All-Out in Abbotsford for SX Finale
Story by Mike Carruth, Photos by Layne Nyhaug
The final stop on the 2012 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup tour touched down in North America over the weekend. But not in its traditional location of Chula Vista, CA. We were in Chula Vista back in March for the start of the season…then the supersonic slipstream of the Olympic year carried us through Norway, Papendal and Birmingham for the World Championships (not officially part of the SX series), all in the span of 60 days. Then the pause in the UCI schedule to give athletes a chance to train up for the trip to London.
Coming down from all that action, the last race of the year might seem a little non-plus…but there were still two titles to bestow in Abbotsford, and even though the full crop of common contenders were not on the sheets, the stage was set for some full-on race action.
Connor Fields and Sam Willoughby were locked in a title dash that would be decided in the main event–Connor came in with a 69 point lead on the World Champ. Caroline Buchanan had the Womens title on lockdown after Magalie Pottier crashed in practice on Thursday and suffered multiple injuries to her right hand. She rolled the gate to earn 67 points–enough to give her second overall for the year.
This would be the final SX race in the long and illustrious career of Robert DeWilde. Long a fixture on the Dutch Redline team, he had been around for the first SX race ever, as well as the series that many regard as the forerunner to the SX series, the Vans Triple Crown downhill races. Add to that the fact that he was on the 2008 Dutch Olympic team. No word on whether Bob will be making a run at Vet Pro in the future, but it was pretty clear he would be showing up at the USA BMX Grands in November, so he is not out of our viewfinder permanently.
Speaking of permanent, the track in Abbotsford is just that–a permanent facility that Canadian athletes can use for Supercross training. Tory Nyhaug led the charge on helping to make it happen in his home country, conducting clinics and personal training sessions, then donating the money to the cause. The Cycling BC president was on the Webcast as part of the introduction ceremonies, and reinforced the pride they have in the facility, and the hopes for Canadian athletes to break through in the years leading up to the next Pan American games in 2015 (to be held in Toronto), and the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The track design is unlike that of the other permanent tracks, such as Chula Vista or Papendal. The riders did not seem to be hitting the speeds they do on those more wide-open designs. In fact, down the second straight, you could practically hear a cockpit voice warning “STALL!…STALL!…STALL!” (sound effect below) in your head as some of riders (even leaders) hit the second set, and practically came to a dead stop mid-air. It had dirt jump curb appeal, but some were grumbling a bit at the lack of opportunity to open up the throttles. Still, different layouts are cool to see. It was, perhaps, a bit more strategic than the other tracks on the tour.
Pete Dylewski was in the booth for the Freecaster/bmxlive.tv Webcast, joined by co-host, Samantha Cools (on native Canadian soil, though she is living in Europe and is doing well as a mom).
Incidentally, to answer a question from the Webcast: “What does the Maple Leaf on the Canadian flag represent”
In August 1860, at a public meeting held in Toronto, the maple leaf was adopted as the national emblem of Canada for use in the decorations for the Prince of Wales’ visit. It is widely accepted that the twice-as-wide-as-high, and the number and arrangement of the points on the leaf have no heraldic or symbolic meaning.
—via Canadian Heritage website
With 48 riders on the start list, the men would be riding eight racks of six, and advancing to a quarterfinal. The women only had 15 after Magalie was scratched, so they would run three qualifying rounds, with the third being run as a semi, alongside the mens’ semi. Top four in each group with low points to the main.
There were a ton of new faces at in Abbotsford. We’re not exactly sure if they were, indeed new, or if they were just hiding in plain sight at the larger races, but stood out with the smaller field. Obviously, home country attendance was strong, with 12 Canadians on the sheets. Australia had robust showing with 10, and the USA with 18. But also four from Great Britain (not Shanaze Reade nor Liam Phillips, however).
The qualifying rounds for the men had some action, but there was not a lot of changes in the lead. In fact, among eight groups, ALL were won by the same person, all three times (with the single exception of Curtis Manaton of the UK taking the first round win over Brian Kirkham in the second group).
Group winners included Sam Willoughby, Connor Fields, Corben Sharrah, Tory Nyhaug, Renato Rezende from Brazil, Twan van Gendt and Anthony Dean from Australia. And the aforementioned Kirkham who came into the quarters with four points instead of three.
Quaterfinals had more action on-offer than the previous laps. Luke Madill got sideways in the first group, and was down over the first jump. That group qualified out Willoughby, Kirkham, Aguiluz and Nick Fox from New Zealand.
Second Rack, dR was battling hard for a qual spot with teammate up-and-comer, Lain van Ogle, but would cross the line in the dreaded fifth position and be smiling from the sidelines for the final (dR is always smiling, even if on the sidelines). Connor, Corben, kiwi Daniel Franks and Lain would be added to the Semi sheets.
Rezende had been riding well–acing all three of his qualifying laps, but would have some trouble down the third straight this trip, giving daylight to Cameron of New Zealand. Final order: Nyhaug, Nobles, DeWilde and Cameron.
Final group in the quarters saw an impressive charge by Nick Koehler in the last turn to get under Aussie Bodi Turner for the last ticket out. van Gendt was strong this lap, as he had been all day, but the pack was getting closer each round. Very close going into turn one this time out, until Twan got some distance on the pack. Also advancing were Anthony Dean and Darryn Goodwin. No bueno for Mike Day and David Herman out of this group.
Semis were racked and ready in no time, and the first group had Fields, Willoughby and Sharrah, who all seemed rock-solid as main event transfers. Kirkham was also flying today, so he would be a good bet for the fourth spot–if you were handicapping the finishes in advance. We also liked Lain van Ogle for this main event, in case something went wrong with the more-seasoned contenders. Connor and Sam in the same semi was setting the stage for some title drama. Could one of them not make it and hand the title to the other guy?
The gate went down, and everyone was out to a clean start. Then, just as the pack hit the “kink,” Corben flipped over the bars, and slid to the bottom on his shoulder. So, four spots… seven men. Connor put it away with a solid lead on Sam and the rest. van Ogle was in third, battling with Sam down the second straight, but got massive air on the second set, got passed in the air by Nick Fox and 50/50′d the second peak, spelling the end of his day. Nick Fox was in, and then Kirkham mounted the back of the pack charge to whiz past Daniel Franks for the final qual spot, in the final feet!
van Gendt had the semi pretty well in hand, but was getting some pressure from Nyhaug and Anthony Dean. Back in fourth, Barry Nobles was fighting off Darryn Goodwin effectively, and would get the last qual spot. Nick Koehler, was riding well in Abbotsford, went down hard on the second straight and never made a challenge this time out. Look for more from him in 2013.
In the main, the lineup was (from the inside) Brian Kirkham, Nick Fox, Sam Willoughby, Barry Nobles, Anthony Dean, Connor Fields, Tory Nyhaug and Twan van Gendt. After the headshots for the TV audience were done, the gate was down. Five riders hit the first jump at just about the same time, with Twan, Tory and Connor all next to each other, and about even. The pack hit the little roller after the first set, and that was when Connor and Tory got together, and both spun into the ground, taking Dean, Fox and Nobles down with them. Bike were flying all over the place, and the podium was set from that point, with van Gendt in the lead, Willoughby in second and Kirkham for third. Obviously, there was still a race on, and Sam was pushing hard down the third straight, and all the way to the line…it finished as it was in the first turn.
With that, Sam had the overall season title, which meant an Aussie sweep for the season.
Felicia Stancil was coming off of a “hat-trick” weekend in Louisville a few weeks back (wins all three days), against Caroline, who would be major comp for her here. Brooke Crain was coming off of her bumps, bruises and re-injuries from the Olympics (and before), and it was tough to gauge if she was back to 100%. Laura Smulders was still flying high from her Bronze Medal finish at the London Olympics, so that confidence boost would put her in solid shape coming into the season finale. And Lauren Reynolds was also said to be putting down some power in practice, so we were anxious to see how that would go when it was for real on Saturday.
As noted above, Magalie Pottier would roll the gate to collect her final points for the season, so the first group was seven, and the second group was a full gate of eight.
Caroline made the day a 1-1-2 and Reynolds a 2-2-1. Lauren was leading first round to the last turn, but Caro put the swoop down and got in for the win. Second lap was wire to wire for Buchanan. In the third lap, Dani George got a rip pin start, and was down the hill first, but it was all Reynolds by the first turn. The top three in this “pseudo-semi” lap were pretty well spread out. By the stripe, Caroline had closed that lead to less than a bike length, but it was still Reynolds for the win. Dani George for the tre.
Moving to the second group, it was a bigger battle than we thought it would be, given how consistent the guys were. First round, Felicia was out to a comfy lead over Laura with Brooke in third. Down the third straight, Stancil would have trouble about midway down, lose rhythm, and scrub off all her speed–coming to a near-stop, as Smulders scooted by. Felicia got back on the pace pretty quick, and got the second, with Crain in third. Second round, Felicia owned it, in full–launching the first turn triple, and tackling the third straight with only a slight bonk mid-way. Third round, both Felicia and Laura jumped the triple, and that kept them about even through the first turn, but Smulders opened up some daylight on Felicia, and it was Brooke Crain in third. Abbie Taylor would finish fourth and earn a spot in the main.
In the final, they lined up like this (from the inside): Kirsten Dellar, Merle van Benthem Abbie Taylor, Lauren Reynolds, Caroline Buchanan, Felicia Stancil, Brooke Crain and Laura Smulders. The gate dropped, and Stancil and Crain were down the hill first, but as they hit the flat-bottom after the first jump, Felicia was in the lead, with Reynolds on her left. Brooke went for the triple, but came up short, and cascaded into Caroline who was next to her, with both meeting their end on the Blacktop of turn one. Dellar made it out just in time to not be tangled up in the Brooke/Caroline wreck, and was off the pace, but still up on two wheels, in fourth. Smulders was ahead of her by about three bikes, as the pack blazed into the second straight.
Felicia had a perfect trip down the second straight, and her lead was rock-solid at this point, with Reynolds back about four bikes. The third straight had not been a very easy-do for Felicia today, and she came up a tad short on the mid-point (where she had trouble first round). She recovered better this time, but it messed up her mojo enough to throw her off-balance and careening sharply to the left.
The inevitable over-correct caused her front tire to wash out in the dusty approach to the last turn, and in a split/second, Felicia went from having a padlock on the win to going down in a cloud of dust. The carnage also spelled curtains for Lauren, who was coming in hot, and not in a vector that was friendly for evasive action. Laura, on the other hand, moved nimbly into the lead, via a far outside line. Dellar, who already escaped calamity in turn one, now escaped it again to take up second. Ditto for Taylor who would grab the third podium spot.
When it was all said and done, it would be a Double-Dutch day on the Abbotsford podium, and a pair of Aussies for the overall season title wins.
BMX Supercross stands in recess til April 19-20, when we will meet for the 2013 season opener in Manchester, England (this is a change from earlier reports that Argentina would be the first stop).
Check out the photo gallery below (double click to see the photo full size)