Justin Brayton (10) and Josh Hill (75) battle for the Moto X win. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
Over the years, the X Games has had a love/hate relationship with moto. Ever since the introduction of Freestyle Moto X in 1999, the X Games had been looking for more and more moto for their flagship Extreme Sports franchise. In 2000, it was the addition of Moto X Step Up. Eventually, the X Games added Supermoto, Moto X Racing (which is basically supercross, or in the case of this year’s event, arenacross), Best Trick (which disappeared after snowmobile freestyler Caleb Moore died in Snowmobile Best Trick in January), Best Whip, Speed & Style, and on and on…
For its final run in Los Angeles, the X Games brought back Moto X Racing (along with Women’s Moto X Racing and Moto X Adaptive), which had been on hiatus for a few years, and brought back Enduro X (along with Women’s Enduro X), Speed & Style, Step Up, Best Whip, and of course, the staple (so to speak), Freestyle Moto X, in its 15th year at X Games.
Moto X Racing
Built on the floor of Staples Center, this year’s X Games Moto X Racing event could and maybe should be considered the first Arenacross event ever held inside Staples Center. But for really the first time, the X Games attracted at least one established supercross champ in Chad Reed. Reed has been having a pretty terrible year by his own very high standards and saw the X Games as an opportunity to get in front of a lot of eyes and give good exposure to his sponsors. At the same time, success at X Games – due to lack of competition or not – could be a spring board on which he could build some confidence as we head into the final three rounds of the AMA National MX Series, the Motocross of Nations, the Monster Energy Cup, and ultimately the 2014 Monster Energy/AMA Supercross Series.
It also doesn’t hurt that his personal sponsor Monster Energy is huge in the world of X.
But it was his fellow Monster Energy athlete Josh Hill, of the RCH/Dodge/Sycuan Casino Suzuki team, who drew first blood, grabbing the holeshot and leading every lap – with heavy pressure from privateer Weston Peick and JGR/Toyota Yamaha’s Justin Brayton – of his Heat race.
Reed responded with a come-from-behind Heat-race win of his own to transfer to the main event.
In the main, Reed looked to have the holeshot, but Hill and Brayton were on his inside as the field headed into the very tight first corner, and they leaned on Reed. Ultimately, the contact forced Reed off the track, taking Peick and a couple of other racers with him. Reed rejoined nearly last while Hill was doing everything he could to keep Brayton behind him yet again.
Hill is wily and at one point got some breathing room when he fouled Brayton up in a turn long enough to cause Brayton to lose a spot to Chris Blose. Brayton recovered, though, fought his way by Blose, then bided his time on Hill. On the 20th and final lap, Brayton went for it at the end of the rhythm section and snatched the lead away from Hill while simultaneously fouling Hill up enough that he had to worry about Blose and a fast-approaching Reed rather than try and make a run back for the lead spot.
“I led 32 laps tonight and just came up short, man,” Hill said. “I couldn’t break away. Unfortunately, this track was so tight that I couldn’t ride the lines I wanted to ride when somebody was right there. I tried to break away, but I couldn’t shake [Justin] Brayton, so I rode defensive the whole time. I mean, at one point, I was riding so defensive that everyone else caught up to us, so it was almost just like an old-school thrasher battle. It was good stuff.”
Some people tend to forget that Justin Brayton made his name in the pros as an Arenacross star. Hill hung on for second and Blose played it smart with the veteran Reed in the final turn by forcing him wide and slowing down enough that Reed nearly fell trying to cut under him for the final medal position. Reed left dejected without even a medal to show for his efforts. Such is the cruel mistress that X Games is for many competitors.
Vicki Golden dominates Women’s Moto X. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
Women’s Moto X Racing
Vicki Golden is the poster child for what can happen when the women race with the men on a regular basis. Instead of setting her sights just on WMX titles like most female MX competitors seem to do, Golden has been spending her time racing Arenacross against the boys. The result has been her absolute domination of Women’s Moto X Racing over the past few years, even though the sport was left in the X Games over the past few years (when even the Men’s Moto X Racing wasn’t) more or less as a vehicle for the very popular Ashley Fiolek.
At this year’s X Games, though, it seemed as if Golden had met her match in young Australian Meghan Rutledge.
Italian Kiara Fontanesi got the holeshot, but Rutledge was quickly by and started putting time on the field immediately while Golden suffered a terrible start and had to spend the first part of the race trying to get cleanly past WMX legend Jessica Patterson, among others. By the time Golden got into second, she was catching Rutledge, but much too slowly to make a run at her by the end of the 12-lap main event.
However, it’s better to be lucky than good, as the saying goes, and on the final lap over the track’s big ramp jump, Rutledge threw a one-hander in celebration, and inexplicably the front end dived forward. She had to struggle not to go over the bars, and she slid to the ground on the entrance to the final turn. Still, her lead was so big that she was remounting her bike when Golden went by and attempted to blitz through the final whoop section and retake the top spot, but it wasn’t to be. Golden celebrated the Women’s Moto X gold yet again, while Rutledge sat dejected.
“I heard the crowd go crazy, and I didn’t know what had happened,” Golden said. “In the air over that big jump, I looked over at the whoops, and I didn’t see Meghan there like I expected, then I saw her getting up in front of me. I knew I had to pin it to the finish because she was going to be coming, and I had a bit of a Beginner moment over the finish line, but I don’t care! This is awesome!”
Rutledge kept second and Fontanesi took the bronze a half-second in front of Patterson.
(left to right) Todd Thompson, Mike Schultz,and Max Gomez on the podium for Moto X Adaptive. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
Moto X Adaptive
In the beginning of Moto X Adaptive racing, many in the field were paralyzed racers like Ricky James, but since it was first introduced, it was lower-leg amputees who dominated, starting with former AMA pro Chris Ridgway.
At X Games LA, Ridgway met some solid challengers in Mike Schultz, Todd Thompson, and Max Gomez, all lower-leg amputees with the exception of Schultz, who had his left leg amputated above the knee.
Ridgway grabbed the holeshot and did his best to hold Schultz and the rest of the field behind him, but at about halfway through the 12-lap main event, Ridgway gave way to Schultz and Thompson, then faded out of the lead battle quickly.
“I’m a truck driver,” Ridgway said. “I got tired.”
Schultz, who lost his lower left leg in a Snocross accident in late 2008, has been the dominant racer in Adaptive racing for a few years, including many wins at the Extremity Games. He was the only racer tripling into the track’s second rhythm section, and that seemed to be the difference, as Todd Thompson would catch Schultz every lap, then lose all the ground he made up at that rhythm section.
“I couldn’t get myself to go for that triple,” Thompson said. “That’s where he was killing me.”
Ridgway came under pressure from Gomez soon after he lost the lead, but Gomez tried to rush a pass and ended up going down. Still, he caught Ridgway again by the end of the main event, but ran out of time.
Schultz took the gold over Thompson and Ridgway.
Josh Hansen whips it good. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
It took a few years for the fans and the riders to figure it out, but X Games Moto X Best Whip has finally hit its stride.
Since its inception, it has served as a vehicle that rewarded popularity. As the only Moto discipline at the X Games that is entirely judged by the fans via Twitter, the ever-popular Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg has been plainly dominant in the event over the years, with his only loss coming at this year’s X Games Barcelona, where he lost predictably to Spanish freestyler Edgar Torronteras.
However, this year in LA, the fans made a different choice, and if you ask anyone who knows moto, it was finally the right choice. In other words, the gold finally went to the rider with the “best whip” in Best Whip.
That rider was Josh Hansen. Hansen is a two-time X Games gold medalist in Moto X Racing, and has bronzes and silvers from recent Step Up and Best Whip events around the world, but he had yet to break through for gold in anything but racing. About halfway through the Best Whip event, Hansen threw a whip that seemed to knock the wind out of the entire Staples Center crowd simultaneously. Many – including possibly Hansen himself – were amazed that he was able to land it. He started out upside-down, and while recovering from the whip, he was traveling fully backward, but somehow landed his RM-Z450 safely on terra firma.
He duplicated that whip a couple of more times for good measure, and lo and behold, he won gold. Stenberg used his popularity to snatch silver for only his second time since the event was created, and women’s racer Vicki Golden got the female vote to snatch the bronze – although her whips, objectively, weren’t as good as any of the male competitors’.
“I laid it on the line for you guys,” Hansen told the crowd inside Staples Center. “If I didn’t win with those whips, I don’t know what I’d do! I’m glad you guys voted for me. Thank you!”
Taka Higashino joins Travis Pastrana as the only repeat winners in X Games Freestyle Moto X. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
The classic Moto X event at X Games has been won by a regular who’s who in Freestyle MX history, but the only guy in the history of the sport to repeat as X Games Freestyle Moto X champ coming into X Games Los Angeles was Travis Pastrana. Taka Higashino joined that club after winning Freestyle Moto X in 2012, then following that with another win at X Games Foz du Iguacu this year.
The Freestyle Moto X events were canceled in Barcelona (wind) and Munich (rain), which meant that Higashino was still the defending event champion, and he didn’t disappoint.
The format for Freestyle Moto X is easy: Each rider gets two runs, and the best score from those two runs determines finishing order. In the case of a tie, the score from the riders’ other run is used as the final determining factor.
As the top qualifier, Higashino had the benefit of being last to go of the 10 riders in the final, which meant he could watch and learn from the other nine riders before he had to hit the track.
Higashino took no prisoners. With the second trick in his first run, he pulled his signature Rock Solid Flip. He’s the only rider who has pulled it off in competition, even using it to land the silver in the final installment of Best Trick in 2012. He scored a 90 in the first round, leading an 87.33 by Levi Sherwood and an 86.33 by multi-time event gold medalist Nate Adams.
In round two, if no other riders could top a score of 90.0, Higashino would get a “victory lap” having clinched the win in the first round. But that wasn’t to be, as Adam Jones fixed some errors from his first run (an 82.66) to equal Higashino’s score at 90.0. So Higashino had to take to the course just to beat Jones’ first-run 82.66.
Higashino promptely duplicated his first-round run almost exactly, actually lending credence to the judging system, as they scored him with a 90.0 for the second run in a row. Higashino became not only the only rider to repeat since Pastrana, but the only rider to three-peat since Pastrana. Jones hung on for the silver and Nate Adams improved to an 88.0 to land the bronze.
Nate Adams gets the gold in Moto X Speed & Style. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
Speed & Style
X Games Moto X Speed & Style is aptly named because you don’t just need speed, but you need style. Nate Adams showed just how important that is at X Games Los Angeles.
In the first round of competition, Adams faced off against X Games Foz du Iguacu gold medalist Lance Coury. Adams led the event early, but made an error in the whoops that allowed Coury by. Coury took the checkered flag first, but Adams – by virtue of his 360 spin and multiple flip tricks – scored high enough on the “style” portion of his score to defeat Coury and move to the semi-finals.
In the semi, Adams faced off against Andre Villa. Villa led the entire distance of the race, but Adams stayed close enough to Villa on time that his advantage in “style” landed him the win yet again, which sent Villa to the bronze-medal race against Matt Buyten, who lost his semi-final race to Blake “Bilko” Williams.
Villa got aggressive with Buyten in the bronze-medal race to take off with the lead and land the final medal.
Then came the gold-medal round between Adams and Williams. As top qualifier, Adams got the inside gate, but Williams was quick out of the gate and put Adams behind him. As the laps wore on, Williams matched Adams’ 360 and looked to be heading toward the gold when he caught an edge going into the whoops and went over the bars on the last lap, handing the win to Adams.
Multi-time Step Up champ Ronnie Renner wins another. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE COX
Ronnie Renner has been an X Games regular for over a decade, but as of 2013, the multi-time Step Up champ was competing in that one and only event – Step Up. The bar started at 28 feet, with all six riders – Brian Foster, Foz du Iguacu Step Up champ Bryce Hudson, Josh Hansen, Matt Buyten, Libor Podmol and Renner – making it over cleanly. Foster was the first to go out, at 31 feet. Hudson followed him out at 32 feet, and Hansen did the same at 34 feet, leaving former winner Buyten, Podmol and Renner.
Everyone left was guaranteed a medal. Buyten couldn’t quite get over 37.5 feet, giving him bronze. Podmol, however, did make 37.5 on his second try. The height went to 38.5 feet, and once again Renner used his whipped style to clear the bar clean. Podmol, however, couldn’t quite get his YZ450F over the bar, and Renner took the gold.