Nineteen-year-old Riley Shea had his eye on Olympian Connor Fields during a special day at Yucaipa BMX Park last Sunday.
“I like his aggressive style,” said Shea, who is a four-time national qualifier on Cruiser (24-inch wheel) and once on his 20-inch. “I personally like to ride his style a lot.”
Shea then referred to Corben Sharrah, another USA Olympian, “who has a completely different style. He doesn’t look like he’s doing anything on his bike. But he’s just as effective.”
All styles were on display on Sunday’s 76-moto event that took five hours in 90-degree heat after two previous shutdowns - March 1 (weather) and an April 27 delay because of COVID-19 precautions.
Track announcer Mike Miller might have summarized on a full day of 436 BMX racers over 76 motos for a packed house that totaled hundreds of onlookers.
“Where else,” Miller asked, “can you find an event with local heroes in the same event as an Olympic gold medalist?”
It was a perfect setup for Fields, a 2016 Olympic BMX gold medalist, to claim victory in the Pump Lap Main (no bike chain) with $1,200 on the line.
There was no mistaking how the 2016 Olympic gold medalist at Rio de Janeiro claimed his spot on that squad: A combined points system, coach selection plus head-to-head outcomes.
“It’s really complicated,” said Fields.
Complicated, perhaps, even though Fields sped through 24 separate events to get his shot at the Rio Games.
“You have to be a complete rider,” said Fields, noting everything counts from starts to line placing to turning to decision-making. “There’s a lot going on out there.”
Shea said, “This is one sport where there’s no such thing as a perfect lap.”
Fields countered: “Oh, I’ve had perfect runs, but it’s not common to have a perfect run. It’s like golfing. You’re always looking for that perfect game.”
There was no money on the line for dozens of other racers, most of whom saw state berths as the result of top-flight efforts.
Crashes? Yes. There was a confirmed broken ankle and two broken wrists, at least, as a result of a few handfuls of crashes. Shea himself fell in a bid to claim a spot in the featured Pump Lap Main against Fields.
“Merry Christmas,” Shea kiddingly told Calimesa’s Christopher Grisham (21-25 Expert), who took advantage of Shea’s fall to claim a spot in the finals.
Call it a playful exchange in a sport that lined up dozens of racers - all ages, colorful uniforms, way-out helmets (some with cameras), expensive bikes - packed into a smallish stadium dwarfed with sponsorship banners.
“There isn’t another sport,” said Shea, “where amateurs get a chance to race against an Olympic champion.”
Fields, who started racing at age 7, took until age 15 to pursue BMX further.
“I’d sneak into the pro practices,” he said, “and get two or three laps in before they’d kick me out. Until they did, I’d be even with some of (the pros).”
It was Fields’ sponsor, Odigrips.com, that got him to Yucaipa for Sunday’s appearance. Journeying out from Henderson, Nev. for a corporate meeting in Riverside on Saturday, he said, “I just hung out for an extra day.”
It’s a “really complicated process,” he said, referring to USA Olympic team selection. “They hadn’t made the final choices yet for this year.”
Since there were no Olympics, it didn’t really matter. Fields, though, was ranked No. 1 in the U.S.
Capping a full day of racing from adult Cruisers to under-5 Novice racers, Fields put a dazzling Olympic-style move on the second turn — overtaking eventual 2-3 finishers Shane Harlow and Jason Morris for a $500 first prize.
Said Fields: “It was my first race without a chain.”
Call it a gathering of Southern California strong -- some cyclists carrying high-ranking status.
In the men’s age 56-60 Cruiser field, nationally-ranked Durrell Pina of Phelan and Moreno Valley’s Scott Angus pulled off a 1-2 finish.
A pair of state-ranked Girls Cruiser combatants -- Chino Hills’ Katlyn Cole won with Big Bear’s Kuylee Pettit, who took on National Age Group cyclist Danica Anderson of Lancaster in the 13-14 field.
State-ranked Tasha Garcia (Manteca) knocked off nationally-ranked Chrissy Piper (L.A.) in the Women’s 31-35 Cruiser.
Perris’ Tristan Janssens knocked off National Age Group (NAG) cyclist Lian Auyon (Heber, Calif.) with Gold Cup cyclist Nathan Walker (Victorville) in the field 9 Cruiser field.
State-ranked Cash Bretz (Los Banos) knocked off NAG’s Hayden Passanisi (Alpine, Calif.) and L.A.’s Arjuna Burgos in a Boys 10 Cruiser field.
Gold Cup participants Sean Jacob Delgado (San Diego) outlasted area cyclist Bryan Shatswell III in the Boys 14 Cruiser Main.
In Men’s 36-40 Cruiser, Gene Farris (Alpine) wound up beating a field that included fellow state-ranked John Ayles (Ramona).
It was a nice win for Hemet’s Dave Morris, who scored in the men’s 56-60 Cruiser field that included a pair of NAGs and a state-ranked cyclist.
Some local winners:
• State-ranked Isaac Morgan (7 Novice).
• Shae Taylor (15 Novice).
• Ezra Sersaw (5 and over Balance Bike).
Then there were Yucaipa locals who reached their Main event finals.
• Robert Taylor (51-55 Cruiser).
• Hayden Martin (15 Novice).
• Kaiden Morphew (Under-5 Novice).
• Braxton Oshaben (6 Novice).
• Douglas Morgan (36-40 Intermediate).
• Gavin Kearney (12 Expert).
• Ian Herman (11 Intermediate).
• Nico Sealy (14 Intermediate).
• Cole Herman (13 Intermediate).
• Ellie Sersaw (10 Girls Expert).
Averaging anywhere between 21 and 27 seconds per lap, there were no official times for the three-turn, mad scramble dashes that ranged anywhere from three to a full rack of eight riders.
Shea, whose home track is Whittier Narrows, said he’s shooting for a top-10 finish in points.
“I’m in college,” said Shea, a sophomore at Fort Collins (Colo.) College, “so I won’t be able to race in the state finals.”
Shea instead has his eye on the Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) Race of Champions in Tulsa, Okla., but only if he gets a top 10 finish in So Cal rankings.
“This is one of my favorite tracks,” said Shea, from La Habra. “I’ve done well here.”
An hour or so after the Pump Lap Main concluded the day’s schedule, Fields crashed the snack bar looking for water.
Sold out, he was told. It was close to 100 degrees. There was, however, soda and Gatorade. Fields hesitated on the offer.
“I’m supposed to be an athlete,” he said.
“You found my weakness,” he said. “I’ll take one.”