Roadtripping the Qashqai Urban Challenge Tour for the last four weeks has been an unreal experience. I've seen amazing competition, been faced with some of the most difficult situations of my life and found a deeper understanding and respect for the top riders of our sport. Here's my attempt to sum up each rider into a single word.
Ben Boyko- “Independent”
Ben left home at an early age because he wanted to live life on his own terms. This independent spirit shows through in the way he carries himself, his line building and especially his riding. Some riders on the tour call him the, “Phantom,” because he sometimes goes off and does his own thing. It’s just this self reliance that led Ben to push the limits of freeride mountain biking, combining tech tricks with huge natural lines. If Ben were a less independent individual he may not have left a well paying carpentry job to go into the woods to build things he truly loves- beautiful freeride lines.
Three Drop Newcastle
Phil Sundbaum- “Hungry”
Phil is one of the top technical riders in our sport right now, but despite slaying every major comp he’s shown up to for the past 3 years he still does not have a major contract. Phil quit his job in Seattle to do the Qashqai Tour, and because he wasn’t invited to 1 of the 5 events he wasn’t given a travel allowance. Financially, Newcastle was a do or die event for Phil. He needed to make cash or else his European trip would be much shorter than he wanted it to be. When given the opportunity to ride the best trick competition for 1200 Euros, Phil was hungrier than any of the other 4 riders and stomped trick after sick trick. It was the perfect 720 to pedals that put the money in Phil’s pocket, but he still wasn’t satiated. Phil rode the next 3 weeks through twisted ankles, dislocated ribs and more pain than most could handle for one simple reason- he’s hungry.
Three Whip Newcastle
Darren Berrecloth- “Leader”
Darren spearheaded the new school freeride movement, bringing tech tricks to the woods on big wheels. Last year with his Bearclaw Invitational slopestyle event, he again led mountain biking in a new direction. He had the vision of a comp where riders were paid fairly, the course was safe and fun to ride. After seeing that many riders were unhappy with the construction and design of some of the courses at the Qashqai events, Darren took the reigns and organized a coalition among riders. With one voice, riders can tell event organizers what they want and the sport can move ahead. Without a leader like Darren, none of this would have been possible.
360 Table Cologne,DE
Cam McCaul- “Spirit”
Cam McCaul rides his bike because he loves it. He’s always the first one riding and the last one to leave at every comp I've seen him at. When he’s riding contests it seems like he doesn’t even care about the outcome, he’s just there to ride. He usually rides so much that by the time the finals come around, he’s too tired to put his best run together and his standings slide down the chart. But that’s the beauty of Cam, he rides because he loves to ride, not because of the fame, money or all the other stuff that comes with big competitions. He embodies the spirit of our sport and I feel lucky to know someone who is that pure of heart.
360 X-up Milano Qashqai
Brandon Semenuk- “Focused”
16 year olds, in general, are not known for their focus on career goals, especially ones living in party towns like Whistler, BC. There is every distraction for Brandon, but somehow his focus on becoming one of the top freeriders in the game has kept him on a narrow path. The Qashqai events also hold a gauntlet of distractions for a youngster like Brendon. Girls, parties or just hanging out late with other riders can make the difference between a great run or a bad crash. Brandon realizes this and has put everything he has into making mountain biking his life. Through his focus and determination, Brandon has earned his right to be at comps like this at the age of 16. If he stays disciplined he’ll be a force here for the foreseeable future.
Clicked in Newcastle
Darren Pokoj- “Style”
Darren’s style sticks out at a mountain bike comp like the red or green bandannas that always hang out of his back right pocket. Pokoj’s style both on and off the bike are remarkable, so much so that this was the obvious word for him. His dumped 360’s are so big that they seemed photoshopped in photos. When he tables, his ear gets a tire buzz. The judges at Qashqai didn’t know what to make of DP during the first couple of rounds because his tricks are so tech. It wasn’t until the 3 round in Madrid that his style was finally recognized and he reached the podium. Call him a punk, a So-Cal thug or an Aussie Misfit, but either way he’s got style for miles.
Table Milano Qashqai
Grant Fielder- “Guts”
Grant is one of my closest friends on the tour and the thing I admire about him the most is his fearlessness. He looks at the big lines, sizes them up and goes for it. Chopper doesn’t waver , he either has it or he doesn’t. Once he is resolved to do something it’s one, two, three, go. I saw him with a group of riders in Newcastle looking at the big drop at the beginning of the course. No one had tricked off of it yet and Grant walked the line to the end, looked at the drop and got his bike. With no hesitation, he rode off the end of the 1 foot wide log and tail-whipped the 20 foot drop. He knew that he had it, and went for it. At the end of the day it’s his guts that allow him to stick to his guns and be the best rider he can be.
Tail-whip Drop Newcastle
Paul Basagoitia- “Competitive”
There are heaps of good riders out there, but those with skills don't always come through at big competitions. It's one thing to be a great rider, but it's a special individual who can win when the pressure is on. PB simply has a dominant competitive gene. He finds a way to win or dies trying. At the Madrid comp he had a great first run in the finals, but he knew that Berrecloth could take the win with a better one. With this i mind, PB set on the course determined to do something that would put the 8,000 Euros in the bag. He decided to tailwhip a massive gap into stairs and crashed hard. His run ended with this slide down the entire 14-step staircase, but fortunately for him he was okay and his first run was enough to edge the Claw out for 1st. It’s this do or die mentality that has allowed Paul to reach the top of our sport so fast and will keep him there for quite some time.
Flip Milano Qashqai
Andreu and Lluis Lacondeguy- “Rock and Roll”
Andreu and Lluis, or Lako and Lacon as they're called at home, are the best thing that happened to freeride mountain biking this past year. These kids are pure heart and soul, total rock and roll. Bored with the constraints of DH racing, they longed to put their energies into freestyle and after getting noticed at 26 Trix last year, they have the opportunity to. I hung out with them for a month in California before heading to Qashqai and if I had to sum up the experience in a Kiss line it would be, “I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day.” All day they wanted to ride dirt jumps and every night they partied hard. Gone are the days of freestyle events that seemed like races- now that the Lacondeguy’s are here it’s all rock and roll.
LluisBig Flip in Milano, IT
Andreu 360 Table, Madrid, ESP
This tour has been full of joy and hardships for sure, but if you haven't run into problems when travelling, then you haven't left yet. I feel like this has been the ultimate European experience and I'm excited to be here for another two months. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the experience.