Photos by Ray Archer
The Bercy Supercross, held in Paris, France each year since 1984 is at this point a race that most people should put on their motocross bucket list. As in, things to see before you die. With ten thousand plus fans jammed into an arena each night to watch some of the best riders in the world go at it and also loudly get behind the hometown French, it's something that needs to be seen and heard!
The track is more of an arenacross than a supercross but with lap times just over 50 seconds, it's longer than some supercrosses that criss-cross the USA. The riders use the tunnels in the arena to hit some pretty high speeds. The challenge in gearing a bike is high as is the amount of chutzpa needed as the riders come within inches of a concrete wall in said tunnels.
Pretty much all of the greats have touched knobby to dirt in Bercy. Johnson, Ward, Glover, Lechien, McGrath, Stanton, Bradshaw, Reed, Langston, Stewart and Carmichael (although he only went one time and broke his collarbone shortly after starting) have all made the trip from the AMA circuit to race against Europe's best SX riders (that list pretty much was one guy- see Bayle, Jean-Michael for many years) and Bercy has always been a great source of pride for the French. They want to see their best against our best and are not shy about rooting for the bleu, rouge et blanc.
The riders airlifted over to defend the AMA were Justin Barcia, Blake Wharton, Michael Byrne, Grant Langston, Kyle Chisholm and Ryan Morais. Certainly not a who's who of the top echelon of American motocrossers but a good group of guys and all very fast. I know the promoters had deals with Trey Canard and Andrew Short before last minute things happened and tried to get Reed, Tedesco and some others.
Defending Europe were MX 1 and MX2 World Champions Marvin Musquin and Antonio Cairoli. As well a French heroes Gauthier Paulin, Greg Aranda, Cyrill Coulon, Fabien Iziord, Cedric Soubeyras. Then there were GP regulars Ken De Dyker, Arnaud Tonus and whatever Max Anstie is (AMA? GP?).
The format at Bercy was a little different than last year's where everything you raced in counted towards the King of Bercy title. In part I think it was done to avoid the confusion when Larry Brooks was up there accepting the trophy for James Stewart (who couldn't make the final due to being sick) but in actuality, Justin Brayton won. Part of the reason for the confusion was because there is a superpole contest which is just who can lay down the fastest lap, then an elimination format where three 5-lap dashes are completed and half the field gets sliced each time out.
Aranda won two of three super-poles with Paulin winning the other and Paulin, Barcia and Coulon won the elimination races each night.
When it was all said and done, Justin Barcia was probably the fastest rider there and he came away with the prestigious King of Bercy title. In doing so, Justin also became the youngest King ever in the 28 years of the event. Barcia went 1-5-1 over the three nights of racing and narrowly beat out Chisholm who went 3-3-2. In Saturday's main event, Justin was coming through the pack after a so-so start when he got together with another rider and flew off the track. He remounted and made a few passes to end up fifth. Those few passes were what won him King of Bercy when it was all said and done.
Bercy is a run what you brung type of race and although teammate in the USA Wharton was on a 250F, Justin was on a 450. So this was my (and many others) first chance to see him on a 450. The wild child of American motocross looked right at home on the bigger bike. And although not a bigger guy, he tossed that 450 around pretty easily.
Due to some, uhhh, difficulties in the elimination races (more on that later), Barcia had the sixth best gate pick for Sunday's main event. The gate pick was key at this race because, well because it's an arenacross and starts are important in arenacross. Barcia had been money on the starts all weekend and now, tied with two other riders for the title, he needed a start the way that El Delbarge needs another hit song. And you know what?
He got it. With the sixth gate pick and his two rivals for the crown on the inside of him, JB17 grabbed the holeshot and led all fifteen laps for the crown. Chisholm came from about fourth to second and cut two seconds off of Barcia's lead but as fast as you can say GEICO Insurance, Barcia pulled it back out and cruised her home for the win. Congrats to the Bercy Baby known as Barcia on his win!
Kyle Chisholm got better and better as the week went on, he seemed to find his groove on the tight track. Part of that late adaption might have been from the track drying out. On Friday, the dirt was soft and got very rutty. It was grabbing wheels left and right and tricky to ride on. By the fourth day of being inside, the dirt was harder and more like an American supercross.
Anyways, The Chiz rode strong all weekend and came away with second. He was a little bummed because he did get screwed on Saturday out of the elimination races when Cairoli pulled out with a flat tire (they took the guy who finished behind him) and then he screwed up on Friday in the superpole contest and had to start from the back in the elimination races which then gave him a bad gate pick for the main event.
With his new number 11 and his new confidence from a great 2010 (can you believe this guy didn't even have a ride at round two of the supercross series this past year?)I'm betting that we'll see more of Kyle up front in 2011.
To steal a joke from my Twitter account (can one plagiarize one's self?), two-stroke fans, you have found your Jesus and his name is Cedric Soubeyras!! All Cedric did was entertain us all out there on his KTM 250 two-stroke. He rode so good in fact that he was almost won the whole shooting match. Yes, that's right, the rider that some would of heard of by his win at last year's Geneva SX was on fire all weekend. Unfortunately for him, his worst race was Sunday's main event when he needed to make something happen. Still, great ride for the guy.
Blake Wharton came to Bercy for the first time and rode ok, he wasn't up front much but he did take a big digger the first night and perhaps that shook him up a bit. Bercy is a different animal from a regular supercross. With its tacky dirt, close lap times and going wide open in the tunnels, it usually takes a rider a bit of time to adjust. Blake still has Sebastian Tortelli helping him out for next year and if he gets another chance to go back next year, I'm sure he'll do better.
Speaking of Tortelli, he rode around a bit for the French legends intermission thing that the promoters did and he debuted the new JT gear at the same time. It was quite a shock to see the logos of my childhood back out there on what looks like comfortable gear. The pants and jerseys look pretty good and I like how the company uses all the different logos from the years and incorporates them into the gear.
If you're like me and can't stand the ghoulies, dragons, fish, devil heads, skeletons that the new gear companies seem to be into, then you'll like the minimalist approach that JT is taking. Sometimes less is more.
When you're talking about French SX legends, then you must only start and stop at only one name. And that would be none other than Jean-Michael Bayle. The 1991 250 SX, MX and 500 MX champion and a trailblazer for European racers was in the group of legends brought out each night and elicited the loudest cheers no doubt. JMB rode out on his '91 CR250 that he won the sx title on. Not a replica, not a done up bike but THE bike he won it all on.
Interesting story that he told me on how he "acquired" the bike from Honda. Seems that he wanted to put it in his contract that he would get a bike but Honda wouldn't do it because they had given another rider one and that rider promptly turned around and sold it. So Honda wasn't into that at all. After he won the SX title, JMB asked for the bike and they said "If you win the 250 mx title, then you can have it" and of course, JMB went out and did that (aided greatly by the '91 Hangtown national where he was the only front runner to score points) and then asked for the bike. Honda said "You have to win the 500's also" which Bayle told me really pissed him off and motivated him to go out and sweep the titles.
Which we know he did but Honda still wouldn't give him the bike! A furious manager at the time told him that it wasn't cool of Honda to break these promises and informed JMB that the next day at 7AM, the race shop wouldn't be locked and the bike will be in there and that maybe he should drop by for a visit. So that's exactly what JMB did and he acquired the bike that had been promised to him a few times now. Honda was furious and Bayle said they docked him his last check. When I asked him how much it was, he said and I quote "It was $20,000 or something like that but it was worth every bit to have this bike."
The American contingent of riders (and when I say this I mean riders that race in America but not necessarily American) took a blow when Michael Byrne went down hard during the first nights elimination races and dislocated his wrist. Which absolutely blows chunks for Michael and the BTOSports.com/BBMX team. Byrne will miss some of the USA SX's and if you're scoring at home, that's three out of the last four years that Byrner will be on the sideline when the gate drops at A1.
Also about twenty minutes later, Grant Langston was landed on when he didn't jump a triple during the main and got racked up pretty good. He tried to ride Saturday's practice but was too stiff and sore to continue on. GL was getting treatments on his back throughout the weekend but he skipped the rest of the races. Too bad and I have to say, I was blown away by the crowd's response to GL during opening ceremonies. He was cheered almost as loudly as the French riders were.
The rider that gets the most improved award would probably go to 4-time World Champion Antonio Cairoli. Not exactly a SX specialist, Cairoli came out to improve his game in January. AC222 looked stiff and unsure of himself on Friday but by Sunday, he was battling for the podium and narrowly missed out on it. Not exactly a whoop monster, that's definitely an area that he'll have to improve on if he wants to get better but as I told him on Friday when we talked for 30 minutes or so, I admire his willingness to come out and race these indoor races.
He's the king of Europe these days and has nothing to prove to anyone, he's probably in the top three or four riders in the world when it comes to racing motocross, doesn't need the money and certainly doesn't need the blow to the ego that he gets when he's getting midpack in these supercrosses. I know for a fact that there are plenty of American guys that wouldn't take the losing like AC does so I admire him for coming out and trying to learn, trying to get better at his craft.
I've spoken to Tony a few times here and there (German GP, MXDN's) and he's always come across as a great guy but this weekend we hung out quite a bit and even went to dinner together. I now think of Tony Cairoli as a really, really fast superfan of the sport. The guy knows what's going on and is up on everything. There is zero ego with him and he was running around on Sunday night taking photos of everybody and everything.
Funny story he told me about the previous weeks Genoa SX. His idol growing up was Jeremy McGrath and he finally got to race him at Genoa. He said he was so nervous and just kept staring at MC the whole time and then said he got to trade jerseys with MC and when he hugged him, he didn't want to let go! He said he was probably creeping McGrath out but he didn't care.
Good guy that Antonio Cairoli.
Ryan Morais and Cairoli traded helmets as well and that might have been the highlight of Mo's weekend. Morais was practically a zombie on Friday as he came in the day before the race instead of two days like most riders. The jet-lag caught up to Morais and he survived. The next night he was right in the mix and rode pretty well, at one point he was fourth and banging on the door for a podium. The final night, he was forced to bow out from a leaky fork seal that spewed oil onto his front disc and made the pesky chore of braking really hard.
You know the saying that a leopard can’t change its spots? Basically what that means is you are who you are and in the Bercy SX’s case, Barcia was just Barcia out there a few times which means that he’s an aggressive rider who’s going to take that opening when its there (and sometimes, he takes it even when its not there!).
I like Justin’s riding style and although he doesn’t always make the best decisions out there, he tries to make things happen and is exciting to watch for a guy like me who’s not out there getting “Barcia’d” over and over. In the elimination races, JB got into it with a couple of French riders. One move wasn’t really there (crossing over an inside berm to stuff Coulon) and the next move wasn’t there either (being on the outside of an angry Coulon) and that one resulted with Justin on the ground and the subject of many French people’s displeasure.
Then coming through the pack, him and Iziord got into it and one point were stopped on the track telling each other that they were number one with the middle fingers. At this point the boos rained down on Justin like he was LeBron in Cleveland. It was really funny to me and I felt sorry for Justin but then I remembered that he kind of started everything.
The racing is great at Bercy but what I really loved most is hanging out with my friends and bench racing with them. The fact that we're all stuck in this place and are forced to hang out with each other, go to dinner with each other produces the best stories anywhere. Listening to Motoconcepts manager David Vuillemin tell us about when he first started beating McGrath and sneaking into the pits with Eric Sorby to get riders jerseys, AC222 talk about the GP's and American racing, JMB's stories, Tortelli telling me about going to Bercy as a kid, promoter Xavier Audouard and his stories of coming to America back in the day, Langston telling story upon story that makes you realize that although he's only 29 years old, he's lived the life of a 70 year old with all things he's done and seen and many more stories that make me realize how lucky I am that I get to cover the sport I love and have been a fan of my whole life.
That kind of stuff is priceless and also much of it, off the record! I'm not telling you guys this stuff to brag about it, I'm telling you that I'm lucky to get to do it and I hope that I can bring you all a little snapshot of what it's like to be there.
To hear podcasts with the guys, check out Pulpmx.com HERE
Thanks for reading and merci beaucoup! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're so inclined to.