The first round of the Jeep King of the Mountains 2007 Mountain Biking World Professional Championship series kicks off at the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, Saturday. Czech Republic's Michal Prokop and Seattle's Jill Kintner will suit up with the goal of making it three in a row.
For the past two Jeep King of the Mountain seasons, these young standouts have weathered a storm of bumps, bruises and frayed nerves inflicted by the most savvy, accomplished athletes in the sport to capture their fair share of the sport's richest cash purse. Having already earned a pair of Jeep vehicles, including a 2006 Jeep Commander and 2007 Jeep Compass, Prokop and Lopes will attempt an unprecedented three-peat to protect their throne and add a 2008 Jeep Liberty to their rapidly expanding vehicle fleets.
While there's no match for sheer talent, a good deal of luck also comes into play during the high speed, close shoulder action taking place on the Y-Cross race course unique to the Jeep KOM series. Not only will the duo have to navigate banked turns, tabletops, step-down jumps and rollers, but they'll have to do so within inches of any one of seven highly skilled foes just itching to break the streak and earn their own place in history.
Heading into Park City, Prokop and Kintner, both reigning UCI World Champions, have shown equal brilliance on the dirt. After stunning 2006 seasons, Prokop has added a Czech Republic BMX and Mountain Bike National Championship, as well as multiple World Cup podium finishes to his list of achievements, while Kintner has captured two World Cup titles.
On the men's side, Brian Lopes, the three-time World Champion, five-time World Cup Champion, and nine-time National Champion will challenge Prokop along with Australia's Jared Graves, veteran Australian Wade Bootes as well as Americans Rich Houseman and Eric Carter.
Lesser known open qualifiers will include local Park City's Chris Van Dine, perhaps best known as the first rider to stick a barrel roll and one of the few athletes with wins in downhill, slalom, BMX, mountain-cross, and road disciplines, and Cody Warren.
On the women's side, those pursuing Kintner are long-time friend and foe, Tara Llanes, the 2006 US Downhill National Champion and two-time national four-cross champion. Another athlete to watch is Denmark's Anneke Beerten, who has earned two World Cup wins in 2007 to go along with her accolades as a two-time BMX World Champion and six-time BMX National Champion.
Other top contenders include Melissa Buhl, Joanna Petterson, and Fionn Griffiths. The women's open qualifiers include Kathy Pruitt and local Gale Dahlinger.
The Y-Cross race course combines two dramatic and popular forms of mountain bike racing into one unique discipline. Competitors begin the race on separate sides of the course (the prongs of the Y) before converging midway into a single course (the crux of the Y). In the bottom section, racers must navigate a series of banked turns, tabletops, step-down jumps and rollers before the track climaxes with an all-out sprint to the finish. Top athletes input on the racecourse design. In 2006, Mike King and Brian Lopes helped create the layout.
The second and third rounds head to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California, on Saturday, August 18, and Beaver Creek Resort in Beaver Creek, Colorado on Saturday, September 1. All three races will be televised in the US on CBS Sports, with the Park City race airing on August 18. The series, started in 1993, has a wintertime sister competition in skiing and snowboarding.