Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Airing Out Sol Vista

Yeah, I know. You've already read about who won what, seen the photos, and read all about big jumps, dust, drop gates, and short courses. Over the past few days, I've been thinking about how to write this blog post, as there is actually a lot to say about what transpired at the US National Downhill Championships at Sol Vista, CO this weekend.

I think the best place to start is with a quote from Katie Holden: "We [pro female downhill racers] really progressed women's riding this weekend." While I was happy to progress my bum onto my downhill bike for three days of relaxing riding with my friends, a talented and inspiring group of pro women stepped up to the plate and rode impressively on a course that left plenty of pro men shaking their heads.

Here's the deal. The course was a short one--Melissa Buhl won the stars and bars in 2:41. The top 3/4 of the course consisted of newly-built loose sandy, rocky trail through the woods, followed by "The Three Amigos," which were three progressively larger gap jumps--the final one measuring nearly 50 feet from lip to landing, and concluding with a short woods section into a few high-speed berms with some jumps in between.

The word around the pits after the first day of practice was that anyone who didn't hit all Three Amigos would have no chance at besting someone who did, due to the nearly uphill trail required to go around the booters. Eventually, go-arounds were added so that riders could hit one or two of the jumps, even if they chose not to hit the grand finale.

To be honest, after seeing the course, I was pretty stoked to not be racing. It brought up so many interesting dilemmas that I was much more content to spectate for the weekend.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the jumps was that it was unfair to put these jumps on a National Championship course, when there are very few opportunities in the US to hit anything similar, and therefore little opportunity for someone to successfully progress onto these larger gaps. Putting them on the course with only one huge go-around seemed to be asking for riders to attempt to hit them whether they possessed the skill or not. After traveling to Colorado, spending cash on entry fees, lift tickets, housing, etc., why wouldn't you just go for it?

Then, there's the point that Littermag makes: You choose what to hit and what not to hit, and that's what makes you a skilled bike rider.

Lisa Myklak was the first girl to hit any of the jumps, and also the first to hit all three. She went for them before many of the guys did. She broke the ice, and Jackie Harmony was the only other girl to successfully hit all three. Jackie was also the only girl to hit them all in her race run (Lisa hit the first two). Most of the women's field hit at least the first jump in their qualifying and race runs.

Here's the interesting thing, though: earlier in the weekend, thoughts were that if a girl hit all three jumps, she'd have the win in the bag. The course was so short that everyone assumed there was no room to make up that time elsewhere. But Melissa and Kathy Pruitt proved that a racecourse starts at the top and ends at the finish line. Melissa came off the first jump and into the go-around unbelievably fast, and after also nailing the first jump, Kathy finished less than a second behind her. Lisa took 3rd after hitting two of the three, and Jackie took 4th after hitting them all.

The moral of the story is this: the current field of US racers is one that's full of talent. Melissa and Kathy are able to apply their World Cup experience and weed out the noise to put together blazing race runs. Lisa stole the show early in the weekend by proving that all three jumps were rideable, and made a race-day decision to go around the third. Jackie had the confidence to put all three jumps into her race run. Simply hitting or not hitting the jumps was not the deciding factor--it was putting together a fast and strategically sound race run. These girls and the rest of the women's field prove that we have some incredible riders here in 'Merica, and that we can expect women's riding here to continue to progress to meet the challenges of courses and conditions here and abroad.

Bravo, ladies, bravo!

Downhill Pro Women
1. Melissa Buhl
2. Kathy Pruitt
3. Lisa Myklak
4. Jacqueline Harmony
5. Katie Holden
6. Darian Harvey
7. Rachel Bauer
8. Jennifer Wolf
9. Jennifer Whalen
10. Stephanie Leonard
11. Julie Olsen
12. Connie Misket
13. Michelle Rivera

Cat. 1 Women 19-29
1. Alisha Gibson
2. Emma Millar
3. Johanne Tuttle
4. AnneMarie Hennes
5. Katy Monger
6. Liana Gregory
7. Christen Boyer

Cat. 1 Women 30+
1. Chelsey Stevens
2. Soraya Khalje
3. Rosie Bernhard

Cat. 2 Women 19-29
1. Melissa O'Connell
2. Jesse Kirkpatrick
3. Kyra Alexander
4. Lauren Heitzman
5. Kristin Buell
6. Christin McCurdy

Cat. 2 Women 30-39
1. Lana Lawson
2. Amber Price
3. Bonnie Miller

Cat. 3 Women 30+
1. Ann Davis
2. Rachel DeLateur
3. Jennel Ortiz

Junior Women
1. Cierra Smith
2. Maddie Crowley

Pro Women
1. Jill Kintner
2. Melissa Buhl
3. Kathy Pruitt
4. Darian Harvey
5. Jacqueline Harmony
6. Rachel Bauer
7. Neven Steinmetz

Cat. 1/2/3 Women
1. Johanne Tuttle
2. Alisha Gibson
3. Catherine Cantway
4. Christen Boyer
5. Christin McCurdy
6. Brittany Jackson
7. Maddie Crowley
8. Soraya Khalje
9. Katy Monger

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jackie, just a little clarification on this race. I hit all three jumps in my race run. But I tested my time in qualifying with only hitting the first two jumps.

It's unfortunate that such easy go arounds were put in place. It was a compromise of conserving energy up top to make sure I had enough energy hit the big three at the bottom. A compromise that did not work in my favor - at least for the win.

Speculation was right the first day. But the complaining of riders nullified the strengths of Jackie and I. The option lines put in place were both stress-free and nearly as fast as the jumps. You could pin it at the top and be taxed by the time you got to the jumps and just swerve your way around. And yes, the smarter move in the end.

I suggest next year there only be a go around before the first and after the second with a little more maneuvering going on.

All the same, awesome coverage! Thanks for all the exposure you give women and their riding:)

-Lisa Myklak