Kevin Windham had something to prove at Sunday's Grand Prix World Motocross Championships--that Americans could compete with the rest of the world.
Competing in his first Grand Prix event, Windham overtook France's David Vuillemin on the fourth lap of the second heat, then pulled away to win before 4,817 at Budds Creek Motocross Park.
"Being an American, it's nice to know we're up to speed with everybody in the world," said Windham, who is from Centreville, Miss. "The Europeans and everybody that rode here today was a great rider. It feels really good to beat the best."
Windham put himself in position to win by finishing third in the first heat behind Belgium's Stefan Everts and American Ryan Hughes. In the second race, Vuillemin led the opening three laps, but could not hold Windham off. After passing Vuillemin, Windham held the lead for the final 15 laps.
Everts took third in the second heat to tie Windham at 35 points. But the tiebreaker in motocross is a rider's finish in the second heat, so Windham won the overall title.
"I knew right off the start that Everts didn't get quite as good of a start as he did the first moto," Windham said. "I knew I had to make the pass on [Vuillemin] to have a chance at the overall. . . . It took me a while. I got behind him and tried to watch him as best I could and not let him get away from me."
The race was the 16th and final Grand Prix event of the year, and the only one held in the United States. Most Americans do not participate in Grand Prix events, instead competing in American races, making Sunday a rare day in which top Americans and Europeans went head to head.
The United States fared well, taking three of the top four spots, as Hughes finished third overall and Greg Albertyn placed fourth.
The big winner of the day, however, was 10th-place finisher Frederic Bolley, of France. He garnered enough points to edge Germany's Pit Beirer, who placed eighth, to win the world championship.
In the final moto, Beirer needed to make up 14 points in the overall standings to overtake Bolley. But Beirer finished 14th, making it impossible.
Bolley trailed Beirer late in the season, but came back with three consecutive moto wins in Belgium and Germany to take the overall lead going into Sunday's event.
"It was an up-and-down season," Bolley said. "In the middle, it was a little difficult to think that I could win. After Belgium, I started to think I could win again. But, believe me, I was already motivated for that."
Notes: Sunday's first heat was televised live by European cable network Eurosport, which reaches an estimated 200 million households throughout Europe. The second moto was seen on tape delay. . . . Hughes, who competed in all 16 Grand Prix events, placed fourth in the overall world standings. . . . Windham's one-day performance earned him 23rd place in the world standings.
CAPTION: Kevin Windham of Centreville, Miss., competing in his first Grand Prix event, rides to victory in the key second heat of the 250cc race on Sunday.
CAPTION: David Vuillemin of France soars on a jump during the second heat of the 250cc race at Budds Creek Motocross Park.
CAPTION: Frederic Bolley of France finished 10th Sunday, but that was enough to give him the season championship.