up the course to take in the always-popular big-air contest. There a host of riders young and old wowed the large crowd with a variety of X-Games quality stunts. Thirteen-year-old Kyle Strait of Redlands, California, went the biggest, winning the contest and pocketing $800 for his troubles.
Most of the pro riders will be back on their bikes Sunday for the final two pro races at Sea Otter. In the morning it’s the downhill, where Chausson and Lopes will be among the favorites. The afternoon will see the unveiling of mountain cross, the gated event where four races take to the course at the same time.
Check back to www.VeloNews.com later in the day for a full report.