Downhill Nationals Race Report And Galley
Long before the arrival of the white man to the Sangre de Cristos Mountains in northeastern New Mexico, nomadic natives regularly traveled to this high country to renew their ancestral ties under a blazing atmospheric condition they called the “fire of the gods.” Then legendary cowpoke Kit Carson showed up and translated it to “Angel Fire,” and here we are.
Photo and story by Phil Beckman of PB Creative Photo.
Nowadays Angel Fire is still a nomadic destination, but the pilgrims come wearing knee guards and full-face helmets instead of animal skins. Angel Fire Resort is now blazing during the summer with more than 60 miles of lift-accessed mountain bike trails, all dropping in from 10,650 feet. And it’s become home to the USA Cycling Gravity Nationals, crowning Americans from all over the country—and the world, as you’ll see—in a wide variety of Downhill and Dual Slalom classes.
Jill Kintner (Norco/Red Bull) was first to stand on a Pro podium during this dry, extremely dusty and warm three-day event. This multi-time World and National Champion and Olympian had flown straight from the Leogang, Austria, World Cup the previous weekend, and had little trouble defending her Dual Slalom title. Only two other women dared challenge her, and it was New York’s Rebecca Gardner (Kona) and Colorado’s Christen Boyer (One Ghost Industries) following Kintner through the timing beams for silver and bronze, respectively.
Rookie Pro Luca Cometti (Factory Intense) was seeded fourth at the start of the Men’s bracket, but was able to find his way into the final against fellow Californian and Red Bull Rampage champ Kyle Strait. Cometti navigated the loose, big-bermed course just a bit quicker to don the stars-and-stripes by just under one second. North Carolina’s top-seeded Luca Shaw (SRAM Factory) claimed the bronze.
“Kyle Strait is obviously a legend of the sport and super powerful and very talented on the bike,” Cometti remarked later. “To beat him is a pretty amazing feeling, being a first-year pro and always looking up to him growing up.”
On Sunday the crowd shifted its attention to the devious 2.8-mile Downhill course, titled “World Cup.” After more than two days of practice runs and qualifying, some lines had become more defined, such as in the infamous rock garden, while most of the corners became tricky, blown-out silt chutes.
Jill Kintner was once again the gal to beat, and the closest anyone got to her was California’s Abigail Hippely. But the gap was unassailable: some 25 seconds. Finishing on the third step was Amanda Batty of Park City, Utah.
Washington native Kintner appeared ready for a well-deserved rest while awaiting the award ceremony. “There’s a lot of work involved with both slalom and downhill,” she explained. “That was no joke for effort; major output in heat and altitude. I’m feeling a little chapped right now. It was good training. I came in and accomplished what I set out to do—get a couple more national titles on my resume—so I’m stoked about that. I had a fun time riding and for me it just feels like such a low-key event, to have some fun among my fellow Americans. I felt like I could have ridden a little bit faster but there was a strategy to not push it too hard, keep it smooth, keep it together, no flats. It was kind of crazy for me with this event. I booked my own ticket, car, room, came by myself—total independent. Good thing I didn’t have any mechanicals. This kind of weekend keeps you humble.”
Much like the Pro Women’s winner, Aaron Gwin (Specialized/Red Bull) made a hasty retreat from Leogang to defend his Downhill title at Angel Fire. The clear favorite had a slightly embarrassing qualifying run on Saturday, sliding out in the last turn but still topping the charts by a couple of tenths over teammate Mitch Ropelato of Utah. SoCal’s Kevin Aiello (KHS) would start third from last.
Gwin showed why he carried the #1 plate as he flew down the deteriorating course on Sunday to post a 3:52.17, the quickest pass of the weekend. Trek World Racing’s Neko Mulally of North Carolina recovered from a sketchy qualifying session (21st) to nab runner-up with a second-best 3:59.35. Ropelato took the final step on the podium at 3:59.39.
It was Gwin’s fourth stars and stripes jersey. As he remarked afterward, “Qualifying was going good until I crashed in the last turn. I knew that if I had the same run and not do that again then I’d be happy. Today I made a few mistakes but nothing that cost much time. This track is hard, man, every year. It’s long and the altitude, it’s rough and it’s really hard to just flow and carry sped and feel fast here. But it definitely suits my style with being so dry and wide open so I love coming here every year, it’s really fun.”
Complete results and additional info can be found at the USA Cycling website by clicking here.
Photo galleries from all three days can be viewed at pbcreativephoto.com.