Former World Champion and mountain bike legend Brian Lopes made it to the finals in the dual slalom at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California, this past Saturday. Then he met his match in 2010 four cross World Cup winner Jared Graves, who ended up winning the event, but Lopes was the only man in the dual slalom race that had also raced the elite short track the previous day.
Lopes is a four-time mountain bike world champion with 20 years of experience as a pro cyclist. He has won nine national titles, six World Cup championships and four world championships, and according to his website, he has more UCI World Cup career wins than any other male mountain biker in the history of the sport. Prior to racing as a mountain biker, he had a BMX career.
"I didn't have much left in the tank coming down to the finals," said Lopes, who employed a tactical approach of planning his runs by whether he was on the faster or slower track of the dual slalom course.
"My goal was always to try to win on the slow side and then I could relax on the faster side and still go on to the next round and kind of get almost a rest round. Going into the finals with Graves, I was on the slow side again and he had a little lead going into the last straight, which is really slow on the red, so I figured I'd just recoup and give it everything I had on the last run. It was too little too late against someone too strong." It was the voice of experience.
The mostly retired Lopes isn't afraid to come out and race with much younger competition - even in the very intense discipline of short track. "I've been doing these kind of races my whole life, and I'm not getting any younger," he said in the midst of a busy two days of racing.
Lopes put it all on the line in the elite men's short track on Friday afternoon. He helped set a blistering pace at the start. When asked what motivated him to race short track, he said, "I don't really feel like I don't have much to achieve or prove in this kind of racing so I'm just testing myself and having fun. I enjoy new challenges. I don't have any great expectations, but if I can do halfway decent, it brings an excitement to those races."
"The cross country guys are all super cool and I think they are stoked that I'm in there."
Lopes also mixed it up at the earlier US Pro XCT round in Fontana and his riding has drawn the attention of the elite cross country racers.
"I got slowed up by the front row's reaction to Brian Lopes' fairly awesome inside line in the first turn and subsequent hole shot," said Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) of Friday's short track. "After letting things settle out for a lap and passing the fading Lopes, I started using his line, and a couple other clever ones, to move up to the front."
"It's such a cool honor to have someone like that say something like that about me," said Lopes, who was flattered that Craig found his line useful. "I give him a lot of props too. He didn't pass me until the fourth lap and then he got fourth. Those guys that were in front of me already had quite a lead and for him to pass me and still get up there... those guys are super strong."
Like more than half of the elite men in the short track, Lopes was eventually pulled from the race when he was lapped by the leaders in the 20-minute-plus-three-laps race.
When asked how many times Lopes had raced at Sea Otter, he said, "Honestly I have no idea. I lost track of that a long time ago, but it sure is nice when the weather's good." Racers and spectators enjoyed perfect sunny, dry and warm weather all weekend.
Lopes decided not to race the downhill on Sunday after his short track and dual slalom appearances.
"It's hard - when you get older you have to pick and choose the ones you want to do - it's hard to do everything," said Lopes.