4X racing is a contact sport. As fans saw two weeks ago in Houffalize, riders can't leave opportunities for competitors to pass. As soon as they do, someone's going to shove their foot in the door and push it open, whether you want them to or not. While this track is considerably different from the tight one in Houffalize, the action remained just as intense.
Practice saw Filip Polc, one of the few dual-sport gravity racers left, boosting the big "quad" line in an effort to gain an advantage over his fellow racers–and have a bit of fun. The intimidating line the MS-Evil racer was hitting drew roars from the crowd. The rest of the racers were pretty dialed on what lines they wanted to hit as well; none of them particularly wanted that line, opting to hit the triple lines on either side instead
Once the racing began, though, it was business as usual for the top dogs in the women's and the men's races.
For the women, just like in Houffalize, there was a surprisingly robust field: 24 ladies were set to duke it out. And while the favorites–Jill Kintner, Anneke Beerten, and Melissa Buhl–began a fairly relentless march towards the finals, it was nice to see them challenged. One name in particular that's been breaking into the finals more consistently has been Jana Horakova of the Czech Republic. She seemed determined to make the podium, and made it to finals with Kintner, Beerten, and Fionn Griffiths. In the second corner, a hard charging Horakova tried to take advantage of the inside line that Kintner had unfortunately left a tiny bit open, and the resulting tangle took both racers out. Griffiths, who has been sitting in fourth place, shot through on the inside for the lead, and then hold off the powerful Beerten for the win.
After the race, a jubilant Griffiths confessed that the effort spent on DH practice and qualifying earlier in the day had resulted in "rotten" gates all day. When she made the final—and again had a bad start—her plan was to sit and try and shoot through any tangles that might occur. Her patience paid off in the second corner.
"I just drifted a bit in the first, and when I saw Horakova cut hard for the second gate, and that Jill still hadn't made her turn, I knew my gamble was going to pay off. Sure enough, they crashed. So I just braked a bit and went around them," Griffiths explained.
In the men's 4X, Yeti's Jared Graves was once again decimating the competition. So it was with some surprise to see him get nudged out in the finals by a very hungry Roger Rinderknecht of GT. The error was simple: Graves went a bit wide in the first corner, leaving the door open for the GT rider to take him on the inside. Unfortunately for Rinderknecht, two corners from the finish he was passed by a hard charging Joost Wichman; he'd left the same door open for the Dutch rider, and Wichman was only too willing to step through for the win.
Overall, it was good, exciting racing. Both Kintner and Graves are looking forward to getting back on track in a few weeks at Fort Bill. For Kintner, who spent last year preparing for Olympics, the return to a familiar track should be welcome. The women's 4X race there will also be the first World Cup appearance for Brit Shanaze Reade, a BMX and track world champ. Things could definitely get interesting.