Rocco van Straten wins Denver Big Air

Dutch rider Rocco van Straten won the Denver Big Air competition on Wednesday. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Dutch rider Rocco van Straten won the Denver Big Air competition last night, beating out Zachary Stone (Canada) and Michael Macho (Austria) with a Cab 900 and a backside double cork 1080 in the last runs of finals. The win launches him into second place behind Canadian rider Sebastien Toutant in the overall standings for the LG FIS Snowboard World Cup series, which concludes its Big Air competition on February 19 in Stoneham, Quebec.

"It feels great," says van Straten, celebrating after the awards ceremony. "Denver's a great city and we had a good crowd here tonight, so it was pretty awesome to be here and it came out perfect for me."

The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association estimates there were more than 14,000 fans crowded into Denver's downtown Civic Center Park for the event, the first World Cup Big Air competition on U.S. soil. After climbing 165 steps to the top of the 106-foot takeoff tower, riders peering down on the crowd were treated to the colors of their nation's flag projected onto Denver's City & County Building. The step-down jump launched riders approximately 60 feet.

"It's so sick to ride in the middle of the city with a jump like this because the crowd hooks you up with so much energy," says van Straten. "It's very different from riding in the mountains, but I think it's a good way to help promote the sport."

Van Straten finished fourth last month at the Big Air World Championships in Barcelona and also competes in halfpipe and slopestyle events: He finished first in slopestyle and second in the halfpipe at the 2010 Dutch National Championships, and he's also a champion wakeboarder. For now, however, he has his eyes on the big Big Air prize. His goal at the beginning of the season was to finish the World Cup Big Air series in the top 10, but after last night's finish, he says he's raising his standards. With 1165 total World Cup points, he's now within reach of Toutant (1220) and well ahead of Norwegian rider Staale Sandbech (1090).

"I'm going to Quebec to give it my best and see what happens there," says van Straten. "It's been a very good season for me so far."

Zachary Stone's backside 1080 on the third and final run secured his place on the podium in second place and bumped him to 11th place in the FIS rankings.

"Everybody was killing it tonight," says Stone. "I was stoked on the ramp and the whole vibe here in Denver. Hopefully I can get into finals in Quebec and go for it."

Michael Macho edged into 5th place in the overall World Cup standings with 1016 points, building on his sixth place finish in London in October. He was the leader after the first two runs in finals, thanks to a backside double cork 1080, but played it safe in his final run with a backside 720.

"It was my first time on the podium so I'm really stoked on third place and I feel like I'm in good shape headed into the the final World Cup stop," says Macho, who has been training in the U.S. at Breckenridge and says he was thrilled to compete in front of so many of his American friends. "It was hard to ride and the jump was really crazy, but the competition level was very high. I think it's fun to have these competitions in cities and change things up a little bit, and I'm happy to see the World Cup come to Colorado, one of my favorite places to ride."

Two Americans made the top-12 cut for finals: Easton Gilman finished in seventh place, entering the FIS rankings in 23rd place with 306 points, and Ian Thorley finished 11th, picking up 240 points and the 28th position in the World Cup standings.

Colorado's the center of the winter sports universe this week: The SnowSports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show starts today at the Colorado Convention Center, and Winter X Games 15 is underway at Buttermilk in Aspen.