Fireworks and WOW! The Elite Men’s quarterfinal qualifying rounds just completed and my adrenaline is still pumping from what is some of the best racing I have ever witnessed. With four separate heats running three rounds each to determine the 16 riders that would move on to tomorrow’s semifinals and finals, there is no doubt there were some shocking upsets, major on-track explosions, and serious battles throughout all of the twelve laps that went down.
I am going to break this down heat-by-heat to keep things clear and concise. The first heat featured Jelle Van Gorkom, Trent Jones, Nic Long, Niek Kimmann, Edzus Treimanis, Joris Daudet, Niklas Laustsen, and the country favorite, Brazil’s Renato Rezende. Down the first straight it was a three way horsepower show down between USA’s Long, France’s Daudet, and Van Gorkom of the Netherlands. Daudet would pull away with the holeshot followed by Long, who would then get shuffled back to fifth as they entered the third straight. Gorkom hunted down and would pass Daudet for the win. Top four went Gorkom, Daudet, Trent Jones of New Zealand, and Niek Kimmann of the Netherlands. Smoothing sailing thus far…
American Nic Long was sleeping during the gate drop as everyone else jetted away, but luckily he got back on it in rapid fashion and found himself in the middle of the pack as the current World Champion Joris Daudet was leading the way in and out of turn one. Looking comfortable, Daudet suddenly halted going up the face of the berm jump and tumbled down the backside. It was a bit of a “what the hell” type moment, and we would see video footage of him after the race being helped off the track while cradling his wrist. Adding to the mess, Niek Kimmann of the Netherlands went off the berm jump sideways and had to eject in mid air. His bike hit the lip of the landing with him smacking down on top of it. The biggest shock of it was when his BOX fork arm exploded after he crushed them between the berm (see photo.) After the remaining riders made it through, Van Gorkom took the win followed by Trent Jones, Treimanis, and Long. Knowing he had to finish in order to be scored, Kimmann grabbed what remained of his bike and ran the rest of the track to cross the line for seventh just after Brazilian Renato Rezende. All said and done, many were unsure if Daudet would start the third and final round.
Round three for this group had a lot going on. Points leader Van Gorkom was in the clear as even a last place finish would have solidified him a spot in the semifinals. Trent Jones was also in good shape with just five points. The two riders in question were your current World Champion Joris Daudet and Van Gorkom’s teammate Niek Kimmann. Immediately at the gate drop we saw Daudet call it quits. Later, in an interview with Reuters, Joris mentioned he thought he may have a broken elbow. The American Nic Long was able to get a great start and pull out to an early lead. He would take it all the way across the stripe, followed by Trent Jones, Niek Kimman (earning himself a semifinal spot), and Van Gorkom to round out the top four. Those were also the four men that will continue on to the semifinals Friday.
The heart crushing moment was for Brazi’s Renato Rezende who also failed to qualify out of these first rounds. He made a last turn desperation attempt but tumbled to the ground. Unfortunately for the country favorite, his Olympic journey ended much sooner than anticipated in front of his home crowd.
Lining up in the gate for heat two was Tory Nyhaug, Liam Phillips, David Graf, Maris Strombergs, Jefferson Milano, Toni Syarifudin, Kyle Dodd and Luis Brethauer. Out of the gate and down the first straight was a bar-banging battle with Great Britain’s Liam Phillips and the Swissman David Graf. Little did they know that Canada’s Nyhaug was hot on their tails and would swoop under them and come over to slam the door out of the turn. Carnage than pursued as Phillips and Graf came together, taking out two-time Olympics gold medalist Maris Strombergs with them. The bad thing, Phillips, a favorite, would not return for the remaining two rounds and his Olympic journey has come to an end. Nyhaug went on to win the heat by a mile followed by Brethauer, Milano, and Dodd.
For the most part, nothing major happened in the second round. Obviously, Liam is out at this point and did not line up for the race. Nyhaug had a slow start but overtook the lead once again as the pack entered the first turn, and he would continue to keep that lead in a dominating way through the finish line. David Graf went for a solid elbow on Brethauer, but failed and slid to the ground and took South Africa’s Kyle Dodd with him. The top four finished Nyhaug, Brethauer, Milano, and Maris Strombergs rounding out the top four. At this point, if Graf wants to make the semifinals for Friday, he will certainly have to win the final round and also hope Strombergs finishes worse than third place.
The fate of the only man to win Olympic Gold in the BMX racing discipline was on the line in this round. Both Maris Strombergs and David Graf were in need of solid runs. Once again Tory Nyhaug looked awesome and cruised to an early lead. Down the second straight it was pretty shocking to see the unimaginable of all riders being forced to roll through the berm jump. That is a worst case scenario for all of them and it allowed Graf to shoot into the lead, right where he needed to be to slide into the semis. Once everyone was back on the gas, Strombergs needed to find his was passed Brethauer in order to take the final spot over Graf. That did not happen, and it was partly due to Maris no realizing he was on the bubble for that final spot. In the end, Graf took the win and Maris finished in fourth to give him the go ahead. The other three men transferring on were Tory Nyhaug, Luis Brethauer, and Jefferson Milano.
For some reason they ran heat four before three, but for the sake of this article we will go in the proper order….Ready to rock was Sam Willoughby, Twan Van Gendt, Carlos Oquendo, Carlos Ramirez, Jeremy Rencurel, Evgeny Komarov, Amidou Mir, and Alfredo Campo. With no surprise to me, Willoughby fired off the hill and was running away with it. Mir was running close, but Van Gendt slid up underneath in turn one, followed by what looked to be a tire slip and got bucked off the side of track, taking Mir with him. To add more, Campo tested out the dirt samples by falling on the first straight. Unfortunately, both Mir and Campo would not return. We are hoping them the best with their recoveries. At the line, Willoughby took an easy win followed by Ramirez, Oquendo, and Recurel.
We can keep this one short and sweet. Willoughby once again showed why he is one of the top contenders for the Olympic Gold medal and was truly looking like the SW91 of 2013 when he absolutely dominated nearly every event he entered. He would go wire to wire with Van Gendt in tow to be two for two. Followed by those two, the Colombian power duo of Ramirez and Oquendo were looking to once again finish side-by-side, but the Frenchman of Rencurel surpassed Ramirez to take the fourth spot.
It was a perfect sweep on the day for Willoughby after he once again found himself out front. After watching him ride today, there is no doubt that he is back for revenge after a silver in London left him wanting more. Following him across the line was Twan Van Gendt, which was no surprise to many. The Colombian duo also solidified their spots for tomorrow after the lone remaining delegate for France, Jeremy Rencurel failed on his last turn desperation move, which also ripped the air dam off the top of the turn. Luckily nobody was behind them to get caught up in that!
This was a big round with two Americans in it. Both Connor Fields and Corben Sharrah were loaded up side by side in the gate. Accompanying these two would be Australia’s Anthony Dean and Bodi Turner, Great Britain’s Kyle Evans, Japan’s Yoshi Nagasako, Tre Navrestad of Norway, and Gonzalo Molina from Argentina. The American duo blasted down the eight-meter ramp going one and two, but Anthony Dean was hot on their tail. Dean would go on and pick off Sharrah down the second straight, but Fields would move on for a cruise-to-victory in their first of three. Top four went Fields, Dean, Molina, and Sharrah. The plus side, no major carnage to leave riders licking their wounds.
I recently read on a Facebook post that Australia’s Anthony Dean had some of the worst style around, and after watching some laps in Rio, he definitely looks stiff and could probably use a massage to loosen up and find a bit more flow. However, damn does this guy show some serious speed. Sure he did not have the fastest TT run, but this round he powered down the hill and snagged the holeshot. From there he would not miss a beat and led the pack around the track to take the win and the low points for the round. He was followed by Argentina’s Molina and American’s Sharrah and Fields. A big concern in the round was the gate Fields had. He was terribly slow out of the gate, almost a daunting flashback to the London main event four years ago. Luckily he precisely got back in the race to finish behind his teammate. The late gate is now out of his system, so that should help for Friday.
The third and final gate drop for these guys quickly because the Aussie sandwich on the American duo of Sharrah and Fields. Once again Anthony Dean found himself out front, and even riding a bit looser this go round, and he kept the hammer down through the line. With a clean lap for all, it was both Sharrah and Fields filling in the second and third gaps while Australia’s Bodi Turner rounded out the top four to complete the Aussie sandwich. Turner was left out of the semifinals though as Molina who finished the final round in fifth place beat him out on points for the overall final slot. In the end, Dean, Fields, Sharrah, and Molina will all find themselves pushing the limits in three more rounds of semifinal action with the main goal of landing one of the coveted eight main event spots.
The fireworks are now over, and the carnage has been evaluated. Major players at this years games like Strombergs, Phillips, Rezende, and Daudet have all fallen on day one of competition. Certainly this is going to pan out to be a totally different ending than anyone would have imagined when these 32 men entered the stadium during yesterday’s time trial. Frenchmen fell, Latvians faltered, the boys of Great Britain came crashing down, and in the end we have 16 of the world’s elite BMX racers moving on to the semifinals.
While many are still processing the total carnage and the loss of Olympic Gold favorites, the games will move forward. Keep it here at Ridebmx.com/race for all of the latest updates as we keep you dialed during the 2016 Olympic Games. Remember, nbcolympics.com will have your live feed kicking off at 12:30 est./9:30 pst. as both the Elite Men and Women’s semifinals take place. After the three rounds of semis the final eight riders in both classes will be determined for the grand finale! Who will bring home gold to their country? We find out tomorrow!