Aussies dig their own Graves in S’mass | AspenTimes.com
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Aussies dig their own Graves in S’mass

Steve Benson
A large crowd gathered Saturday evening to watch the dirt fly on Snowmass mountain for the Blast the Mass 2004. Aspen Times photo/Devon Meyers.
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Jared Graves has broken several bones in his body, lost a kidney and severely damaged the other in high-speed mountain biking crashes. But the Australian doesn’t worry about his next serious accident and isn’t concerned about his physical health. Instead, he just focuses on winning.Graves won the pro division of the men’s Banzai Downhill race in this weekend’s fourth annual Blast the Mass mountain biking event in Snowmass Village. He was joined by fellow countrymen Ben Cory, who took second, and Luke Strom, who finished in the top 10, reinforcing the notion that the increasingly competitive sport is now dominated by Australians. “They’re just hungrier, harder and badder – they just seem to want it more,” Dave Towle, who was announcing the race, said about the Aussies. “Everything about them is just one notch higher.”Blast the Mass, which also hosted the Big Burn Cross Country Race and the Fanny Hill Mountain Cross, is the sixth installment of the Mountain States Cup Series. The event serves as a qualifier for the National Off-Road Biking Association (NORBA) National Championships, which will be held in Snowmass Village Aug. 5-8. “That was my whole [motivation] for this weekend,” Graves said. “I wanted to get to know the course before nationals.”Like most downhill racers, Graves, 21, has roots in BMX racing, but his mountain biking career started in cross country.

“I got burned out,” Graves said. “And then I started riding downhill with friends at home.”The first time he ever road downhill, he crashed.”I skinned my hands up pretty bad, but for some reason I loved it,” he said. “I’ve never been able to stop.”In his first competition, Graves took third in the Australian nationals.”I got really serious after that,” he said.Now Graves is among a growing group of Australians who routinely reach the podium in NORBA-sanctioned races. And while everyone has their own explanation for why Australians have become such dominant downhill racers – arguably the best in the world – Graves doesn’t.”I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I just want to be the best and I love riding.”Graves said that is not a unique attitude in Australia, where downhill racing has become the rage and “everyone wants to beat each other.”

“There are so many good riders all over the place in Australia, and it just pushes everyone,” he said. “It’s really competitive, everyone wants to win.”So maybe Towle was on to something when he said, “They just seem to want it more.”After all, the Australians who race on the NORBA circuit are willing to give up their lives for close to five months every year, leaving their homes and relocating to temporary dwellings scattered around the United States, where they compete every weekend.”That takes a lot of courage,” Towle said. “But they have this inner confidence and belief that this is what they want and need to do with their life.”They’re 100 percent committed to being successful.”Even if that means taking potentially neck-breaking falls?”I never really think about it, never worry about it,” Graves said. “If you worry about it you go slower.”And falling doesn’t really hurt that much anyway.”

Plus, with winning comes money.While professional mountain biking may not seem like the most lucrative profession, Graves said he makes as much money racing in America as he would working a 9-to-5 job at home.”This is where the money is,” he said.But becoming rich and famous doesn’t appear to be the driving factor in Graves’ life. When he returns to his hometown of Toowoomba, located in the mountains near Brisbane, he works as little as possible. Instead, he devotes most of his time to training, family and friends, and “just hanging out.””That’s the best time of the year,” he said. “I’m living the good life, and I might as well do it while I’m young.”Matthew Thompson of Denver finished third in the downhill. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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