Vail biker breaks through at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Vail biker breaks through at Snowmass

Jon Maletz

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Chris Del Bosco’s lucky penny worked after all.After a start to the season he would just as soon forget, the Vail professional downhiller’s fortunes shifted in little more than two minutes Sunday at Blast the Mass in Snowmass. Del Bosco completed the Banzai Downhill course in 2 minutes, 23.03 seconds. His time stood up, earning him the Colorado state championship – and a much-needed confidence boost. Australian Jared Graves finished 0.24 seconds behind in second, and Justin Leov of New Zealand took third.”I needed something to go right for once,” Del Bosco said at the finish line. “I finally got some breaks, and got my head back into the game.”It didn’t take long for the pain of an unproductive season to dissipate. Del Bosco admitted that he was ready to write off 2006 after a streak of “horrible luck” – he crashed in five consecutive races to open the season. He pulled out of last week’s competition in Deer Valley, Utah, to clear his head. He was confident heading into this weekend, however. Del Bosco won on an extended version of the Snowmass downhill course in July 2003. The 24-year-old’s struggles continued into early Sunday during a shaky qualifying run that put him in the middle of the pack. He successfully navigated the top and middle portions of the course, but went off line while coming out of the woods near the finish. Del Bosco landed awkwardly on the trail, and his left foot came unclipped and slammed against his bike. He lurched forward and rode on his front wheel for a few feet but regained control and crossed the finish line in 2:35 – 11 seconds slower than his fastest time during weekend training runs.

Del Bosco spent the time before the final to wrap his foot with three layers of tape and take some ibuprofen.

“I’ve had injuries like that before, so I wasn’t too worried,” he said. “Once you’re in the gates and the [countdown] beeps start, you forget all about it.”Del Bosco, with a penny taped to his handlebars – he heard Dale Earnhardt once taped a penny he received from a young fan to his dash the day he won the 1998 Daytona 500 – knew he needed to shave 10-15 seconds off his earlier time if he was to contend, he said. The desperation showed as he sprinted out the gates, staying low to pick up as much speed as possible.After a minor misstep – he broke too late for the first turn and nearly veered off course – Del Bosco recovered, and charged down the course. Once the course opened up onto the Banzai ski run, Del Bosco said he “let it go.” He picked a clean line, and maintained his speed with precision on the flat turns.”This course is one I’m comfortable with. It’s high speed, and I grew up with speed,” said Del Bosco, who was groomed to be an alpine ski racer and who took bronze in skiercross in January’s X Games. “The course is so short that you can’t make any real mistakes. The conditions were tough. It was really dry and loose. It took everything I had to keep it all together.”

He successfully navigated Hell’s Kitchen and Waterfall – steep and rock-strewn middle sections that derailed many competitors, swallowing them in thick clouds of dust – with relative ease. He picked an oft-overlooked line over a pair of logs on Waterfall for the first time during qualifying, and followed up with another clean run in the same tracks during the afternoon. Del Bosco took his hands off his brakes through the final stretch of woods, then powered to the finish line. His time was nearly eight seconds faster than any other racer posted before him. His run wasn’t flawless, Del Bosco said, and the event’s fastest group of competitors, including top qualifier Graves, had yet to take their runs. Del Bosco waited anxiously. “It was kind of nerve-wracking,” he said. “I had the fastest downhillers in the world behind me. I knew that was going to be a possibility.”

Many came close – less than three seconds separated the top five finishers – but Del Bosco’s time stood up. Relief was evident in Del Bosco’s eyes as he hugged family members and shook hands with competitors.The confidence is back, Del Bosco said with a smile. And he’ll be holding on to that spare change for the near future.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com