If it feels like the 2022 season just ended, that is because it did. A mere 75 days after Joris Daudet and Alise Willoughby captured their record setting cups, they will have to begin their title defense in Houston, Texas. For those who ended 2022 on a high note, they are ready to get going. For those who may not have ended well, were injured, or felt like they needed a longer period for offseason training, it has come up way too fast. Let's dive into the 2 premier classes in USABMX (Men pro and Women pro) and break down who the contenders will be and what they will need to do to get the job done. Who will hoist the cup over their head in Tulsa as champion 290 days after the season opener in Houston?
THE SERIES BY THE NUMBERS
EIGHT – The number of scores a rider needs going into the Grands
NINE – The number of national events that are a part of the pro series
NINETEEN – The number of individual race days. 18 nationals, plus the ROC to get their scores
SIX – The number of Nationals taking place on SX style tracks
THREE – The number of nationals taking place on Traditional Tracks
TWO – The number of nationals taking place in Rock Hill
FOUR – Number of scores available in Rock Hill. A pro can get HALF their keeper scores in Rock Hill. This is the most important track of the year.
FIVE – The number of cups the reigning men’s champion Joris Daudet has. Since winning his first cup in 2015, only one person has been able to beat him for a USABMX title. In 2 of those 3 years Joris lost, he still finished 2nd overall.
ZERO – The number of cups every other man racing the series has, combined. No currently active male racer other than Joris has a USABMX #1 pro cup.
TEN – The number of cups Alise Willoughby has.
ONE – The number of cups the rest of the Women’s pro class has combined. Felicia Stancil in 2021.
*unless Mariana Pajon attends an event. She won a cup way back in 2013.
HOW TO WIN THE TITLE
Obviously, you need eight solid scores. Then you need to perform at the Grands. The way that I approached the series was that I needed to average one keeper score per weekend. With eight races, if you have 1 podium finish per weekend, you will be in a good position going into the Grands. If you have an off weekend and get no scores, you will have to double up at another weekend to make up for it.
Points are the same at the first race of the year in Houston in February as they are at the final national event of the year in October. Doesn’t matter where you get your scores, just matters that you get them. At the end of the day, you need to go into the Grands with a shot, then make it happen in Tulsa.
THE OLYMPIC DILEMMA
2023 marks the start of the Olympic qualification period. There are 2 different layers to this. First layer, is that each country has to score points in the ranking in order to qualify quota spots to the games. This is how the Olympics will figure out which countries get to send 1, 2, or 3 athletes to the games. Then, each individual country has a system set up to figure out who gets those spots. Why does this matter for the USABMX pro series?
Last year was a foreign invasion. Laura Smulders, Niek Kimmann, Sylvain Andre, and more all contended for the pro title because they did not have to prioritize World Cups and Olympic qualification. This year, athletes from around the world will have no choice but to prioritize the World Cups if they want to contend for one of the 24 Olympic spots. Will we see as many foreigners contend for the USABMX title this year? Will certain athletes prioritize Olympic glory over USABMX contention? Time will tell.
Before you yell at me that I forgot your favorite rider, I am fully aware that there will be more contenders than the ones I will go over here. I am only going to break down the top 5 finishers in the series for the Men Pro and Women’s pro class from last year.
5th place – 2022 – Lauren Reynolds
Lauren had a busy offseason where she got married in what looked like a great ceremony in San Diego. Congrats Lauren! In regards to the Pro series, Lauren has been contending in the series for over a decade and has been the full time training partner of Alise Willoughby the entire time. She has plenty of experience, and has watched people close to her win the title plenty of times, so she will know exactly what she needs to do. Lauren has been extremely consistent over the past decade and has been in the 3-5 range for the pro series nearly every year. She will need to add more wins if she wants to truly contend for the cup.
4th place – 2022 – Felicia Stancil
Felicia is only 2 years removed from winning this title, so she knows how to do it. She will need to stay healthy this year, but the Vegas sportsbooks would have the current UCI World Champion as one of the favorites to dethrone the current champion.
3rd place – 2022 – Molly Simpson
OH CANADA! Molly is powerful, a great bike rider, young, and only getting better. Another year of experience racing against the best of the best is going to help her feel more confident and that she truly belongs. I look for Molly to grab a few wins this year, and if she can string together 8 solid scores to be a true title contender.
2nd place – 2022 – Laura Smulders
Laura is one who comes to mind when talking about the Olympic Dilemma. Will she contend for the USABMX title again? Or will she remain in Europe and focus on the World Cups? Time will tell. Laura had an amazing regular season last year, with a 100% win rate. In my opinion, she made some tactical errors (gate selection, race strategy etc.) at the Grands that may have cost her a better chance at winning. That was her first time doing the 3 main event format, and this year she will have more experience, which is so important in this situation. If she is racing the series in 2023, Laura would have to be the co-favorite.
1st place – 2022 – Alise Willoughby
10 pro cups. What more can I say? Alise has won more cups than the most of these other girls have won individual races. Alise will not make it easy for someone to dethrone her.
I look for the Women’s class to be exciting this year. Alise, Molly, Felicia, Lauren, and more will battle week in and week out. If Laura or any other foreigners come over and add to that mix, the racing will get even better. Alise is 32 this year, and will possibly be dethroned at some point, but will it be in 2023? Time will tell.
5th place – 2022 – Niek Kimmann
Niek now has a full season of racing the USABMX pro series under his belt. This will help him IF he decides to contend for it again. Niek is the defending Olympic Gold Medalist and may shift his priorities to start working toward a title defense of that this year. The fact that the series has even more SX style rounds this year definitely helps Niek, as he prefers those bigger tracks. Ultimately, he will have to execute on a small hill in Tulsa at the Grands, but he could potentially give himself a “buffer” if he has enough points going into the Grands. If I was coaching Niek, that would be my suggestion to him. I would say go out with the goal of getting 8 wins on the SX style tracks that you prefer. Niek has more World Cup wins than anyone else in the history of World Cups, so he is definitely capable of doing that. Winning that many would do 2 things. First, it would block anyone else from winning, and second he could build himself a multiple position buffer going into the grands. He could theoretically put himself in a position where he only needs a 5th (his Grands 2022 result) to clinch, taking the pressure off. Niek and Joris (along with a few other riders in history, clears throat) have something in common. They are 1 title away from completing the set and winning every major title possible in the sport. Olympic Gold, World Champion, World Cup Series Champion, and USABMX. In the Olympic era, only Maris Strombergs and Mariana Pajon have been able to do this. For Niek, it’s the USABMX title he is missing. For Joris, it is the Olympic Gold Medal. Which one will each prioritize in 2023?
4th place – 2022 – Josh McClean
Josh has put himself into contention the last 2 seasons going into the Grands, so I think it is safe to predict that he will be a force throughout the season in 2023 and go into Tulsa with a shot. If he wants to get this across the finish line and hoist the cup, he will have to execute better in Tulsa. Josh failed to make the final at the Grands in the last 2 seasons, ultimately dooming his title hopes. With each experience, you learn more, and when they go bad, you learn specifically what NOT to do. The only risk, is that it can be hard to break that pattern. If I was coaching Josh, I would make sure we identify where we went wrong in 2021 and 2022 and how to address those weaknesses as we head into 2023.
3rd place -2022 – Cameron Wood
1 point. After an entire year of racing, that is all that separated 2nd (Izaac Kennedy) and 3rd place Cameron. Cameron was in his 3rd elite season in 2022, and ended the year hotter than anyone. In the final few months of 2022, he won a World Cup and 3 of the final 4 USABMX races, including the Grands. The one he didn’t win, (R.O.C.) he was in lane 1 and in position to win, when Joris pulled out an INCREDIBLE first straight to get around him. Coming into year 4, Cameron has plenty of experience and is starting to find his stride. The Las Vegas sportsbooks have him as the biggest threat to knock off the champ, Joris. He will also be contending to make his first U.S. Olympic team, and looking to become only the 8th American male BMX racer to become an Olympian, so he will have to navigate racing both the USABMX series and World Cup series, and looking to “peak” at the right times for the first time.
2nd place – 2022 – Izaac Kennedy
Izaac was by far the most consistent rider last year. In 14 races, he missed just 1 main event, and landed on the podium 9 times, finishing up 4th at the Grands in Tulsa to get 2nd overall in his FIRST full season racing the series. Impressive numbers. Consistency is great, and if you ride like that every year you will always be in contention, but if you want to win the cup, you have to win races. Izaac only won 2 races last year, and will need to increase that number this year if he wants to give himself a better chance. He will be making his debut for the legendary Chase BMX team and speaking from experience, there is an expectation of winning over there. 8 straight cups have been won by the Chase team, and Izaac was not hired to finish 4th. That level of pressure helps some riders and hurts others, but knowing Izaac, he will thrive with that pressure.
1st place – 2022 – Joris Daudet
What more is there to say? Joris is putting himself firmly in the G.O.A.T conversation. Racing him my whole career, I had to try to figure out his weaknesses and how to beat him, and let me tell you, that is not an easy task. I had to battle with him week in & week out so I couldn’t allow myself to appreciate just how talented he is, but now that I can allow myself to, he is truly incredible. In boxing they have a saying, if you want to beat the champ, you have to knock him out. That is the case here too. Joris is the champ and until someone can (metaphorically of course) knock him out, he will remain as such. He will hit his lines, race by race, lap by lap, and before we know it, it’ll be Grands time with Joris getting ready to defend.
Who will step up? Will the foreigners come back to contend? Will an unexpected contender step up? Will Izaac be the one to dethrone Joris? Taking the cup from right under his teammate's nose….The Chase pit will be fun this year. Will Cameron become only the 2nd American since 2009 (14 years ago!) to win the Cup back for the home team? Or will Joris keep doing what he is doing, hitting his marks week in and week out en route to yet another cup? Get your popcorn ready, the gate is about to drop on the 2023 pro series!