The most important week of the year for freestyle motocross is upon us, as the 2012 X Games kick off this Thursday in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples Center. The event enters its 18th year, and the 14th that motocross has been apart of the schedule. Since its inclusion in 1999, the year that Travis Pastrana dominated the competition and launched his Suzuki 125 into the San Francisco Harbor, motocross has become the most popular portion of the weekend. The contest has been the stage for countless breakthroughs and revelations, including Pastrana's double backflip, the resurgence of Josh Hansen's career, and the duel for Step-Up gold between Matt Buyten and Jeremy McGrath in 2004. So, with that being said, we have complied a preview of what to expect this coming weekend as you sit on a couch covered in Doritos dust and Mountain Dew cans.
Thursday, June 28th On ESPN2 at 6:30PM, Pacific Standard Time
The weekend kicks of with the traditional freestyle motocross event, which has been moved from the end of the weekend. This seems like a logical decision, as it allows a rider competing in both the timed session and Best Trick, without the risk of wadding up in the jump show. 10 riders have made the list to battle inside the Staples Center, and for the first time in years, we can say there does not appear to be a heavy favorite.
Multiple time and defending champion Nate Adams has spent the better part of the past year nursing a shoulder injury, and the X Games will be his first contest since last summer's X-Fighters in Australia. His competitors for 2012 include Todd Potter, who is coming off his first major win at X-Fighters at Glen Helen, last year's runner up Adam Jones, and Blake "Bilko" Williams, a former gold medalist at X. Levi Sherwood may be the dark horse for the event, as the New Zealander is one of the most talented riders in the world, but as never preformed well in the US. Friday, June 29th On ESPN2 starting at 6:45PM, Pacific Standard Time
As the only fan voted division of X Games for motocross, the results of Best Whip are usually debated amongst fans and riders alike. Blame it on poor camera angles or just popularity but at times the rider that had the biggest whip has been slighted for a better-known competitor. This year's session will be the best yet, as six riders known for their whips will go off inside the Staples Center. Jeremy Stenberg and Todd Potter are the two most well known names and will make undoubtedly be the two battling for gold with their huge whips and bike control. Billy Laninovich and Josh Hansen will be the two racers holding their own against the freestyle riders, and both are known in for what they can do off a ramp. Jayrrd McNeil will return with his "look back" whips, but as an unknown will have a tough feat to overcome. Finally, veteran Mike Metzger will make his return to X Games to run with the new crop of talent.
The roster for Step Up is rather short, as only six riders will launch off the vertical lip and over the bar. Multi-time gold medalist Matt Buyten will face Brian Deegan, Mike Mason, Todd Potter, Ronnie Renner, and Massimo Bianconcini. Buyten is favored to continue his domination, but the addition of the rather unknown Bainconcini may be his stiffest competition. The Italian rider is the current world record holder for Step Up, as he launched 37 feet at a recent European contest. Renner will also be a tough rider to outdo, as he has claimed gold on more than one occasion at the summer games. The inclusion of Mike Mason, Brian Deegan, and Todd Potter will make it a challenge because while two of the three are new to the contest, they have amazing skill on their bikes. Best Trick The hype around Best Trick annually peaks in the weeks just before the event, when the list of riders is announced and the talks of something never before seen spread. We have spoken to numerous riders over the course of the past few weeks, the consensus is that Taka Higashino, and his "Rock Solid Flip" will take the gold medal. Higashino has landed the trick with regularity for weeks while on the Australian Nitro Circus Tour and has it dialed. He will be competing against riders with tricks that seemed impossible just years ago, including the double backflips and body varials. Frenchman Thomas Pages unleashed his body varial during his run at X-Fighters Glen Helen and was said to have another unseen trick on his mind until the wind made it impossible to do. Multiple time medalist Kyle Loza is said to again be going after the yet to be landed bike flip, and has a body varial of his own with the Volt. Jackson Strong has made the invite list after clinching the gold medal with last year's front flip, but word on a new trick from him was scarce.
This brings us to the rather unknown and unproven riders, Bruce Cook and Clinton Moore. Cook, a Canadian that regularly performs during Monster Truck shows, has been working closely with Travis Pastrana to nail down a new backflip variation that none are quite sure entails. A YouTube search on the matter yields only a video of him talking about his trip to LA and being the first Canadian to compete in Best Trick. For Moore, this will be his second trip to the States from Australia, and he is said to be attempting Pastrana's "TP 720 Roll." The trick, which is has never been landed to dirt in front of the mass public, ended Pastrana's 2011 X Games when is broke his left foot. These two riders, along with the other competitors, will make this year's installment the most interesting yet. Friday, June 30th On ESPN2, starting at 5:00PM, Pacific Standard Time
Women's Moto-X Racing
Although Men's Supercross has been clipped from the event, Women's Moto-X, which takes place on the Speed and Style course, still holds its spot on the schedule. With a talented list of racers from around the world taking on a type of course they rarely ever ride, it is one of the most competitive parts of the weekend. Vicki Golden will go against 10 riders to defend her medal, and repeating this year will be no easy feat.
After sitting out last year due to a concussion, Ashley Fiolek is considered one of the favorites to add yet another medal to her collection. But another concussion sustained this year in Colorado, along with the discovery of a back injury, as her status as a competitor for 2012 in question. Jessica Patterson looks to break the string of bad luck she has encountered at X Games over the past few years, namely last year's concussion while leading that eliminated her from the race. Tarah Geiger has medaled in three of the four X Games she has competed in, with two silver medals and a gold from 2008. France's Livia Lancelot has made her presence known in the US with her bronze medal performance last year and may be able to duplicate again this year with her skills on tighter courses. The biggest surprise of all could be Meghan Rutledge, the Australian rookie that shocked the sport with her second moto win at Hangtown. Rutledge has been on the sidelines since Colorado, but competes against men in Supercross in her homeland frequently and has become one of the favorites for a medal.
Speed & Style
Speed & Style, a hybrid of Supercross and FMX, has the most diverse list of riders, as it includes both current top riders and veterans of the past generation. Nate Adams will defend his champion status against Mike Mason, who he bested last year by a slim margin for the gold medal. The two riders that are closest to last year's 1-2 finishers are Robbie Maddison and Jeremy Stenberg, as they have practiced together for weeks on each other's courses that sit on the same Temecula, CA, street. Maddison recently rode with the DNA Energy/Jeff Ward Racing team at their Supercross test track, and Stenberg is looking to overcome the accident that broke his ankle in last year's Speed and Style. Matt Buyten will be another to watch, as he deep pool of tricks paired with his skill on the bike will help in on the course and Ronnie Faisst hopes to net another medal to place alongside his bronze from last year. While he may not be well known in the United States, Edgar Torronteras from Spain is one of the most popular riders on the other side of the globe. A veteran of the sport, he should be impressive on the American stage. Carey Hart will also make his final X Games appearance with his participation in X Games. Wednesday Session At The Mulisha Compound
We scored an invite to head to Brian Deegan’s sprawl in rural Temecula,CA, to check out a handful of riders as they prepare for X Games. Bilko, Agee, Potter, Deegan, Fitzpatrick, and Cam Sinclair sessioned the ramps and Step Up hit on another clear California morning and we were there to catch it on video, as well as in a photo gallery.