Viva la LaVallee in the hillcross |

Viva la LaVallee in the hillcross

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Levi LaVallee, of Longville, Minn. , left, charges over the first roller leading D.J. Eckstrom, center, and Justin Tate, right, during the finals of the snowmobile Hillcross at the 2004 Winter X-Games, January 27, 2004. LaVallee went on to win the event, with Tate taking second and Eckstrom third. Aspen Times photo/Nick Saucier.

For Levi LaVallee, a day or two can make all the difference in the world.

The 21-year-old snowmobiler from Longville, Minn., won gold in the X Games hillcross Tuesday, redeeming a weekend plagued by misfortune.

Sunday night, in the snocross finals, LaVallee seemed snake-bit. After a good start put him in second place behind Mike Island, his luck took a turn. Midway through the race, LaVallee got tangled up with Blair Morgan and fell into third place. A couple laps later, still in third, he lost control of his sled after a big air and crashed. He finished in eighth place out of a field of 10.

Less than 48 hours later, LaVallee’s luck had changed. In the first two races of the day ” the quarter and semifinals ” LaVallee was perfect. Heading into the finals, he had yet to lose a race.

Similar to Sunday night, LaVallee was in a groove, only this time it was a good one.

The hillcross races took place on the ski and boardercross course, only it ran uphill instead of down. A field of 24 racers qualified for Tuesday’s races.

The finals consisted of LaVallee; Carl Kuster of Alberta, Canada; D.J. Eckstrom of Duluth, Minn.; Simon Belzile of Quebec, Canada; T.J. Gulla of Colchester, Vt., and Justin Tate of Forest Lake, Minn.

The fact Tate and Kuster made it to the finals was a bit of a surprise.

Kuster was racing a with a bent rod on the front of his sled ” which reduced his traction ” all day.

And Tate was racing injured. Earlier in the day, during a practice round, he hit a patch of ice, lost control and smacked his eye into the ski of his sled. While stitches stopped the bleeding, his vision was less than perfect.

But for Tate, who’s broken both of his shoulders and legs racing in the past, a shiner was not a big deal.

“Stuff happens,” he said behind a twitching, swollen eye.

Tate actually got a good jump out of the start to take the lead in the finals, but he ran into trouble when he hit the bumps section.

“I couldn’t see so good ” [my vision’s] pretty blurry, and I got passed,” he said following the race.

The racer who passed him ” LaVallee.

“That was the race right there,” Tate added.

LaVallee never looked back, cruising through the bumps section with extraordinary speed and control, and dominating the remainder of the course for the gold.

“Ripping a good start and getting through the doubles clean was key,” LaVallee said.

Tate managed to hang on, despite his impaired vision, to take home silver. Kuster took third followed by Eckstrom, Belzile and Gulla.

For LaVallee, the phenomenal day of racing capped off by a gold medal was just what he needed.

“I was really bummed about snocross,” he said. “Today I just went out and did my thing.

“I’m stoked.”

The medals were Tate’s and LaVallee’s first in the X Games. Kuster’s bronze complements a collection of two golds and a silver in his last four X Games hillcross events.

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