An example of this for me was Indianapolis in 2008. After the finish line jump, there was a right hand 180-degree turn leading into a long rhythm section. The absolute fastest line was to triple out of the turn over a tabletop and then triple-triple out of the section. Kevin Windham had this section dialed in all day and until Chad Reed took note, he was the only one doing it. Many other top guys were tripling onto the tabletop and then stepping over a single jump but this threw off the rest of the section’s efficiency. As the track worsened in the main event, even tripling onto the tabletop became hit and miss. Having to go outside to set up for the leap was a huge liability if you bobbled and didn’t triple. Taking this into account during the race, I decided to try out something different.
Upon landing on the finish line, I immediately braked and dove to the inside. I figured out if I rolled over the first jump on the inside and then stepped over the tabletop, I could then re-join the rhythm that Windham had been doing. Immediately I started making passes here and closing the gap on riders in front of me. The kicker of the deal was that by going to the inside, I avoided the ruts and mess that comprised the outside berm. I had a perfectly groomed surface and jump faces to work with all the way down the straightaway once I made that quick turn. Being able to relax on a smooth part of the track is a Godsend in a 20 lap main event. Of course I didn’t win the race and in fact, I probably got lapped, but without little moves like this my career would have been much worse than it actually was.
In my opinion, this ability to adapt and change lines mid-race is a dying art. With track maintenance and preparation at levels never before seen, the importance of this skill is waning. The tracks are near perfect for the main events most weekends and while this is much safer, it has dulled this skill level amongst the paddock. I do think that keeping the tracks in better condition is necessary as the bikes are so powerful now and the speeds are so great. If the elite riders are on the couch at home due to injury, the whole sport suffers. Having said that, however, it was interesting for me to watch Oakland, where this old school methodology came into play, and then see who was capitalizing and who wasn’t. Next time when the weather isn’t cooperating and the track looks treacherous, take a closer look at how the riders are individually affected. I know I will be!