Whether winter sport or summer sport, skiing and snowboarding or motocross and mountain bike racing, it’s just a matter of time before extreme sport legend Shaun Palmer of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., exerts his will on the competition. Today’s Jeep® King of the Mountain snowboard cross race in Telluride, Colo., was no different, and the victims this time around were the new guard for the U.S. men’s snowboard team.
Blessed with tremendous snow, blue skies and comfortable temperatures, racers from 11 countries donned race bibs of every color in the rainbow before hitting a challenging racecourse designed by “The Palm” himself with hopes of bringing home the first title of the newly formatted Jeep series and capturing a share of the record $250,000 cash purse.
At the end of the day, Palmer outlasted a championship heat foursome consisting of U.S. snowboard team standouts Seth Wescott, Graham Watanabe and Nate Holland to bring home the title. Fellow American Lindsey Jacobellis of Stratton Mountain, Vt., the Olympic silver medalist, was equally dominant, earning the women’s title over the Canadian duo of Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais, the two women that she’s tied with for first place in the FIS World Cup rankings.
A five-time snowboarding world champion, X Games skiing champion and mountain biking world champion, Palmer raced with purpose all day, never losing a race leading up to and through the finals. He began with an impressive first and second round, taking out Germany’s David Speiser, Squaw Valley’s Pat Holland, Austria’s Markus Schairer and Poland’s Mateusz Ligocki.
Advancing alongside him was Olympian and former Jeep King of the Mountain champion Graham Watanabe of Park City, Utah. Once in the semi-finals, Palmer continued to shine, leading pole to pole and earning a birth in the finals. Watanabe’s path to the championship heat required the pass of the day as he used a the final banked turn of the racecourse to squeeze past Canada’s Drew Nielson, the No. 1 ranked racer in the world and defending Jeep King of the Mountain champion. In the finals, Palmer never looked back, overwhelming Watanabe and his U.S. teammates Holland of Squaw Valley, Calif., the No. 2 ranked racer in the world and two-time X Games gold medalist, and Wescott, of Farmington, Maine, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist and 2007 X Games bronze medalist.
“I had to double check at the end just to make sure I had really won,” said Palmer. “It’s been nine years since I’ve stood on top of the podium and I really wanted to win this one. These are such good racers and I know them well. When on the course, you’re not friends with them for about 55 seconds, but at the end we’re friends again.”
On the women’s side, defending Jeep King of the Mountain champion Jacobellis and Maltais rolled through the quarterfinals and semi-finals by outracing U.S. snowboard teammates Callan Chythlook Sifsof, Kim Krahulec and Marni Yamada, as well as Austria’s Susanne Moll and Canada’s Ziggy Cowan and Sarah Hunter. Once in the finals, Jacobellis ousted Maltais, the Olympic bronze medalist, Ricker, the 2007 X Games bronze medalist and Norway’s Helene Olafsen.
“I felt really strong out there today, and coming into the race I had been working out hard,” said Jacobellis. “This is a great group of riders and it’s wonderful to be able to come out here and finish on top. There’s always room for improvement, though, and that will give me that much more motivation to keep training.”
The UK's Zoe Gillings failed to qualify from the Quarters after finishing a disapointing 4th in her heats.
Following the races in Telluride, the Jeep King of the Mountain heads to Squaw Valley, Calif., on Feb. 8-10 before the grand finale on March 14-16 in Sun Valley, Idaho.