TELLURIDE – The Telluride World Cup wrapped up Sunday with a fitting gold-silver finale on the SBX course for the home team.
Americans pulled to the forefront with womens’ Lindsey Jacobellis (Stratton, VT) and Faye Gulini (Salt Lake City) in first place and mens’ Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, CA) and Nick Baumgartner (Iron River, MI) in second at the Visa Snowboardcross Cup team SBX event. Olympic silver medalist Jacobellis, who aced each of her heats, pronounced herself “proud” of newcomer Gulini who, at just 17, was able to hold off world-class competitors for the team win. The strategy: Jacobellis led for the holeshot, and Gulini made sure the gap didn’t close.
“She was riding so well down the whole course,” Jacobellis said of her young teammate. “She definitely nailed it, and that's what it's going to take to hold off the Canadians.”
Gulini further explained that “I have a weaker pull, so having Lindsey go first to give me that holeshot definitely made a huge difference.”
Other women on the podium were Canadians Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais (second), and Switzerland's Simona Meiler and Tanja Frieden were third.
The men's team races were similarly intense, with no wiggle room for first and second lap mistakes. At the end of the day, the French team of Xavier De Le Rue and Pierre Vaultier were in first, with Holland and Baumgartner on their heels, in a close second. “Today was a blast,” Holland said.
Like the U.S. women medalists, the men’s were beyond gracious about their teammates.
“I was Baumgartner's biggest fan today,” Holland said. “I'd watch him go out of the gate, root for him as much as I could, and then it was time for me to put up my end of the bargain.” Baumgartner observed that the teamwork makes the format exciting.
“I dig it,” he said. “Everyone knows we have the U.S. team, but it's mainly an individual sport. It's a different bond you get when you start to rely on each other.
“He's my biggest fan when I go out of the gate and when I finish down here, I'm screaming for him. It makes you closer, tighter and makes for great racing.”
Also poised to make the final were Ross Powers (Okemo, VT) and his team SBX comrade Graham Watanabe (Sun Valley, ID), beautifully poised to make the final with Powers winning each of the first runs and Watanabe keeping the lead.
But, in the semi final round after Powers crossed the finish line first, Watanabe's started too strong, which proved to be a major setback.
“I got a little too jazzed in the start and made an early move over a tall roller, but it was too early and I got bucked off balance. I had to hike up over a feature. I made up time, but not enough,” Watanabe said.
All in all, Powers, who was third in the SBX World Cup Saturday, enjoyed the racing regardless. “I feel better and better every day, and today's team race was a lot of fun. It was cool for me to be out there with Graham having a good time,” Powers said. “Just to go out there and win each one of my heats was huge. I can leave here with great confidence, enjoy the holidays, and go to Europe strong and try to make this team.”
The snowboardcross athletes now have a break before heading to Bad Gastein, Austria, Jan. 9-11.
Saturday, Dec. 19
With Saturday’s third-place finish, Powers proved that his ascension last year to the podium in Sunday River, Me., was no fluke; the bronze keeps him in the running as a viable contender for the Olympic Team. Powers is the third U.S. rider to grab a top-four World Cup result in just two events, after Wescott and Watanabe took second and third, respectively, in Argentina. A top four result is the lead qualifying criteria for the top spots on the Olympic Team. “I grew up doing a little of everything, racing gates, doing freestyle,” Powers said after Saturday’s win. “I used to battle it out with Wescott every weekend. In 06, I was the alternate in the halfpipe, went over to Torino, watched these guys do snowboardcross, and I was fired up about it.” All told, the U.S. qualified ten men and two women for Saturday’s finals on the challenging course designed by Olympic course builder Jeff Ihaksi. Olympic gold medalist Wescott was sixth for the men, taking second in a small final that featured three Americans. Five-time X Games gold medalist Holland finished seventh and Watanabe crashed early into eighth. “That fifth was still pretty important to me; I really wanted that heat,” Holland said. “So I made a pass in turn three on Wescott and just went into turn four with Xavier de la Rue just head-to-head. I know he’s fast and in control, so I trusted him.” Holland touched de la Rue’s board and lost balance before a jump on the fastest part of the course. “It scared the crap out of me in the air,” he said. “I had time to think about how bad it was going to hurt. Luckily I had time enough to squirm a little bit and get the feet down first and take some of the compression.” Watanabe, despite the missed opportunity to join Powers in the big final, pronounced himself was pleased with his overall performance. “It was a really good day, I’m super psyched,” Watanabe said. “You know, I’m never content with a small final, but I’m really happy with the way the day went. Torino silver medalist Jacobellis had her board clipped on the final set of jumps by eventual women’s winner Maelle Ricker (Canada), causing her to crash after a great start in her first heat. “Lindsey rode great, and I don’t think she did anything wrong,” said U.S. Snowboarding Head Coach Peter Foley. “She had a great race, she smoked the top, she and Maelle just tangled it up. Sometimes you can stay on your feet and sometimes you can’t, but she went down.” Gulini won the final qualifying spot for the women’s race Friday and took a career best eighth after getting second in the first heat with Jacobellis. Three World Cup events remain for Olympic Team qualifying, Jan. 10-21 in Austria, Switzerland and Quebec.
Friday, Dec. 18
Ihaksi’s dynamic snowboardcross course tested the world's best SBX athletes Friday, giving a taste of things to come. The U.S. men were led by Wescott coming in second. Three other U.S. men marked top 10 speeds with World Championship bronze medalist Baumgartner in third, 2002 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Powers in sixth and five-time X Games gold medalist Holland in ninth. “It's great. The speed is really good across the board and I'm pretty excited to see how the pack races go,” U.S. Snowboarding Head Coach Peter Foley said. In the women's race the sun started to sink in the sky, throwing shadows across what most are calling an inventive and relentless course, and making the women's race a challenge to make the top 16. Jacobellis marked one of two U.S. women's spots, finishing eighth. “Last week she trained a lot faster, especially in comparison to the boys, than what she did today. It's fine where she's qualified, but it seemed like she wasn't riding at her top speed,” Foley said. Following Jacobellis was Salt Lake City's Faye Gulini who rounded off the women's field in 16th.
Thursday, Dec. 17
The PGS course was kindest to the Canadians Thursday as the second of two World Cup events in Telluride with Jasey Jay Anderson and Michael Lambert finishing first and second for the men. Russia's Alena Zavarzina won for the women and Adam Smith (Bend, OR) was the top finisher for the U.S., landing 14th. “I'm just happy to be in the finals and top American is always good,” Smith said. “I had a little hiccup on the bottom of the course and that was the difference. I just need to clean it up for the next one.” According to Smith, the course in Telluride was pristine, but a little fine-tuning on his part would have launched him further in the race. “The course is in perfect condition and Telluride has put on a great event,” Smith said, but “I went up against Simon Schoch [Switzerland] the first round and he's one of the top riders in the world. I had two really solid runs, could have cleaned up a few things, but overall rode fairly well. It was a tight close race.” According to U.S. Snowboarding Alpine Coach Jan Wengelin, small mistakes on such a great course make it hard to advance when everyone in the world is riding on their A game. “It's the first World Cup of the season, there's some butterflies in there and they're making small mistakes. But on a hill like this with snow like this everyone rides so well that you just can't make small mistakes. It's really frustrating for the athletes,” Wengelin said. In the women's field Zavarzina was followed in second and third by Austrians Marion Kreiner and Ina Meschik. It was another hard one for Michelle Gorgone (Boston) who again was plagued with a broken toe bale in the middle of her qualification run, causing her to disqualify. “Michelle was super unlucky, breaking two toe bales in two races. They were brand new bales, but there's nothing she could so. She never got a chance,” Wengelin said. According to Wengelin, the most frustrating part of Gorgone's situation is that she has the speed it takes to advance, but the equipment didn't hold up. U.S rider Lindsay Lloyd (Centerville, UT) narrowly missed the final 16 ladder, finishing 17th for the day.
The Telluride World Cup will be broadcast Saturday, Dec. 26, at 1 p.m. ET, and again on Sunday, Jan. 3, at 5 p.m. ET, on Versus. For final results from each day’s events, please visit watchnewspapers.com.