Beating out riders half his age, BMX legend Mirra dominates in Chicago

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CHICAGO -- This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in BMX. With the opening of this season's Dew Tour, the Nike 6.0 BMX Open was slated to be an opportunity to watch teenage riders such as Dennis Enarson and Garrett Reynolds, fresh off their high school graduations, take over as the new faces of the sport.

Dave Mirra must have missed that memo.

The 35-year-old BMX legend, who had to pre-qualify for the competition with riders half his age, not only won the BMX park finals Saturday but got his first Dew Tour win since 2005 with the highest score (93.38) of anyone competing in any discipline during the two-day competition held in Chicago's Grant Park.

While he looked different, riding without brakes on his bike for the first time in a competition, Mirra won in familiar fashion, taking home the top prize with his signature move, an air-traffic controller, which is a flair whip combined with a no-handed 720 over the box.

"I love that trick," Mirra said. "That trick is one of the coolest tricks to do and to watch. It's like nothing else. You see a lot of variations but when it's done right it's the best. It doesn't work every contest but it worked today."

The fact that Mirra was even able to compete in the finals was a minor miracle. A couple hours before the competition began Mirra was practicing on the course when he went to attempt a back flip tail whip and washed out when he came down, landing face first on the floor. If Mirra wasn't wearing a full face helmet, as some riders don't, he would have been in the hospital. As it was, he was treated for a broken nose and bruises and told organizers, who had planned for the possibility of proceeding with the finals without him, that he would be in it.

"I got knocked pretty silly and at first I wasn't going to ride but this is the first show of the year and I had to give it a shot," said Mirra, his nose still cut and bloodied as he left the course with his trophy. "To come out on top was the last thing I was thinking. I told my daughters, Madison and MacKenzie, that I was coming here with a good attitude and I wasn't going to sit this one out if I could ride. So I got something to tell them when I get home."

Just as surprising as Mira's comeback and ability to complete a flawless air traffic controller was seeing Mirra ride without brakes on his bike. The breakless trend has been becoming more prominent in BMX over the last 3-4 years as it is easier to do some tricks, such as a bar spin, without breaks because riders can stub or break fingers on the brake lever while trying to grab the handle bars. Most of the riders, judges and announcers said they never thought they'd see Mirra ride without brakes but after seeing his friend Allan Cooke make the switch and ride better without brakes in their hometown of Greenville, N.C., Mirra decided to give it a shot.

"I've been watching Mirra since I was little but he surprised me today," said Garrett Reynolds, who finished second in the finals with a 92.63. "He's breakless now and nothing is holding him back. He's going full speed. I've always liked Mirra's riding but Mirra breakless is a completely different level."

Jamie Bestwick is the only BMX vert Dew Cup champion in the tour's five-year history, but the 37-year-old Englishman had a different feeling as he stood atop the podium Saturday night. Moments before Bestwick's last run he watched as his friend and fellow rider, Chad Kagy, took a terrible fall after losing control of his bike on a double flair attempt.

Kagy, who is known as the "Comeback Kid" after returning from a broken neck in 2004, was unconscious and carted off on a stretcher after his fall. But before it was Bestwick's turn resume the competition, Kagy wobbled back towards the ramp to watch Bestwick ride. Leaning against the railing while breathing from an oxygen mask and getting ice taped around his back, Kagy gave a thumbs up to the riders and the crowd. The sight inspired Bestwick, who slipped out on his first run. He pulled off a winning score of 92.88 in his second and final run with his patented high-amplitude straight airs highlighted with an alley-oop downside tail whip and an opposite no hander. Afterwards, Bestwick went over and hugged Kagy and told him that he couldn't get hurt again because they had plans to race motor bikes after the competition.

"Chad and I, we feed off each other," said Bestwick, who said the vert ramps at Grant Park were the scariest he'd ever ridden because the slopes were slippery and the tops were dirty, making it hard to control the bike. "When you ride at this level you need to be chasing somebody all the time and Chad is that guy. After falling on the first run and seeing what happened to Chad I just resorted back to my old style of riding: full speed, hard as you can, let it go. I'm glad it worked but I'm even happier to see Chad. He inspired me today."

You won't find Josh Hult's name in the Dew Tour program or on the event's Web site, but he wasn't hard to spot at the end of the BMX dirt final as he stood atop the podium after surprising a field that included BMX legend Ryan Nyquist and last year's Dew Cup champion, Cameron White.

Hult, who was last place after his first run and in eighth place after his second, was simply hoping to be in the top five after his third and final run but when he completed a "truck driver" -- a 360 bar spin to downside tail whip -- he knew he could possibly place but never expected his name to flash atop the leader board.

"I've never landed that move before in my life," said Hult, who had to compete in open qualifiers just to be in the event. "I've been working on it lately and I knew I had to gamble on my last run. I was going to hate myself if I didn't go for it."

It was a Cinderella story for Hult, a 26-year-old safety inspector on construction jobs in Idaho Falls, who looks more like some of the spectators in the crowd with his tattered jeans and worn-out shoes as opposed to many of the other well-known riders who are adorned with more sponsor logos than a NASCAR driver.

"It still feels like a dream," said Hult, who didn't have enough money to fly his wife out to watch the contest. "I'm not used to being in this position. I'm not one of those riders that everyone knows. I still get star-struck sitting on the deck with some of these guys. I look at them and they were my idols when I was a kid, and now I just beat them in a legitimate contest. I still feel like I'm borrowing this trophy from somebody else and I have to return it later."