An Easy Ride Into the Finals
Friday, June 20, 2008
BALTIMORE, June 19 -- Black cloth covers most of the fence behind the dirt course at the Camden Yards Sports Complex for this week's AST Dew Tour. It's a flimsy attempt to keep misplaced onlookers from peering into the clustered caravan of freestyle motocrossers' motor homes.
But the fabric didn't discourage a few enterprising kids Thursday afternoon. As they walked behind the fence, they jumped every few feet for glimpses of Nate Adams's black-and-lime-green truck.
Adams went to the fence and signed the pieces of paper, skateboards and anything else held out for him while he waited for his first practice run on the Panasonic Open's course. Although he only has been riding for a week since recovering from surgery on a dislocated thumb, the 24-year-old reigning king of FMX seemed as relaxed as ever.
It didn't hurt, Adams said, that he didn't have to worry about qualifying for the finals.
In an effort to place more emphasis on its cumulative points system throughout the season, the Dew Tour created a new format for its fourth year that advances the top three athletes in each discipline into the final according to current rankings. For this year's season-opening stop in Baltimore, the top three finishers from 2007 earned automatic spots in the finals.
"It won't really change my approach," said Adams, the two-time defending FMX Dew Cup champion. "There's always a lot of talk at the beginning of the year of how the tweaks will change things or who's got what [trick], but I'm just going to do what I've been doing and hopefully I can win again."
Adams and the other top finishers from last year -- Adam Jones (second) and Mike Mason (third) -- might not be complaining, but the change seems to take some suspense out of the multi-day competition.
"I'm not sure what to think about it yet," said veteran rider Ronnie Faisst, 30, who failed to qualify for Sunday's finals. "There are three less good guys that you have to compete against early on but there're three less spots. Who knows how they could be feeling out there. They could be having a good day or a bad day but we'll never know."
FMX, along with skate vert and BMX vert, have the smallest final groups with just 10 athletes. Only the top seven of the 20-man preliminary field advanced Thursday night -- including Blake "Bilko" Williams, Robbie Maddison, Jeremy Lusk and newcomer Thomas Pages of France -- and regardless of how high a motocrosser qualifies for the final he inevitably will have three others riding after him with the advantage of watching everyone else go first.
Riders felt the impact and added pressure of the new format during Thursday afternoon's practice runs. With fewer spots up for grabs, there is less room for error early in the competition. The space crunch also forces the motocrossers to throw in harder tricks and more complex combinations -- which they previously might have saved for the finals -- earlier in the competition to ensure that they advance.
"I'm not sure I can remember the last time the top three in freestyle motocross didn't qualify for the finals," said AST President Wade Martin, who said the change was made to reward athletes for strong performances and provide extra incentive for riders to compete in each of the tour's competitions. "There's no free pass. This is all based on merit. Never has there been a time in Dew Tour history that Nate Adams hasn't made a final, so it's not as though he's filling a spot that wouldn't already be taken."
While the new competition format affects all of the tour's six disciplines, FMX received another alteration. The Baltimore stop is one of only three this season that will feature a traditional motocross competition. Unscored exhibitions will take place in Cleveland and Portland, Ore., sites where ideal FMX conditions are unattainable because of wind and limitations on course size, respectively.
Playing a larger role in the decision to reduce the FMX competition schedule, however, was the tour's attempt to promote more of a competitive balance, Martin said.
"I don't think it had advanced quite as rapidly as BMX or skate had for a number of reasons," Martin said. "Freestyle motocross's athlete pool isn't as deep as it is in other disciplines, and it's so hard to give them the perfect course that's intricate enough for them to really showcase what they do. We wanted to focus on giving them the best course we could while giving them more time to train and perfect the tricks and see how that can help stimulate the sport's growth."