Holland slingshots to repeat gold
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” There’s defending your gold, and there’s defending it in style.
Nate Holland’s road to repeat had a rocky start, but a perfect finish as the American rider grabbed first in the men’s Winter X Games 11 boardercross Saturday.
Holland came from the middle of the pack in the semifinals to grab first, and then did the same in the finals.
In the six-man finals that included five-time X Games gold medalist Shaun Palmer, Torino Gold Medalist Seth Wescott, World Champion Xavier de le Rue, last year’s X Games silver medalist Marco Huser and Torino bronze medalist Paul Henri de le Rue, Holland passed Palmer midway through the course, then stayed in a tuck as much as he could to the finish line.
“I’m almost glad I didn’t get the hole shot and run with it,” Holland said. “I was glad I had to work for it. It feels great.”
Xavier de le Rue was second, with Wescott third. After taking bronze at the World Championships in Arosa, Switzerland earlier this month, followed by another third at the Jeep king of the Mountain race last week, Holland was happy with something other than bronze.
“I’m over third,” Holland said, then looked over to Wescott and saying with a smile, “But this guy makes it hard for me.”
In their semifinal heat, Wescott held an early lead with Holland riding his draft. Holland planned to stay in that position, but once two more riders passed the Americans, Holland had to make a big move.
“I kept rear ending him and I lost my rhythm through the roller section. I kind of doubled up, and that gave an opportunity for people to catch up to us, and once I saw people coming in my peripheral, I knew I had to get his draft and slingshot around him and really put on the juice.”
In the final two turns of the course, Holland moved from fourth ” which would have placed him in the consolation finals ” into first.
“That was a huge confidence booster, too, going in (to the finals) winning the semifinals, because I knew I had the De le Rue brothers coming up.”
Wescott also made some late move to take second in the semis.
Palmer had some magic of his own in the other semis heat. The 38-year old Palmer jumped the hole shot, only to be passed by Canada’s Drew Neilson. A miscue slowed down Palmer in the middle of the course, and he was seemingly on his way to the consolation finals. But a late surge by Palmer put him within striking distance of third, and he then passed Neilson on the final jump.
Despite an unfavorable lane choice, Palmer won the hole shot in the finals, with Wescott close behind. This time Holland wasn’t going to sit back in second and wait for something to happen, and he made a move at an area called the Daytona corner.
“I came in with as much speed as I could, laid on edge, Palmer took the high line, I dived inside and railed the turn and came out slingshotting out in front and was able … to hang on through the rest of the course and run with it,” Holland said.
Holland stayed in a tuck whenever he could, knowing how much of a factor the wind was.
“The draft at this course is huge because you are at such a high speed,” Holland said. “If you open up at all, it’ll slow you down.”
Holland said it wasn’t only his performance that helped him win.
“My board was running awesome. (Wax technician) Curtis Bacca did a sick job. It’s our third X Games gold medal we’ve done together.”
Holland won an ultracross gold in 2004.
De le Rue, in only his second race this season, grabbed another podium.
“I had to fight for it ” I made a little mistake,” said the French rider, who spends a lot of time filming. “I just want to go for qualify events, and I know there’s going to be more in the future.”
Wescott was shooting for his first gold in his 10th X Games appearance.
“The monkey is still hanging on my back,” he said. “It pretty much was a case of me doing (poorly) in the qualifier coming back to bite me. It was pretty much impossible to pull a hole shot from (my starting positions).
“All things considered, I’m psyched. It’s my eighth X Games medal and the tenth year in a row in the finals. Hopefully I’ll kick the monkey off next year.”
Palmer was fourth, followed by Huser and Paul Henri De le Rue in sixth. Neilson won the consolation race.
Sports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2935.
Skinny on the course:
Many riders thought the snowboardcross course wasn’t as technical as it should have been.
“I called the X Games out on it in my ESPN interview,” Wescott said. “I said, look, we come back here, X Games needs to step up and make it challenging and not just a glide race. There are hundreds of yards there you are just sitting there in a tuck, where your body weight, wax and texture on the board are all that matters. Watching guys do the time trial in skiercross, it looked like downhill race.
“The first X Games at Crested Butte, where just bombed through a mogul field, it separated (the field).”
Xavier de le Rue also called for more features on the course.
“We need spectacle,” he said. “We can do such a better show. It gets frustrating after a while. You can do huge jumps, something massive. Have constant action.”
De le Rue thought that having the snowboardcross and skiercross on the same course doesn’t work well.
“If you take women’s snowboarders and men’s skiers, it’s way too big a range of speeds,” he said.
And even the winner of the race would like a more challenging course.
“I would like to see some more technical features in the future, like bigger airs,” Holland said. “Something to really separate the men from the boys and let the better riders showcase their skills and leave some of the other guys in the dust.”
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