De le Rue zooms to Gravity gold |

De le Rue zooms to Gravity gold

Vail Daily/Bret HartmanXavier de la Rue of France, right, and Jason Smith, front left, of Snowmass lead the pack Thursday during the men's boarder cross final at the Winter Gravity Games at Copper Mountain. De la Rue placed first. Smith placed second and Mike Rosengren from Montana took third.

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Xavier de le Rue’s grasp of the English language is so complete that the French boardercross racer seamlessly uses tired American sports clichés in postrace interviews.A perfect example came Thursday after de le Rue won the men’s boardercross final in the first day of competition at the Winter Gravity Games at Copper.”I’m pretty fired up,” de le Rue said. ” Real hungry. I’m just having fun on my board.”The French national team rider took the holeshot (lead out of the gate) in the six-man final and rode without error to the win. Runner-up Jason Smith of Snowmass was 0.70 seconds back and Montana’s Mike Rosengren took bronze.Smith was in third early on, but cut in front of Rosengren on a berm near the top and held on for the silver.”It always feels good to podium, but it never feels good to get passed,” Rosengren said. “He made the pass right in the first corner, right out of the gate. I just kind of took a bad line and kind of got kicked outside and he just snuck inside. I should have known better.”

Oregon’s Mark Schulz finished fourth, Sweden’s Jonte Grundelius was fifth and California’s Paul Henderson finished sixth.De le Rue pocketed $10,000 for the win. Smith took home $5,000 and Rosengren earned $2,500. The remainder of the $20,000 prize purse was split between Schulz, Grundelius and Henderson. The win for de le Rue followed a somewhat surprising gold-medal finish at this year’s Winter X Games. After fracturing his collarbone late last year, the 2003 FIS world champion in boardercross had only three days on snow before he competed in Aspen. The downtime at home in St. Lary, France, he said, stoked his competitive fire.”It’s good to be sitting on your chair, seeing the snow falling and your friends go riding,” he said. “That really makes you hungry.”Current World Champion and U.S. Snowboard Team member Seth Wescott chose to pull out of the 18-rider competition after finishing last in his first heat. He was the No. 1-ranked qualifier at the event after winning this year’s FIS world title in Whistler, British Columbia, and taking a silver at Winter X.

Instead of trying to make it into the finals through one of the two last-chance qualifiers, Wescott made a priority decision to save his energy for the World Cup boardercross on Sunday in Lake Placid, N.Y.”I knew I just didn’t have it in me after (the first heat),” said Wescott, who flew to Lake Placid at 6 a.m. today. “I kind of decided to pull back, save the energy for this weekend and try to get it done at the World Cup. … I whiplashed myself super hard this morning, and I know we have a World Cup this weekend and I wasn’t feeling too good after that. You’ve got to pick your days to turn it on.”Wu Tang and toilet bowlsRiders in the 18-competitor field said the boardercross course, which was designed by Oregon-based Planet Snow Design, was very technical.The top of the course featured three huge “Wu Tang” kickers followed by a series of berms, then a series of step-up and step-down jumps. A weaving section of bermed turns toward the bottom was dubbed “The Toilet Bowl.” There were also gaps, more jumps, and a tricky flat section with which to contend.

“I like it,” said seventh-place finisher Nate Holland. “It could use a little tweaking here and there, but a course like this is such a hard sculpture to make for it to look good for TV and then make it flow for a rider.”One complaint from some riders was the number of turns. Fast sections quickly transitioned into technical, tight sections, which meant that speed checks were necessary to keep control.”It was a fun course, but the best kind of courses are the ones where you’re looking for speed the whole time,” Smith said. “Here you kind of had to shut it down, then you had to get speed. You just had to be more on your game.”For more information on the Winter Gravity Games go to http://www.vaildaily.comNate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at, Colorado

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