Calculated risk: Big tricks, big rewards
VAIL — It’s easy to see that the guys who compete in the mountain bike slopestyle have a few screws loose to do this sport — just look around at the start gate and you can see casts, slings, cuts and scrapes on just about everyone.
The guys with enough working body parts are still going for it, though, leaving plenty of big tricks to see for the hundreds of spectators gathered at Friday night’s GoPro Mountain Games finals in Golden Peak.
The top 16 guys from the afternoon qualifier competed, with the lowest qualifiers going first. The guys were judged on their best of two runs, and because of the format, it was a surprise that the fourth guy in Round 1 threw such an impressive run.
That guy was Brayden Barrett-Hay, a 21-year-old rider from Ontario, Canada, who was competing in his first Mountain Games.
If you speak bike trick, here’s how it went down: a 360 no-hander on the first feature, a tuck no-hander on the second, followed by a tail whip, then a back flip onto a steep landing, a straight air, a double whip and finally a flip whip. The run got him the win, and a $4,000 prize.
Barrett-Hay had a hard day both in practice and in the qualifier. He felt frustrated, but decided he would go for it in the finals.
“I’m just going to crash or I’m going to land it, so the whole way down I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to crash here so I won’t have to worry about it,’ and then I just didn’t end up crashing,” he said. “I was shocked. It was like the best feeling.”
The shock continued throughout the evening for Barrett-Hay at Golden Peak. After the first run, the judges announced he was on top. He couldn’t believe it.
He wanted to throw in one more no-hander for his second run, but otherwise keep it the same. On the second-to-last jump, though, he crashed. He came back up toward the start with a 3-inch gash in his right elbow. It was bleeding, but he didn’t seem to notice.
A few feet away sat Eric Johnson on his bike. He had his head down and was visibly in pain, although he hid it well. Johnson had gone off course during his first run while doing a trick called a loop — a trick many of these guys aren’t yet doing.
Johnson landed sideways and ended up on the left side of the course, on a line he had only practiced once. He ended up landing wrong on a lip that he thought was steeper than it actually was, landing flat with his leg straight out.
“It went backwards and my knee went back. I thought, at first, that I broke my fibia,” Johnson, 23, said. “But I think I might have torn my MCL.”
The way Johnson uttered those words was so casual — just like it’s no big deal to tear an MCL.
“Everybody knows you’re going to crash at some point. You try not to think about it,” Johnson said. “You try to build your confidence up, like, ‘I know I can do this.’ You don’t just huck it — it’s like calculated risks.”
Johnson said sometimes you just go down, though. He said with a laugh that the guys who get back up have to be pretty dumb, but they all do it.
Still, he decided not to take his second run after the injury that he hadn’t yet identified. This risk-taker doesn’t even have health insurance.
“I’m just trying to be a smart grown-up by not taking another run,” he said.
One of the more so-called grown-ups in Friday’s finals was Mike Montgomery, a 26-year-old who still feels on top of his game. His second run of the evening put him in second place behind Barrett-Hay.
Montgomery commended the GoPro Mountain Games course this year. He said the features were amazing and it was a true slopestyle course because it offered riders multiple lines.
“You can be creative and let your personality show through your riding,” Montgomery said.
As for his age, he knows the ground isn’t getting any softer as he gets older, but he’s staying fit and hoping it won’t matter.
Older guys have more muscle, finesse and experience, he said, adding that he thinks the peak riding age is probably between 22 to 28.
Barrett-Hay is perhaps a little ahead of his game, picking up his first major win and first podium spot ever in a major competition Friday.
“I love the dude — he kills it, for sure,” Montgomery said. “I was so pumped for him when he put down that run.”
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2983.
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