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The XDL Sportbike Freestyle Championship opened its third season in New York on June 21, 2008 in conjunction with Hot Import Nights Nightshift at Belmont Park Raceway.
After two seasons using a qualifier system, XDL has switched to a full points system that requires riders to participate in at least 5 out of the 6 series events in order to win the national championship. This change has brought to light the true strength of the sportbike freestyle segment as a sport. Both Series Director Randy Grube and Director of Competition Thomas Evans were expecting “between 8 to 12” riders to contest the entire season. But the final count for series competitors was 25 and in total 39 riders showed up to battle it out in New York. This far exceeded expectations and is on par with traditional racing series that have been in existence much longer.
XDL sportbike freestyle competitions take place on standardized areas that measure approximately 100 x 300 feet. The surface at Belmont Park posed some challenges because it hadn’t been maintained in a while, sporting cracks with grass and a lot of dirt and debris. The XDL track crew spent the better part of Friday cleaning the track so that by the end of the day, the surface was clean, grippy but still a bit bumpy and therefore somewhat challenging. Overnight thunderstorms added water to the mix and it again took a large effort by the XDL crew and riders to get the surface prepped for competition.
Qualifying started right on time and the 39 hopefuls were soon whittled down to 15 main event finalists. Leading the pack was defending national champion and Shift rider Alex Flores who earned an additional point for the number one qualifying spot. Judging rules were updated for the 2008 season, placing more of an emphasis on difficulty than in the past. This plays to technically diverse riders such as Flores, so it wasn’t a real surprise to see the current champ at the top of the qualifying order.
The main event featured the top 15 qualifiers putting on 3 minutes runs each, starting with 15th and ending up with the top rider going last. Each run is judged by three judges and the scoring system assigns 40 points for “overall,” 40 points for “difficulty” and 20 points for “execution.” Deductions are made as follows: 3 points for a crash, 2 points for a missed trick and 1 point for a bobble.
The top scorer receives 45 series points with each consecutive position receiving 3 points less. That means 2nd receives 42 points, 3rd receives 39 and so on, all the way down to 3 points for 15th. Every rider that rode in qualifying also receives one point. This system for the first time allows for a national ranking system, a tool the sport desperately needed in order to grow.
Rider number 15 and the first to head into the main event was none other than Chris McNeil who wasn’t accustomed to starting at the back of the pack and during his run disaster struck. Performing a Switchback Christ his foot slipped off the tank, he fell and the seat came off the bike. McNeil recovered but was only able to score enough points for 14th. Although his event didn’t go according to plan, the “bye” in the series points system ensures that his championship hopes are still very much alive.
The next big surprise, or maybe it shouldn’t be, was Japanese rider Shinsuke “Shin” Kinoshita. He is the first Japanese rider to both compete in XDL and contest the entire season. Shin laid down an impressive 9th place qualifying run and backed it up with a 10th place in the main event, instantly leaving a mark on the sport.
For the most part, riders maintained their qualifying spots in the main event and there were few surprises. But Ernie Vigil provided everyone with a big scare. Vigil is known as a very talented and aggressive rider, and after time had expired on his run he put on a encore trick for the fans that went horribly wrong, high-siding him of his bike. He hit the ground hard and got run over by his bike for good measure. A collective gasp went through the entire venue but luckily Vigil walked away with “only” a broken collarbone.
The battle for the top spot came down to 16-year old Red Bull Rider Aaron Colton, Rush Deal’s Nick Brocha and Shift rider Alex Flores. Having qualified in third, Colton started off the fireworks with a solid run that earned him high fives from his fellow competitors. Brocha was still shaken from the crash his good friend Vigil had suffered just moments earlier. His run featured a crash early on while performing seat stander figure 8s, but he picked up the bike and seemed to loosen up considerably after that. Flores started out with a switchback, one-handed stoppie and put on a flawless run, which put him in a tie for first with Nick Brocha at 88 points. The tie-breaker was decided by the higher “overall” score, giving Brocha the win. In the podium interview Brocha remarked that he was both elated and stunned, due to the injury to his friend Vigil. When asked about his run he said: “I honestly can’t remember it because I was thinking about Ernie.”
The other competitions at XDL saw some surprise winners, old faces and a lot of new tricks. Colton took Freestyle Burnout with a standstill burnout, saran wrapping into a highchair burnout, earning him enormous applause. Circle Challenge went to Andy Niles who finally seemed to break through with a win; Target Stoppie went to drift specialist Jesse Toler and Sickest Trick was again taken by Brocha with his Vegas-style circle strip.
In all, the weekend showcased the popularity of the sport, the quality of the riders and the high level of innovation and competition. Round 2: Nashville on July 26 should be quite the contest.
2008 XDL Championship Series