Unbelievable. If there was one word I had to pick to sum up this past weekend at the X Games Downhill race in Tehachapi, California, that would be it. Between the track, the crashes, the broken bikes, the insanely big jumps and of course, the racing, unbelievable is the only way to describe what went down. I better start from the beginning…
When we rolled into T-town Friday morning (along with 40 or so other pros) you could literally feel the excitement in the air. Just by looking at the expressions on everyone’s faces, you could tell guys were nervous, but super excited at the same time. The vibe that you get at any one of these downhill races is unlike anything else in racing; guys are constantly cheering each other on when someone finally hits a jump for the first time, and everyone’s comparing notes about where to pedal, how hard to pull up, and where a good line is. Pretty much from the get go, DK’s Nathan Fons set the pace; he was the first guy to jump the step-down-step-up combo, and definitely one of the smoothest guys out there this weekend. But he wasn’t the only one who was pulling out the stops early. Travis Turesson gets credit for being the first to jump the whole last straight, and from what I heard, Steve Veltman gets props for being the first guy to do an entire lap, top to bottom. By the time Friday’s practice ended, the field was pretty split; there were guys who had the place wired and were even starting to show some trail style (Fons, Mike Day, Brandon Meadows, Ian Stoffel, Robbie Miranda, Kyle Bennett…) and there were guys who were going to have to go to bed knowing they had sections to get wired before their time trial on Saturday morning.
The time trials are about one thing, and one thing only; make it down the mountain as fast as you possibly can. All day long people had their favorites on who would win the race against the clock; Mike Day’s name came up a bunch, as did Kyle Bennett’s. But, when it was all said and done, Brandon Meadows laid down the fastest time, which gave him first pick at gate choice for the next day’s race. Others weren’t so lucky; Thomas Allier was nursing a broken rib and a bruised kidney from a crash earlier in the day and wound up snapping his forks down the third straight in a gnarly crash. He got up and walked it off, but it wasn’t hard to tell that this just wasn’t his weekend. Christophe Leveque also struggled; after waiting until the last minute to get the step down section wired, he just couldn’t make the step up jump happen, and that cost him. Same with Wade Bootes; he was nursing a bum ankle, and pretty much rode around all the jumps to get the final spot in Sunday’s race. Here’s a quick list of how the top ten time trials looked:
Brandon Meadows — 40.224 seconds
Kyle Bennett — 40.484
Ian Stoffel — 40.618
Mike Day — 40.652
Neal Wood — 40.957
Robbie Miranda — 40.980
Nathan Fons — 40.999
Justin Loffredo — 41.048
Brian Foster — 41.184
Robert de Wilde — 41.317
As you can see by the times, it was fractions of a second that were separating first from ninth.
Sunday’s Eight Laps
During qualifying on Sunday, the guys with the fastest time trial times proved to be the favorites; Brandon Meadows won his first lap, as did Kyle Bennett and Mike Day. Miranda also started off clean with a solid win in his first round. But some of the favorites were already dropping quick; out of the third group, Stoffel, Pohlkamp and Veltman didn’t make the cut, nor did Nate Berkheimer, Justin Snoderly, and Michael Prokop, out of the fourth group. Semis were about to get interesting.
Here’s how the first semi stacked up; Brandon, Mike Day, Neal, Loffredo, Brian Foster, Travis Turesson, Randy Stumpfhauser, and Donny Robinson. The second one didn’t look much easier with Kyle, Miranda, Fons, de Wilde, Purse, Richardson, Alan Foster, and Todd Lyons. Four out of each semi advance to the main, the other eight guys would be going to the consolation main. When the gate dropped on the first semi, Mike Day was pretty much gone. He won, with Brandon tucked in right behind him; it would be the only lap Brandon would lose all day. Justin hung on for third, Randy fourth. The other half of the main was about to be decided. When the gate dropped on semi number two, Bennett shot to the front of the pack and never looked back. Fons came in for second, Todd third, Richardson fourth. Robbie would have to wait for his shot in the consi main, along with de Wilde, Purse, and Alan.
The first main to leave the gate was the consolidation main. Neal Wood got a good line out of the first turn and led from there on with Miranda right behind him. Brian Foster finished up third, with Purse, Alan Foster, Donny Robinson, Travis Turesson and Robert de Wilde in tow.
When the final gate of eight lined up for the Championship main, it was anyone’s bet as to who would go home with the gold. Bennett hadn’t lost a lap all day, nor had Mike Day. But when the gate dropped, it was Brandon who shot right to the front of the pack, with Bennett breathing down his neck. Day was in third, and ready to capitalize on any mistake Brandon or Kyle might make, but they just didn’t happen. Although Brandon over-jumped the third jump a bit coming down the last straight, Kyle couldn’t make the pass, and at the line, it was Brandon, Kyle, and Day. For the second time in his career, Brandon would win X Games Gold, with Bennett adding yet another Silver medal to his collection. Here’s how the top eight looked when it was all said and done:
If you look on the “videos” part of the Web site, you can see footage from some of the practice laps and kind of get a feel for how big stuff was. Definitely within the next few days, you’ll start seeing photos from the weekend — hopefully they’ll do the size of the jumps justice, because believe me, they were huge. Are we going to see 60-footers next year? If the track is anywhere near as fast as this one was, it’s completely possible. Stay tuned…