Normally when we say a rider has come out of nowhere we don't mean it literally. But in Antoine Bizet's case it's the most accurate thing we can say. In the last couple of years he's started to build himself a reputation as one of Europe's top big mountain riders, grabbing second place at the biggest show in freeriding this year - Red Bull Rampage. Yet he comes from Versaille, a city in France that has more to do with European history than anything even close to a mountain. We caught up with him at the Roc D'Azur festival to find out how learnt to ride like that, what it was like showing up to Virgin for the first time and why he is one of the few riders on the circuit who always wears a neck brace.
You're from Versaille, that's quite flat...
Yeah. Even if though there isn't that much vertical, I have 15 jumps from 10-15 meters long. You pedal so much for the first one and then you let it run... You can fly off them. The last two are big, 15-meter stepdowns. I used to say that was the best place I ever rode. I went to Whistler and everywhere and that was the place I preferred. But coming back from Rampage, I went back to this place and didn't want to ride, I was bored. I just want to go back to the mountains in the desert. So what did you first start riding then?
I started riding when I was 13 years old and I bought a big freeride bike. I was such a little guy on such a big bike, trying to do the biggest jumps possible. So I built a kicker and was going ten metres out to flat, I didn't build a landing. And then I learnt how to build jumps and started riding dirt jumps. I was practicing gymnastics at a high level, so I learned flips so fast. I did my first flip at 13 years old, and at 14 years old my first double flip on a mountain bike, properly to dirt at 15, back in 2007. I broke my vertebrae two years ago, so I haven't done one since then.
When you say high-level gymnastics, what sort of level do you mean?
I wasn't international, but in school I had to do 25 hours of gymnastics a week. I didn't have the big results, but I went to the French championships for the fixed bar. And that gave you the strength and skills for mountain biking?
Yeah, in the air it was so easy to triple flip on a trampoline and a flip on a bike is less scary when you've done that.
You say you broke your vertebrae, how did that happen?
I broke my collar bone last year at White Style two years ago. Then two months later I was training to make it stronger and I used the pull-up bar in a friend's house and tried to do my exercises. I did a backflip over the bar, and the bar turned... It was the kind of bar you fix between two walls and it turned and I fell on my head from two meters up. I broke three of my vertebrae, two cervical and one dorsal. You must have been lucky to even survive that...
Yeah, it was bad luck, it was the worst injury I have had and it wasn't even on the bike. This season I had an infection where I had surgery for it, so I still have problems from this stupid crash. I got my revenge at White Style the next year and got a podium. How long after breaking your neck where you back on the bike?
I broke it in March and I was back on the bike in July for Chatel Mountain Style.
How did you get into the big mountain riding?
I don't know, in Versailles there is 50 meters of mountain and I don't know... I feel better in the mountains. I love to ride my big bike, I prefer it, even if I come from a flat place. I love backflips, I love rotation on my big bike because it crazier than on the dirt jump bike. You feel like you're on a motorbike. I love tricking the big bike. So, Rampage... what was it like turning up there for the first time?
When you're at Rampage, it's so steep everywhere. I was with Thomas Genon and we'd never ridden anything that steep and we said we'd never ride it. We said it's not possible and we'll take the easiest line for the qualification and go back home alive. Then we rode it and realized it was kind of possible, but the worst thing is where it's possible, on the left and right, there is a 20-meter cliff and the wind in the afternoon was so strong. Even if you can ride your line, you're scared because you can imagine crashing everywhere.
That was a sketchy-looking backflip at the top...
What's funny is that the jump is in a small place, and then there is a cliff, I had to be just perfect, if I was a bit long I would have the front wheel off the... It was the funniest place to do a flip. On my run I did four backflips, the last one was on such a little kicker, but I always used to ride stuff like that. When I went up to look for my line I thought I should do a little kicker like that somewhere. It went well. How much do you think having to qualify disadvantaged you for the final?
It was a good thing for me, because it was my first time at Rampage, so I could learn and understand what I had to do. I ended fourth in qualification, so I knew that without doing anything too big I was able to do something good. That was good for me, and I know what to expect for next time and I won't have to qualify then...
What did you think of the wooden features there this year?
Some freeriders said they weren't in the Rampage spirit, but I don't know as it was my first time there. I'm a freerider, but I'm a slopestyler and dirt jumper too and I love to do tricks and go big. I didn't have a big team to help me build a big line so it was a good thing for me to have these things to help me fly. I couldn't have done that if I had to build it myself.
You're one of the few riders out there who wears a neck brace, why is that?
Since I broke my vertebrae I always ride with my neckbrace, even if I'm dirt jumping. Just in skateparks I don't, as I can't ride skateparks in one, but I just do manuals, fakies and tyre taps, that's all. Some people think a neckbrace puts you at a disadvantage for the kind of riding you do, what do you think about that?
The only problem I have is when I do little flips and my helmet hits the brace. It does it just one time, so it doesn't matter. The problem with the neck brace is that maybe you can break your collar bone, but I prefer that to my vertebrae, like every normal person. It's the best solution. That seems to go against the current fashion in dirt jumping not to wear protection?
I have had too many injuries for that, I just want to be healthy. I'd prefer to wear something and ride, than be fashionable and be in hospital one week later.
What's the plan for next year?
I came here to Roc D'Azur to ride the dirt jump contest, but I didn't feel good on my dirt jump bike, I just wanted to going down a big mountain. I want to ride more freeride stuff, for sure, and this winter I am going on a few trips to good places, like Africa, Australia. I want to shoot some stuff and surf in sunny places. Is there anyone you need to thank?
Yeah, all my sponsors. Kona bikes, Kali protectives, Ion clothing, Leatt braces, Mountain Bike Versaille (the shop), GoPro helmetcams and Adidas Eyewear.
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