Last year, organizers of the National Mountain Bike Series heard gruff remarks from the gravity racing crowd for holding the mountain-cross competition on a BMX track located an hour’s drive from Deer Valley resort. The decision was made after Deer Valley resort predictably balked at the idea of cutting a gated race course into one of its ski runs.
For 2007, NMBS organizers convinced resort management to allow a scaled-down dual slalom track built near the base of the mountain’s famed downhill course. While it lacked the steepness and length of most other NMBS dual slalom tracks, it nonetheless earned praise from racers.
“I had fun, I was into it, it made for really exciting, tight racing,” said Aussie Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox), who won the men’s dual slalom.
Graves took both the NMBS downhill and gated racing overall crowns in 2005, and has blossomed into a major player on the international Four-cross scene. In 2006 he won a round of the UCI World Cup in Willingen, Germany. A broken wrist derailed his season just before the world championships, which he had to sit out.
This year, Graves has also become a key player in Australia’s competitive BMX scene, and is on the short list to represent his country at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
“I did it for cross training for mountain bike, and started getting quicker and quicker and getting good results,” Graves said. “Now I’m to the point where I want to get a medal.”
Graves’s BMX skills helped him win the 2006 Deer Valley mountain cross, which was held on a BMX track in Salt Lake City. In 2007 Graves returned in top form, and squared off against Yeti team manager Rich Houseman, the reigning NMBS gated racing champion.
Houseman was making his return to racing after suffering a shoulder injury in the off-season. The 28-year-old Californian said he no longer feels the effects of that injury.
“It just felt great to be back racing,” Houseman said. “I thought I could make some time up on [Graves] in the second round, but Jared got me, he’s pretty fast.”
Winning the women’s dual slalom was Arizonan Melissa Buhl (KHS), who beat Coloradan Lisa Myklak (Leelikesbikes) in the final round. Like her male counterpart, Buhl has become a major player on the international scene, and in 2007 is the only female American gravity racer to compete in both downhill and four cross on the World Cup circuit.
Buhl admits she has struggled on the World Cup — she suffered a nasty crash and DNF in the downhill at the World Cup opener in Vigo, Spain. Currently, Buhl is ranked the in the World Cup four cross rankings, and 22nd in downhill.
“I feel like the industry is changing in women’s racing, and I want to give it all I can before I retire,” Buhl said. The 25-year old has raced BMX and mountain bikes for 16 years, but said mountain-bike racing will eventually take a back seat to medical school.
Buhl was the fastest female racer in Sunday’s downhill, beating American Kathy Pruitt (Jamis), former cross-country rider Abigail Hippely (Maverick) and South African Joanna Petterson (Brodie). Deer Valley’s famed dusty, downhill course offered a challenge to both the men and women, and as the NMBS weekend wore on, the course claimed its share of casualties.
Chief amongst those was Kiwi Cameron Cole, the reigning junior downhill world champion. The Maxxis rider hit the course’s first double jump with too much speed during a practice round and landed awkwardly, suffering a broken wrist that required surgery.
Even in the finals, racers struggled down Deer Valley’s downhill course sporting new wounds. Petterson, winner of the NMBS’s gated-racing series in 2006, finished with a mangled finger that looked like it had barely survived a garbage disposal.
Reigning U.S. champion Duncan Riffle (Honda-Ironhorse) outrode a talented international field to grab the men’s downhill title, beating Kiwi Justin Leov (Yeti-Fox), South African Andrew Neethling (Mongoose) and Aussies Jared Rando and Amiel Cavalier (both Giant).
The victory was Riffle’s first major win of 2007, and came not a moment too soon. The 20-year-old is the only male American downhiller to tackle the World Cup campaign, and admitted the 2007 series has been a challenging one.
“It’s been difficult, you’re on your own over there in their world,” Riffle said. “I drove my car to this race, and I can’t tell you how good that felt. Having your home-type environment really affects your racing.”
Riffle said he welcomed the course’s dry, rocky track, and admitted that with the lack of an American round of the World Cup, international racers rarely see that type of riding. Most of the World Cup courses feature steep, wet and root-filled terrain.
“The last World Cup we had here in the States was in Angel Fire and it showed,” He said. “The riders who know how to ride the rocks and the dust excelled. When we’re over there riding, we struggle with the mud and roots and wet, grassy turns. I think it’s an unfair balance.”
2006 National Mountain Bike Series Gravity No. 2
Deer Valley, Utah
June 16-17, 2007
1. Jared Graves (Aus), Yeti-Fox
2. Rich Houseman, Yeti-Fox
3. Eric Carter, Mongoose
4. Jared Rando (Aus), Giant
5. Justin Leov (NZ), Yeti-Fox
6. Amiel Cavalier (Aus), Giant
7. Anderw Neethling (SA), Mongoose
8. Ross Milan, Yet-Fox
9. Logan Binggeli, Yeti
10. TJ Sharp, Yeti-FoxWomen
1. Melissa Buhl, KHS
2. Lisa Myklak, Leelikesbikes
3. Joanna Petterson (SA), Brodie
4. Jackie Harmony, Brodie
5. Amelia Colasurdo, Bear Naked-Cannondale
6. Katie Holden, Fluidride
7. Amy Laird (NZ), New Zealand National
8. Wendy Reynolds, Bear Naked-Cannondale
9. Amber Zirnhelt (Can), Brodie
10. Jessica Vogt, Dianese
1. Duncan Riffle, Honda-Ironhorse
2. Justin Leov (NZ), Yeti-Fox
3. Andrew Neethling (SA), Mongoose
4. Jared Rando (Aus), Giant
5. Amiel Cavalier (Aus), Giant
6. Jared Graves (Aus), Yeti-Fox
7. Luke Strobel, Maxxis
8. Cody Warren, Foes-No Fear
9. Kain Leonard, Kona
10. Ryan Condrashoff, WTB-Santa CruzWomen
1. Melissa Buhl, KHS
2. Kathy Pruitt, Jamis
3. Abigail Hippely, Maverick
4. Joanna Petterson (SA), Brodie
5. Amy Laird (NZ), New Zealand National
6. Jackie Harmony, Brodie
7. Darien Harvey, Durango Rough Riders
8. Amber Zirnhelt (Can), Brodie
9. Amelia Colasurdo, Bear Naked-Cannondale
10. Sara Johnson, VeloBella-Kona