Dual slalom is back at National Champs

You can thank Chris Herndon for the switch from 4X to dual slalom. Chris is a great rider, top coach, pro builder and solid dude. He’s at Beech Mountain building the downhill and slalom tracks. Here’s what he has to say about the return of dual slalom.

USA Cycling originally scheduled the national championships as 4x. Why did you pursue the change to dual slalom?

Participation is down in 4X, and gated racing has been getting smaller and smaller. Over the past few years, most of the riders have been saying “Let’s go back to dual slalom.”

Everyone’s really excited about the grassroots slalom events that are happing all over. Since the beginning of the season, I’ve been talking to people and asking what they wanted. Everyone I talked to wanted dual slalom instead of 4X. (Except for one person, who’s a kid on my team. I can trump him.)

In the past I never had much input, but now I’m helping with the national championships and building the tracks, so this was my chance to speak for the riders.

What was the process like?

USA Cycling was very cool and easy to work with. That was a surprise. They have a bad reputation, and I’ve had trouble before.

I mostly communicated with Kelli Lusk, national events director. We emailed back and forth for a couple months. She was really helpful. She sent me UCI surveys of what pros and the industry want. I told her it’s time to think about what’s best for the majority of riders.

USA Cycling wanted a 4X national championships to help prep American pros for 4X worlds. But the pros who are going to worlds don’t need to train at U.S. champs. That happens at World Cups and on their own.

USA Cycling is still trying to have a national 4X championship. They’re looking to use an existing event so they name 4X national champions and send them to worlds in the stars and stripes jersey.

Why do riders tend to prefer dual slalom over 4X?

As a rider, I don’t want someone else controlling my destiny, or whether I get hurt or not. The top 4X guys win it on the first straight. You’re training for that in the gym and in the gate. That’s not the kind of riding I enjoy most.

Dual slalom is head-to-head racing, but it’s you against yourself. The other racer can pressure you into making a mistake, but it’s all up to you. For pros, it’s 10 perfect runs. They always say the first rounds are easy, but they’re not. The slower qualifiers have nothing to lose, and they’re gunning for you.

People like dual slalom because it’s just them and their bike. It’s like DH, but with the head-to-head action. There’s not a lot of luck involved (unlike 4X). It comes down to the all-around skilled rider who can keep it together for 10 runs. 30 seconds x 10 runs = 5 minutes of pinned, perfect riding. That’s even more than most DH races.

Heck, if you want the best 4X racers in the country, go to a BMX race and pick the top 5. They’re on a whole other level power-wise. New school gated racers have not pursued that kind of strength training since Brian Lopes, Mike King and those guys.

Does it cost less to build a great slalom course than a great 4X course?

Yes, DS is definitely easier. You need 1/4 of the dirt to build a really nice DS vs. a so-so 4X. In 4X, the dirt costs more, and the machines are bigger and way more expensive.

Look at the Crankworx dual slalom. It was perfect. You know a lot of time went into that, but it’s not like a huge expense in getting dirt and moving dirt.

Come on out!

I want people to know, Beech Mountain, North Carolina is a small mountain, and it’s gotten some bad rider feedback, but it will be really cool. The terrain is unique. You’ll be riding in woods like you never have before. It will be wet, slick and fun.

I’m working with USA Cycling to work out the schedule. The goal is to open up practice times — do longer sessions with multiple classes — so riders get more time. This way, if you flat you haven’t blown your entire practice.

Pros and amateurs will be on different courses, so we can run them at the same time. I think it’s important to have pros and ams in the same lift line. When I was a kid, I was head over heels to ride the lift with the pros and hear them talk.

We’re trying for a festival feel like we had before U.S. MTB racing started declining — people camping, hopefully riding a pump track in the camping area, making it fun, bringing everyone back together.

Calling Brian Lopes

I want to personally invite Brian Lopes to come race the event. When I won the dual slalom national championship in 2007, I knew he was the fastest in the country. I chased him for a year, and I thought I could beat him. He was the best, but he didn’t race that event. I would love to see him come out and ride. He could win it as easily as anyone.

With guys like Chris pushing for change, our sport is in great hands. No doubt the Beech Mountain dual slalom course will be rad. Since I won’t make it, Lopes might have a chance at another title.

Know more. Have more fun!

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