Heading into the grand finale of the 2007 Jeep King of the Mountain summer series on September 1 at Beaver Creek Resort in Beaver Creek, Colo., the only certainty in a season packed with unpredictable outcomes is the fact that never in the event's history have the standings been so tight with so many athletes in contention for the overall crown.
Five pairs of athletes are tied, and no fewer than six competitors have a chance to catch fire in the Rocky Mountains and capture the championship, while also enjoying the spoils in the form of part of a US$100,000 cash purse and the keys to a new 2008 Jeep Liberty.
Only 10 points separate the top four men's racers, all Americans, and no story is more compelling than that of Brian Lopes. The Laguna Beach legend, a three-time world champion, nine-time national champion and now six-time World Cup Champion, has brought home every trophy imaginable except that of Jeep KOM series champion. He now stands tied for first place in the season standings following a win at the second race of season in San Luis Obispo.
Lopes knows a win is anything but guaranteed with ultra-talented fellow Californians breathing down his neck. Leading the charge is Temecula's Rich Houseman, a 2006 NMBS champion, trailed by Eric Carter, also of Temecula, the 2007 national series champion and 2006 US national champion, and Cody Warren of Alpine, a former US national champion and multiple NMBS titlist. Also in the mix are Australia's Wade Bootes, fellow Aussie Jared Graves and Open Qualifier Chris Del Bosco.
Anneke Beerten of the Netherlands, the world's second ranked racer with two world cup wins in 2007, shares the lead in the women's series with Melissa Buhl, recently crowned US national champion and former NMBS Champion. There is no shortage of depth behind the top two, including Tara Llanes, Fionn Griffiths, Leana Gerrard and Joanna Petterson. Others to keep an eye on include Open Qualifiers Neven Steinmetz and Lisa Myklak.
No analysis regarding the battle for mountain biking racing dominance is complete without mention of the Czech Republic's Michal Prokop and American Jill Kintner, each the two-time defending series champions. The pair, after grabbing victories at the first race of the season in Park City, Utah, now rest in sixth and fifth place in their respective standings, and will no doubt be eager to try and earn titles in Beaver Creek while taking down those ranked above them in the process. The seeding runs will be more important than ever before, as no racer will be eager to meet Prokop, the 2006 World Champion and reigning Czech Republic BMX and Mountain Bike National Champion, or Kintner, the world's number-one ranked racer with two World Cup victories in 2007, in the early stages.
The champions will be crowned based on a system of cumulative points earned throughout the three series events.