By Sue George in Monterey, California
Although many of the world's best cross country racers were busy at the opening World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium last weekend, the gravity racers were free to attend the Sea Otter Classic. And they came out in force.
In dry, dusty conditions on a fast, open, non-technical track, South African Greg Minnaar and American Melissa Buhl won the elite men's and women's downhill on Sunday morning. Fionn Griffiths and Sabrina Jonnier rounded out the women's top three while Christopher Kovarik and Justin Leov finished second and third in the men's race.
The KHS rider, who is studying undergraduate kinesiology and pre-med at Arizona State University, was excited about her first-ever Sea Otter downhill win. "I work hard for Sea Otter every year. It's been a goal of mine and last year, I finished third. I think having good fitness helped." Buhl said she bobbled just once early in her run, which cost her some time as she lost speed while in a high gear. "But I think that was probably a good thing as it motivated me for the rest of the run."
Greg Minnaar showed he was clearly over his shoulder injury by taking his second win in the men's race in as many days. The previous day's dual slalom victor was surprised, but happy with his downhill win, with a time of 2.11.21. "I thought I was behind on my training, but I guess not," said the unassuming winner.
While most riders who had choices took the approach of riding a lighter bike with less travel due to the technically undemanding technical nature of the course and the lack of total vertical drop, Minnaar won with the opposite tactic. "[Team-mate] Steve Peat told me a bigger bike seems to win here because you can carry more speed into the turn." At least in the men's race, that seemed to be the case.
"I nailed what I needed to. I went hard further down the course," said Minnaar. "It's unbelievable," he said of his second win in two days. "I would have never expected it." Minnaar took 14 weeks off his bike to let his shoulder heal and got a late start on his training for the northern hemisphere's racing season.
Martinez and Emmett win cross country with strong solo efforts
Miguel Martinez and Kelli Emmett won the lengthy elite men's and women's cross country at Sea Otter held late Sunday afternoon. Martinez attacked a group of eight men after the first lap to take the win almost three and a half minutes in front of the young Sam Schultz, who won the previous day's short track.
Both the men and the women competed a gruelling two laps of the 19 mile course, much of it exposed to strong winds and blowing dust and sand. Sections of deep send and loose traction proved the dry conditions don't necessarily make the going easy or fast.
"Sea Otter was one of my main goals. I'm very happy," said Martinez after the finish.
In the elite women's race, Emmett launched a strategic early attack from a group of five women and held her own, riding strongly all the way to the finish. The chase group broke apart on the last lap and from it, Jenna Xander finished second and her team-mate Kathy Sherwin in third.
It was Emmett's best Sea Otter cross country performance and a major victory for the ever-improving Giant racer - in a time of 2.52.58. Her best previous finish was fifth place several years ago.