Dirt: Downhill dinner

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald Eva Wilson of CSU and Kaila Hart of FLC had to keep their eyes on the course just like everyone else, lest they find themselves with a mouthful of Chapman Hill dirt during the Squawker Classic’s downhill dual slalom race. Wilson beat Hart in the quarterfinal race but couldn’t match FLC’s Brittany Clawson for first place.

By Jim Sojourner Herald staff writer

Forget beef: Saturday at Chapman Hill, dirt was for lunch and dinner.

From start to end, last to first at the Squawker Mountain Bike Classic’s downhill dual slalom competition, riders from around Colorado flowed through berms, got some air – and plenty of riders chewed on a facefull of dirt, too.

That included Fort Lewis College’s Austin Chipman, who took second overall in the head-to-head event.

Chipman literally was head to head with University of Colorado’s Joey Schusler in both of their two final races – from the top of the course that started about halfway up the ski hill and snaked back and forth through turns, down steep slopes, to the bottom that threw in a patch of car-battery-sized rocks and plenty of loose dirt.

Chipman and Schusler turned together, jumped together, rattled together, flowed together and pedaled together until the very last turn, which left Chipman sliding through and covered in dirt on the first race.

A few minutes later, the racers did it again – and so did Chipman.

This time he pushed Schusler off the course, too, with about 20 feet to go. Schusler grabbed his bike, hopped over Chipman and practically ran across the finish line for victory.

“He was pushing hard; it would’ve been close,” Schusler said.

“You’ve got to be super careful not to slide out on those last corners,” Wyoming’s Jill Behlen said after taking third in the women’s competition.

The format Saturday pitted racers, who earlier qualified in an individual time trial, against one another on parallel courses. Each pair got two races, one on each track, and the rider who came out on top of the two-race time differential advanced. The maximum time differential per attempt was 1.5 seconds back, which was pretty standard on the dry, loose and technical course that put more than a handful of racers over their handlebars.

“Head to head ... just going for it,” Chipman said. “The competitiveness ... dual slalom is all about you.”

“Every little thing counts the whole way,” Schusler said after high-fiving the runner-up Chipman.

And unfortunately for Chipman, that little thing included those last 20 feet. Twice.

“It (stinks), but that’s how racing is,” he said.

FLC’s Phil Cowan beat Lucas LeMare by .349 seconds for third.

The women’s finals weren’t nearly as close.

FLC’s Brittany Clawson cruised the course far in front of Colorado State’s Eva Wilson for the fully allotted 3-second differential, shortly after Wyoming’s Behlen beat FLC’s Kaila Hart by the same margin.

For Clawson, who had to sit out of last year’s Squawker Classic with a separated shoulder, it was a welcome chance to at last compete and win in front of a home crowd of a few dozen people.

About 50 riders from schools including FLC, CU, CSU, Western State, Adams State and more took on Fort Lewis’s home slalom course, and all of them described it as one of the hardest courses they’ve had to contend with.

On a day that race manager Matt Nimetz said reminded of him of what Kenya must be like on a sunny day, even a prerace watering couldn’t keep the dust down or harden up the soft dirt, which only got deeper as riders zipped through its lines.

CU’s Nora Richards was one of it’s victims, dining on dirt about halfway down the course and tearing a large leaf of skin from her palm.

“Sudden flash of dirt, life flashing before your eyes,” she said with a chuckle.

Richards described the course as “rowdy.”

“This is like downhill extreme dual slalom,” she said.

Even extreme for Israeli mountain bike national champion and Saturday’s Squawker Classic short track winner Rotem Ishay, who competed in his first-ever dual slalom competition after his victory earlier in the day. He was eliminated from the men’s field in the round of 16 after skidding around some of the corners.

“This course is really, really burly,” Ishay said.


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