Dutch snowboarder Nicolien Sauerbreij clears a gate at Howelsen Hill Friday night en route to winning the Race to the Cup parallel giant slalom race. Sauerbreij stopped in Steamboat Springs to compete in the NorAm level event as a way to prepare for a pair of World Cup races next week in Telluride.

Photo by John F. Russell

Dutch snowboarder Nicolien Sauerbreij clears a gate at Howelsen Hill Friday night en route to winning the Race to the Cup parallel giant slalom race. Sauerbreij stopped in Steamboat Springs to compete in the NorAm level event as a way to prepare for a pair of World Cup races next week in Telluride.

Top riders in Race for the Cup at Howelsen

Steamboat snowboarders face international field Friday

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Michelle Gorgone, a graduate of The Lowell Whiteman School and former member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, rounds a gate at Howelsen Hill during Friday night’s Race to the Cup parallel giant slalom race. Gorgone qualified for the finals but was knocked out by Poland’s Jagn Marczulajtis-Walczak in the first round.

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Swedish snowboarder Daniel Biveson topped American Chris Klug in the finals of Friday night’s Race to the Cup to take top honors in the parallel giant slalom race. Friday night’s race drew a top international field of racers who were looking to warm up for World Cup events next week in Telluride.

— Justin Reiter has spent the past 10 years wondering what it would be like to face an international field on the challenging slopes of Howelsen Hill.

On Friday night, the hometown favorite got his chance during a Race to the Cup parallel slalom event at Howelsen. The field that showed up for the NorAm level race was packed with World Cup racers looking for a place to fine-tune their skills before a pair of World Cup events scheduled next week in Telluride.

“This has been a dream I’ve had since coming here 10 years ago. I’ve always wanted to race against the top riders in the world on my home hill here at Howelsen,” Reiter said. “I’ve always thought that we’ve pushed it harder here than anyone. It finally happened, and we proved that we’re capable of beating anybody here. ”

Reiter finished third in the race and was one of eight riders with ties to Steamboat Springs to qualify for the finals. Reiter joined former Steam­boat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes Zachary Kay, Tyler Jewell and Vic Wild on the men’s side.

The women’s field featured local riders Erica Mueller and Madeline Wiencke, and several other riders who have trained here in the past including The Lowell Whiteman School graduate Michelle Gorgone and Canadian Ekaterina Zavialova, who trained here prior to the 2006 Olympics. Mueller and Zavialova advanced to the round of eight before getting knocked out.

But the night belonged to Sweden’s Daniel Biveson on the men’s side and Dutch rider Nicolien Sauerbreij on the women’s side.

Biveson beat former Olympic bronze medalist Chris Klug on the final run of the night to earn the men’s title. Reiter topped Slovenian rider Izidor Sustersic in the consolation finals to earn the final stair on the podium.

“It was a struggle for me today,” Reiter said. “I made a few good turns, but for the most part, it was just survival for me. I just rode on instinct.”

Biveson said he knew he had the more difficult side of the course in the first run of the head-to-head format, but he said he had a plan in the championship dual. He decided to play it safe in the first run and kept things close enough to make his move on the second run, taking advantage of the easier course.

“I knew the top of the red course was a little rutted, so you had to play it smart,” Biveson said. “The second run, I knew that I could charge it harder at the beginning and then gain the advantage.”

The strategy paid off as he beat Klug to the finish line by a large enough margin in the final run to take the top spot.

“It was a really fun race tonight, and I’m really glad that I came over and did it,” Klug said. He recently broke his hand and wrist while riding in Aspen and was a little nervous about racing in Steamboat with a cast. “I had a really fun race in the finals. (Biveson) is racing really well right now, so it was tough in the finals.”

In the women’s race, Sauer­breij beat Germany’s Isabella Laboeck down the hill in both runs to earn the women’s title. After the race, she said it was her ability to improve her runs throughout the course of the night that proved to be the difference.

“I had to grow in the race”, Sauerbreij said. “Each run I got a better feeling, so it worked well.”

She said she has been training mostly on flat courses in Europe and was glad to get the chance to compete on Howelsen’s steep inclines.

“I came here to get the feeling,” Sauerbreij said. “This is a good stop before we go to Telluride. Those races will be more important, but these were a great warm up.”

The second parallel giant slalom of the Steamboat Race to the Cup event will take place at Howelsen today. Racing starts at noon with the finals slated for 2:30 p.m. The field still is expected to be competitive, especially among the Amer­ican riders, but some of the Euro­pean countries have opted to leave early to start training for next week’s World Cup races in Tellur­ide.

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