Words & photos by Michael Drummond
Video by Scott Connor
With FISE drawing some of the biggest crowds in Montpellier annually and the riding level being so high, each stop of the world series has been a great way to keep the crowd buzzing and the riders feeding off each other's progression over the course of the tour.
It's hard not be pulled into the hype. The world’s biggest names in Park and Flat are drawn in to compete for the title of UCI freestyle world champion, along with a decent wedge of moolah / wonga / dosh.
This year saw the world series visiting the Hungarian capital of Budapest, a city rich in history and architecture but until this weekend severely lacking any kind of extreme sports anecdotes. Like something dropped out of the the sky, the flat black course sat just a casual crank or two from the Danube – the river dissecting the cities of Buda and Pest that eventually unified in 1873.
Who'da thunk you’d learn some European history while reading about flipwhips eh? Mind… Blown.
Anyway, to further delve into more recent history, in its 20th year now, the FISE circuit has seen some major changes in BMX as you can imagine. From fluctuations in the prize purse to sponsors and vogues of bike and course design seeing the riding evolve in new and exciting ways. This progression has seen some #NBDs (Nestlé Brake Detanglers / Never Been Dones / Not Before Denny’s... Depending on your google search results) go down at many of the stops, along with an obvious progression of the riders' attitudes towards their fitness.
While this may have been going on for along time behind the scenes, it hasn’t been something many of us who don’t engage with pro riders on a regular basis have been aware of, and until recently wasn't something we published a hell of a lot of. For example, talk to any mid-school moaner, and they are bound to share many of their ailments to you in amongst anecdotes of eating light bulbs, baths full of spaghetti and firework shooting out of their a… auntie's letterbox. Hell, find me at a comp and I'll be happy to divulge the finer nuances of my l4 and l5 vertebrae attrition.
"We're seeing sports therapy knowledge permeating more heavily into the BMX scene, helping riders get back on their bikes sooner and walking away from slams that you just wouldn’t expect."
I'm not for one second saying we should work on our K-Rob bods, go for the Sports Illustrated cover and live at the gym while eating 9 litres of egg whites for brunch, but its interesting to see the #gymlife culture and sports therapy knowledge permeating more heavily into the BMX scene, helping riders get back on their bikes sooner and walking away from slams that you just wouldn’t expect.
Now though, with the UCI coming together with FISE and its world series becoming a more regimented and structured series of events, ready for the rigours of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,
the athletes are focusing more on preventative exercises, recovery and lifestyle choices aimed at maintaining performance throughout the whole event, and more importantly their career as a whole.
Talking with some of the riders, it’s obvious that busy schedules take their toll, some that had making the trip to Hungary at the end of a 4 month stint of sending it at jams, comps, and filming trips. With the FISE/UCI Format being adopted by the IOC, we are seeing the sport being thrust upon the world and exposed to riding at its most intense and competitive level.
Riders and their styles will always divide opinion, that’s fine but I don't think for a second anyone can downplay the talent and balls of what happens at this level.
Ever since I was a kid, watching the 8 minute segments BMX might get on good ol' Transworld High5 and Sport at stupid o’clock on a weekend morning TV I was hooked. It was a fresh and exciting way to see bikes being ridden, completely alien to what I had previously thought possible on my Universal Panther (we’re talking 1998 here, FYI.)
"Riders and their styles will always divide opinion, but I don't think for a second anyone can downplay the talent and balls of what happens at this level."
The crowd pleasers were always Todd Walkowiak, Shaun Butler and Lavin, sending awesome combos wherever possible and stretching things as far as they could, making the crowds go wild, with seriously impressive and progressive tricks for the time.
You can’t go wrong with a way stretched superman seat grab, let’s be honest, and that still rings true today. This a stage for competing – trick, trick, trick is the name of the game and it all starts out with experimentation, trying, testing, innovating and really working out what’s possible.
We saw a helluva lot of solid riding in qualifiers. The wind wasn't nearly as intense as the semis and finals which saw a handful of riders pull out from taking their runs, and fair play to them for not giving into peer pressure. The gusts were pretty unsettling down on the sidelines, so you can appreciate the concern whilst upside down 10 foot over an 8 foot box... And looking at the results you’ll notice some household podium names had a bad day and didn’t even qualify for finals.
Few riders made much use of the huge wallride, but those who did made a lasting impression. Sandoval carved the width of the thing at pace both ways while Jake Leiva 270 hopped in from it, and both Tencio and Nikulin went all Mirra – flair dropping in right off the top. Everyone went mental as you can imagine.
Whip and bar combos were the theme of the weekend, and the monstrous spine saw a lot of the action triple whips, 3 dubs and a casual flip whip or two of course, but Irek Zikaev took the big props (albeit after the comp was up) by sending a… *let me work this out*… 360 whip to bar to downwhip, over the box. It was nuts, and he was pretty happy with himself. Rightly so.
Best trick though went to Kenneth Tencio for starting out his run with the flair drop in, not a bad way to kick things off. Podium spots were filled out by Kizaev coming 3rd, Dhers in 2nd, and Loupos taking the win.
Along with the men's final seeing a few upsets in the last 12, there were a few changes in the pack during the women's runs too.
Hannah Roberts coming hot 'n' fresh out the kitchen was riding great in semis, laying some solid runs down, but took some heavy slams in practice and finals. Despite this, she made it through to a pull a clean run and managed to get a podium spot, before jumping in the ambulance to the local hospital.
Lara Lessman took the top spot, perhaps having an OG legend like Tobias Wicke in her corner as a trainer has helped hone her riding with the efficiency we’ve come to know from the German tech machine.
Next stop, Edmonton, Canada. You can be sure things will step up, but right now its the freaking weekend baby I'm gonna have me some fun.