Bruised, but not ready to lose
SNOWMASS The right knee needs surgery. The left knee is still a bit sore from a harrowing crash Saturday at a Jeep King of the Mountain race at Taos, N.M.But local Casey Puckett isn’t about to go under the knife and give up his skiercross winning streak on this year’s Honda Ski Tour.There’s no ligament damage in both knees, just pain – and Puckett said he can deal with that.”I’m holding up great,” said the four-time Olympian and former World Cup racer, who enters Friday’s heats at Snowmass having won both of the previous Ski Tour skiercross finals for a combined $50,000 in prize money. “I went and saw [renowned Vail orthopaedic surgeon Richard] Steadman, and he said he wanted to operate right when I went in. But my knees are both stable, so I told him I’d see him in April.”
Puckett worsened a previous injury to the right knee last month when he landed awkwardly off a jump near the finish in a semifinal heat at the Winter X Games.He shrugged off the pain, downed a few Advil tablets, then won the final for his second Winter X Games gold in four years.”I just made a bigger hole in the cartilage connected to my femur bone,” Puckett said. “There was already a hole there, and I made it worse.”Puckett hasn’t lost a four- or six-skier final since the 2006 Winter X Games, an unheard-of streak considering the unpredictable nature of skiercross. At the Winter X Games, he managed to avoid a number of pileups, including a crash in the final that took out top qualifier Daron Rahlves.Rahlves began racing the skiercross circuit this season after retiring from the World Cup last year as the most successful speed skier in U.S. history. In interviews, Rahlves has been frank about his desire to end Puckett’s streak.
At least Puckett’s streak in traditional skiercrosses. The spectacular crash at Taos arguably comes with an asterisk, since the Jeep King of the Mountain series pairs two racers on course for two runs, with the faster qualifier moving on.Puckett lost control heading over a jump that took racers over a new Jeep Wrangler, took to the air and spun a full 360 degrees. He nearly stuck the landing – and held his lead – but instead crashed into a wal of protective fencing. The miscue – which came in the second run of a head-to-head semifinal heat against Lars Lewen – taught Puckett a lesson.
“I fell because I wasn’t on my game,” he said. “I was pretty beat up, sick, and I really needed a break. I’m feeling a lot better now. I’m ready to continue my streak.” The Tour pushed the skiercross heats and finals (see schedule in Arts & Entertainment) at Snowmass ahead from Saturday to Friday because of a storm in the forecast. Along with Puckett and Rahlves, the field will include Stanley Hayer – who has placed second and third at the previous Ski Tour stops – Lewen, Zach Crist, Enak Gavaggio, and skiercross world champion Tomas Kraus. Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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Aspen Cycling Club results: Lower River Road Time Trial