For the first time I went to a UCI-Mountain bike World Championships in 2002, held in KAPRUN - Zell am See in Austria. My main goal was to see how this event was organized, since I heard so much about the new concept of the World Championship. Besides World Championship events in mountain bike cross-country and down hill racing, also 4 cross and bicycle trial was included in this event. In about 8 ½ hours I drove from Eindhoven to Kaprun in Austria. I did spent 5 days in Kaprun, arriving on Wednesday evening, just in time for the Opening ceremony in Zell am See, which was a kind of disappointing. I checked in my hotel, situated just across the main area were the finish was of the cross-country, down-hill and 4 X events. My former GT BMX Euro team member Daniel Herz (Austria) took care of my reservation, thanks Danny! Also the English team was staying in this hotel and that same evening I did meet with Scott Beaumont and his parents, whom I haven’t seen since 1997. I also ran into Dale Holmes, also a former team member of mine in team WEBCO and the GT Euro BMX team.
Very early in the morning the next day, Thursday 29th, I went to the so-called PERMANENCE to pick up my VIP card which I got from the UCI MTB department (Mr. Gerrit Middag; thanks Gerrit!). After that I checked the grounds, went up the hill to have a close look at the 4 X track designed by Franck Roman (former World Champ BMX and Down-hill top rider riding for Cannondale at the time). The track looked great to me, just a down hill BMX track. From the start and finish/ exhibition area, one had a great view over the to complete 4 X track. I also checked out the down hill track. That looked great too, fast, technical it had it all! During my tour on the fields around Karpun, I did meet many, many old friends or better Old Skool BMX’ers who changed from BMX to down-hill or 4X.
The start and finish area as well as the exhibition area looked great. Big rigs were parked their of the main teams, manufacturers and sponsors, among others the Rainer-Wurz MTB team was present on the infield. Mixed in and around this area were the Bicycle Trial non-stops/trial sections. Two big screens were placed on the infield and a score-board would show the results to the spectators later on.
I was told that over 60.000 people were expected, specially during the weekend, Saturday and Sunday to come. Must be said that I was very disappointed by the number of people that actually came and watched the events. My quess is that no more then maybe 20.000 people were present: still a lot of spectators! Anyway, the combination of events made it a success. If one would organize just a 4 x event, or trial event, you would have the same situation as in BMX: only inside people would come and watch, meaning very little spectators.
The Down hill competition was very exiting. Steve Peat and Nicolas Vouilloz were far ahead of the rest of the pack. Its great to see how the technique of the bikes have been improved. The suspension is just as great as on a moto-cross motorcycle. The speed the rider go down hill, improved a lot due to better suspension. It was a good thing the big screens were there to watch the riders come down, otherwise I wouldn’t have been that great to watch just a few seconds of the race. Also the time makes it very exiting (haven’t I mentioned that before, concerning BMX too?).
The Bicycle trial guys have improved probably the most. Last time I have been to a World Championship was in Bielstein - Belgium, about 12 years ago! The skills and technique of these riders is fabulous. They deserve a lot of respect for what they are doing. Due to the whole set up of this Worlds, it was good to see these guys got a lot of attention from spectators too.
The Cross-country stuff for me is boring. I think its great to be competitor, but as a spectator sport, it isn’t that great. Again, very good that the big screens were there on the main area. One could follow the TV images of the race progressing. Without that, boring! This doesn’t say anything bad about the fantastic performance of the riders. I do have a lot of respect for them too, specially riding in these bad weather conditions.
Then on the Saturday afternoon there was the new installed World title to be one for the first time in “4Cross”. I think about 75% of the riders were BMX racers or former BMX’ers. In the semi final and final, only BMX’ers. As I said before, this just was down hill BMX on big wheel bikes with only 4 riders (pity). 4 Cross was the replacement of dual Slalom and the Boarder cross. All new names for really one and the same kind of discipline, BMX ! That’s what I think anyway. The racing was fierce, exiting, spectacular. The track was designed and built by former BMX’er Franck Roman. Franck laid down another great track a week later at the World Cup event 4 Cross in Les Gets – France. Guess who won: BAS de BEVER – Holland. The ambiance was great too. Many people (approx. 5 till 7000) surrounded the 4 Cross track and supporters all the riders, when coming down. Everybody was stoked about this event, even officials were very positive about 4 Cross now. I think it is a pity that they don’t understand that all of this came from the roots, …BMX.
My personal conclusion and opinion on “4-Cross” in relation to BMX. First there was BMX (Bicycle Moto-Cross) on 20 inch bikes and later on 24 inch bikes were added. In the early days Down hill BMX was kind of common in the USA. For whatever reason, BMX has mostly flatland tracks now a days.
In Mountain biking, down hill racing started. Former BMX’ers joined that discipline and showed special skills and technique: jumping double jumps, speed jumping, showing off and so on. Now its a common thing. The mainly BMX side of the riders wanted short tracks that could be overlooked by spectators easily. Then Dual slalom came in. Again, mostly BMX racers were the top. Bad thing about dual slalom was that coming down with only 2 riders, the race was over when one “killed” the other rider. Not good for spectators and TV. So, as an intermediate the Boarder Cross got off the ground. Riding with mountain bikes on a BMX track or something that came very close to a BMX track. This took a lot of riders away from BMX too. The older guys wanted to race bigger bikes and do something new. Now at last, within the UCI the Dual slalom was canceled and 4 Cross installed. We are back were we were: Down hill BMX racing in fact, only on big wheels and with only 4 riders in a race.
Frustration brings suggestions and proposals.
Its all great, but my frustration is that BMX doesn’t get the respect that it deserves being the foundation of all the above mentioned disciplines. Why call it “4 Cross”, while it is down hill BMX? (I know the reason of course). Why not include “real BMX” bikes 20 inch, allowing them to race with front suspension, but NO rear suspension. One could even think of starting with 6 or 8 BMX riders competing at this kind of tracks. I predict that BMX bikes will give you more spectacular racing. Including BMX also solves the problem that just that discipline within the UCI World Cup and World Championships is missing all the time. Ofcourse we talk only Junior and Elite classes here that will be allowed to race. Think about it.
Besides all of this, I think we all should rename all disciplines in BMX racing. When watching Eurosport the YOZ broadcastings, one can see a lot of bicycle free-style, tricks, ramp, flat whatever. Everybody on TV calls it BMX: this is NOT bicycle moto-cross my man! Why did they change the name in BMX for Xtreme bicycle riding? That’s the name I would give to this discipline: XTREME BICYCLE RIDING
The name Bicycle Trials for the trial disciple is just great, this is exactly what it is. BMX by the way, stand for Bicycle Moto-cross. In fact there is NO moto, however since this name is there from the start of the sport in the early ’70, it should stay like that. If you think marketing wise and then BMX in combination with the present UCI 4 CROSS discipline, I think it all should be called BMX (skip the name “4 Cross”).
Even better call it BMX Down hill Xtreme racing. Two advantages:
First, one promotes BMX in general and the youth section of BMX is still the foundation but also the melting pot of young talent to grow towards adult BMX Down hill Xtreme racing, Mountain bike Down hill enduro racing, Bicycle trail and even Mountain bike cross-country.
Second advantages: by using the above name for this discipline and separate BMX Youth sport from adult sport allowing only Junior and Elite riders to compete at these events, one builds the respect that BMX and its athletes deserve. Again, think about it.
European BMX racing in 2003 and on.
In my article Opinion on the European Championships in Esselbach in Germany I already stated that in Europe we have to make some changes. I indeed did mention down hill BMX tracks to be used in the very near future.
After being in KAPRUN and talking to many BMX’ers and former BMX’ers, I am convinced that something must happen to give a new boost to our sport and to help it grow towards an adult sport. In short, a new series of events must be created. Down hill BMX racing as in the early days of BMX in the USA. There must be locations in Europe, at least in 5 or 6 countries, were great tracks can be built. These series counting for a European Championship must be for Junior and Elite riders as well as the 2 upcoming classes (14/15y.o). Besides 20 inch bikes, the 24 inch class will be run as well as a ATB/MTB class (just 1). We must try to get our Old Skoolers back who now run MTB Down Hill or 4 Cross.
These series should have all facilities and technical equipment as in other disciplines. Think of a large scoring board, timing and registration by transponders, qualification by time, fastest laptime, a false start system and so on. Ofcourse TV registration is a must and when we talk down hill racing, very interesting to watch on TV. Europe shouldn’t wait another year. Act now, try to find locations a.s.a.p. I myself am looking around in our province of Limburg in the south of our country (Maastricht), were perfect locations are to built for a 8 man track down hill. Again, its nothing new, think of the down hill track at Corona in the USA. I still got a video of a down hill track in Texas. Even with side hacks racing was great then.
Latest news: during my stay in KAPRUN I learned from several Elite riders present, that rumors were going round about a 2003 UCI BMX World Cup event organized by the UCI-NBL at the Woodward Down Hill BMX track in the USA, was a possibility. UCI qualified Junior and Elite riders would be allowed to compete there. We are talking about the same track as were the BMX X-games were organized by the ESPN and McGoo for several years now. When more news, I will tell you. I hope all of the above will start a discussion resulting in some action in the way I advice BMX to go. Concerning Kaprun, I enjoyed myself very much.