Words and video by Noah Sears
The U.S. National DH Championships returned to Sol Vista, Colorado for the second year with a vengeance this past weekend. Riders were dropping like flies and the sounds of ambulances and choppers provided the soundtrack to this year’s circus of carnage. The combination of a very airy and high-speed track coupled with the motivation only a national title provides made for an awesomely wicked event. Notable injured parties included Chris Boice, Mitch Ropelato, Sean “Griz” McClendon, Kathy Pruitt, and Katie Holden.
The Sol Vista trail crew was given the task of making a mountain out of a molehill. They did just that with course that was equal parts high-speed gnar and wet-your-pants-size stunts. An interesting racecourse to say the least, the event drew big crowds and most riders were entertained if not totally stoked on the layout.
Conditions were desert-dry as the temperature climbed to almost 90 degrees for the four-day event. However, midway through Sunday’s finals that all changed, when a random thunderstorm rolled through bringing heavy winds and touch of precipitation. The sudden storm coincided with rider Sean McClendon going down on the biggest jump on course and shattered his pelvis and collarbone. Riders on the course during the catastrophe were granted a re-run and the racing resumed after a brief hiatus.
Aaron Gwin (Yeti/FOX) occupied the hot seat for most of the finals, after having crashed in qualifying – ending up 71st and among the first to go in finals. J.D. Swanguen (ODI/X-Fusion), who perhaps purposefully qualified low to film finals, gave it the old college try and occupied the number two spot for quite some time. Rider after rider came barreling down the hill – none more violently than Luke Strobel (MS/Evil) who crashed full-steam in the last corner – but no one could match Gwin’s blistering 2:21.17.
St. George, Utah’s Logan Binggeli (KHS) eventually ousted Swanguen, and relative newcomer Tyler Immer (Yeti/FOX) rounded out the top three. Kyle Strait (LEX/Pivot) looked quick all weekend aboard his new Pivot Phoenix and managed a solid fourth-place finish. Specialized’s Brad Benedict completed the podium in fifth. Three-time 4X World Champion Jill Kintner (Transition) proved her downhill focus is paying off this year, as she climbed to the top box of the women’s podium. Kintner is set to make quite a splash on the World Cup circuit later this year. Young ripper Sam Powers (Redstone Cyclery) had both style and speed to take the win in Junior category.
Gwin, and a few others, had little time to celebrate as World Cup number four is this weekend in Champery, Switzerland – which is nothing at all like Sol Vista.