Greg Minnaar and Sabrina Jonnier won the elite men's and women's dual slalom on Saturday afternoon at Sea Otter.
Racers battled exceptionally windy and cold conditions with dust blowing everywhere. Although a few crazy fans briefly removed their shirts to indicate the extent of their dedication, spectators stood bundled alongside the course. The gravity racers faced a headwind for much of the course, which made the pedalling sections all the more challenging.
Tara Llanes, who was paralysed in an accident last September at the Jeep King of the Mountain Race, guest commentated, giving fresh insight into the action and the minds of the racers thanks to her extensive past experience on the track.
Jonnier dominates talented women's field
Sabrina Jonnier dominated the women's dual slalom from start to finish on Saturday. She qualified first and marched her way consistently through to the finals, to finish first ahead of Melissa Buhl. Jonnier beat Britney White, Micayla Gatto, and Fionn Griffiths en route to victory and rode with power and grace and seemed to float over the course compared to her competition.
Buhl defeated Sondra Williamson, Mio Suemasa, and Rachel Atherton on her path to last round.
In the second run of the finals, Buhl crashed high up on the course, but Jonnier was so focused she didn't noticed as she pedaled on to take her fourth consecutive Sea Otter dual slalom win. Afterward, she said, "I didn't know Melissa had crashed."
Jonnier then revealed the secret to her success, smiling sincerely, "I just have fun here. I feel good in all the turns. When I win, it's because I have fun on my bike."
En route to her victory, Jonnier had a smooth time, but she admitted some minor troubles. "I had a mechanical problem in an earlier round, and I did make two mistakes on the first run in the final."
In the consolation round, Fionn Griffiths defeated Rachel Atherton for third and fourth places respectively.
Santa Cruz team-mates go one-two
On the men's side, it was all about the Santa Cruz Syndicate team as two of its riders ended up in the final together. Greg Minnaar took top honours ahead of Steve Peat.
Minnaar's success came even as he was testing his new bike. "I just got my bike built today. It was my first time riding it. It was an awesome race." The South African said it helped him mentally to be in the final with his team-mate. En route to the finals, Minaar defeated Ryan Condrashoff, Dan Atherton, Jared Rando and fellow South African Andrew Neethling.
"I thought, 'The pressure's off from the big boss.' I suspect that made it easy for me to push harder because I knew if I crashed, my team-mate would take the top spot."
Second place finisher Steve Peat was equally delighted with his race although he said he was tired from the consecutive rounds, during which he won over Eric Carter, Rich Houseman, Brian Lopes and Kirt Voreis, with little rest in between. "I felt pretty good for the last couple of runs," said Peat. "My legs started to wobble a bit and I got pretty tired. It's quite a lot of rounds to get to the final, but I was happy to make it to the final."
"It was Greg's first race for Syndicate so it was special for us both to be in the final," beamed Peat. The two have spent some time in recent months training together.
Both spoke favourably of the tried and tested course. "It was pretty technical - more so than in previous years," said Minnaar. "It's more skill than power up at the gate." The racers pedal led furiously toward the bottom of the course as they ran it out to the finish.
"The course was really good today," added Peat, who suffered no mechanicals excepting a stiff link that necessitated a hasty chain change between rounds. "It was a shame about the wind, but the track flowed good and it was dry."
Minnaar will spend some more time in Santa Cruz before heading to Europe for the World Cup season while Peat will return to England for a British National next week before the World Cups begin.
Andrew Neethling finished in third, ahead of Kirt Voreis in the consolation round after Voreis crashed on the second ride.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com