The Washington Post
At Open Qualifying, Riders Branch Out on Wide-Open Space
BALTIMORE, June 20 — Before the invited riders take to their bikes and boards in competition, before crowds swarm the parking lots around Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, the AST Dew Tour held its open qualifying rounds for this weekend’s Panasonic Open.
From veterans who invented tricks now known as staples, to teenagers a few weeks removed from their high school graduations, to athletes already competing but looking to branch out to other disciplines, each had something in common. They came looking for a chance to make a name for themselves as part of the biggest tour in action sports.
There weren’t many fans to muffle the whirring of electric drills that vibrated through uncompleted bleachers, as 17 BMX riders took to the vert ramp Wednesday afternoon. But it didn’t make them any less hungry.
“The only difference is it’s a different day of the week,” said open round winner Steve McCann, who was one of seven riders to advance to Thursday’s preliminary round.
McCann is no stranger to the Dew Tour, having competed in both 2005 and 2006, but the 24-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, who pre-qualified in both BMX dirt and park wanted a shot at the finals in his new focus of vert.
Regardless of experience, all BMX riders and skateboarders competing in vert have a new, longer ramp to contend with in 2007.
The vert ramp, which will be different at each of the Dew Tour’s five stops this summer, has been extended to create a 112-foot-long sea in Baltimore that’s a hit with riders.
“You can get lost. I need Mapquest for that thing,” celebrated vert skateboarder Bucky Lasek said, adding that the extra room he and other athletes have to work with likely will make for a better show.
McCann said the longer ramp was a progressive move for the sport that enables riders to gain and maintain more speed, making for a different type of run. Jamie Bestwick, a two-time BMX vert Dew Cup winner, agreed.
“You can definitely pedal a lot faster on the decks of the ramp, so it’s going to be incredible,” the native of Nottingham, England, said. “I’ve always wanted to ride ridiculously long vert ramps with bigger transitions.”
Not only does the longer vert ramp in Baltimore push for innova- tion, but its outdoor location poses yet another challenge.
For the first time at a Dew Tour stop, every event will be held outside, and for BMX riders and skateboarders who regularly float six to seven feet from vert ramp walls, wind is a factor they must consider.
“The wind definitely affected everybody’s performance,” McCann said after the BMX vert open qualifying round. “I would have hoped to do a lot more out there but the wind is limiting on the vert, the higher you get on the ramp the more you get blown around.”
Local Boy Might Sit Out
Lasek, a Baltimore native who helped put the bug in the ear of Dew Tour promoters to bring the event to Maryland, said his injured right knee may keep him in the stands this weekend.
“I’m kind of bummed that my knee’s acting up,” Lasek said. “Last night I skated fine. Now this morning I have something going on the top of my knee that stops me from bending my knee all the way. If it swells up, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
This year the Dew Tour will feature new final-round formats in the skateboard vert, BMX dirt and BMX park competitions.
Skateboard vert finals return to a best-of-three format after using only two runs in 2006. Several athletes, including Lasek, helped bring the event back to a three-run system that allows for more creativity on the ramp.
“With only two runs you make yourself hold back a little bit more than you normally would, you don’t take as many chances,” Lasek said. A three-run format “gives us more room to play with and it makes for a more exciting contest because we’re not trying to hold back, strategize and play our cards right.”
Riders in BMX dirt will now drop the lowest score of three runs. BMX park’s format in Baltimore is experimental and may change for other stops this summer as 12 final riders, in four heats of three, participate in a six-minute jam session and will be given individual scores.