Sam Hill, Miranda Miller Top 2009 US Open of MTB
Diablo Freeride Park - Vernon, NJ
Some of the world's fastest gravity racers descended on Diablo Freeride Park in Vernon, New Jersey, last weekend for the seventh-annual U.S. Open of Mountain Biking, where $50,000 in cash and prizes hung in the balance. Sam Hill walked away the undisputed champ, claiming first in the pro downhill and second in the giant slalom, taking home a total of $7,000 cash.
Rain on Saturday morning made qualifying rounds for both categories -- giant slalom and downhill -- especially hazardous. Riders from all categories, pro and amateur alike, were seen crashing out or losing valuable seconds with bloodied elbows and bruised bodies.
Diablo's course is renowned for its rock gardens, which became slick and mud-pocked after the weather passed. According to some racers, the large berms in the final third of the course developed a thin layer of saturated dust that send wheels washing, forcing riders to scrub their speed or g-out off the course.
Spectators marveled at the number of crashes in warm-ups, even after the course had dried out. Riders called the course exceptionally technical, if not especially steep.
"The course is fun -- really fun," said Trek rider Cam McCaul before the DH final, wearing a shredded left forearm from after a Sunday morning practice run. "I crashed somewhere in the trees. I don't even know how to explain it," he said. McCaul finished 29th, out of the field of 59 pro finishers.
Despite the rain leading up to the event, sunny mid-70s weather helped dry out the course before the finals. In the end, Sam Hill edged took the win, beating second-place rider Gee Atherton (Animal/Commencal) by more than two seconds. Behind Atherton: Fairclough, Jared Rando for Giant, and Curtis Keene for Specialized and SRAM. Hill was awarded $5,000 for his finish.
Few expected Santa Cruz rider Miranda Miller to pull out a top-place finish over favored pros like Jamis rider Kathy Pruitt and KHS's Melissa Buhl, but Miller did just that in the pro women's DH final, beating second-place Pruitt by just a tenth of a second and winner her five grand. Third place went to Fionn Griffiths for Norco and Melissa Buhl after her in fourth. Fifth place was awarded to Micayla Gatto, riding for Commencal and Oakley. (See the full DH results here.)
The event's giant slalom race was held the previous day and Monster/Specialized teammates Brendan Fairclough and Sam Hill take the top two spots. Fairclough narrowly edged out Hill, with less than .3 seconds separating them. Following were Brian Lopes for Oakley on his trademark Ibis frame, Geritt Beytagh riding for Morewood bikes, and Eric Carter riding for GT.
In the pro women giant slalom final, Jill Kintner took top honors riding for Red Bull and Intense. She had a large two-second margin over KHS's Melissa Buhl and Jamis rider Kathy Pruitt, who was just 0.05 seconds behind Buhl. Top pro men and women in Giant Slalom netted $2,000 cash in the pro categories.
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