Swiss rider completes an X repeat
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Uelie Kestenholz of Interlocken, Switzerland, took the hole shot out of the start gate, but the heat was on him the entire way down the X course Monday morning in the finals of the X Games men’s boardercross.
For a moment, at the end of the rolling section of flats on top, Sugarloaf, Maine’s Seth Wescott nosed ahead. But as luck would have it, the course quickly veered left ” and Kestenholz had the inside edge and with it the lead back.
It was all the defending X Games gold medalist would need.
Kestenholz, a two-time alpine snowboarding world champion (’00, ’01) and 1998 Olympic bronze medalist, hung on to win the title as four of his five rivals in the six-man finals chased him across the line in a near photo finish.
“I knew not only Seth was there, but I felt everybody from the back,” said a jubilant Kestenholz. “I’m like, ‘Hey man, take the best line, close out the turns so nobody can pass.’ It was hot all the way down to the last jump.”
Kestenholz, 28, made his X Games boardercross debut last year, in much the same fashion. An alpine racer by training, the Swiss champ has also raced boardercross competitively since 1995. “I always did both,” he said.
Wescott, 27, a seven-time X Games boardercross competitor (“I missed the first year,” he said) and six-time medalist, has never missed a final in his X career.
The U.S. Snowboard Team rider finished second to Kestenholz this time around and, as one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in any action sports setting, happily tipped his hat to Kestenholz.
“He’s tough,” said Wescott, “and he’s fast.”
Recounting the moment when he overtook Kestenholz near the top, Wescott said: “I blew one of the pumps on the flat section; I fully cased the lip of it. I made the one mistake there and I think I could’ve taken it, but then it just got so tight after that fighting for the straight line.
“I think this is one of the best field’s we’ve ever had at the X Games,” he added.
Of the two six-man semifinals, the three riders who advanced from the first semi finished 1-2-3 in the finals, just not in the same order.
The first semifinal featured riders like Kestenholz, Wescott, Frenchman Xavier de le Rue, Californian Nate Holland and U.S. Snowboard Team alpine riders Chris Klug of Aspen and Jeff Greenwood of Connecticut. De le Rue won that semi heat, followed by Wescott, Kestenholz, Greenwood, Holland and Klug, with only the three top finishers advancing to the finals.
The other semi saw North Vancouver, British Columbia’s Drew Neilson win, followed by Simone Malusa of Italy and Matt Shrive of Tahoe City, Calif.
In the finals, all three riders from the first heat were 1-2-3 (Kestenholz, Wescott and de la Rue), followed by riders from the second semi heat in 4-5-6 (Neilson, Malusa and Shrive).
Aspen’s Klug, for one, knew he’d run into a “stacked heat” in the semis.
“It just came down to the start, though,” Klug said. “I had a bad start and against three or four or five of the best boardercross riders in the world, you can’t have a bad start.
“I made a few mistakes and learned from them,” continued Klug, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist who made his X Games boardercross debut this weekend. “Hopefully, I can improve my starts and come back next year and do a little better.”
In the consolation finals, Holland edged Klug for seventh-place honors on the race course. Later, though, Klug was disqualified for “barging” out of the start gate, which counts for an automatic last-place finish in the heat, or 12th overall. Either way, a top-12 finish in the X Games means an invitation back.
“Maybe I’ll do a few more the rest of the season and hopefully I can come back more experienced next year,” Klug said.
Since winning her first X Games medal in 2019 — slopestyle gold — the now 21-year-old Kiwi has become the most dominant force in the discipline.