Almost four years ago, the fearless Frenchman went off the motocross grid, stopped flipping, and went on a soul-searching mission. His passion for riding had abandoned him: his brother had sustained a life-threatening accident, he’d lost faith in the direction of FMX, and he was critical of the way comps were being judged. In 2012 he returned to the sport with signature flair and determination. Time off well spent, if you ask us.
What did you learn in your time away from FMX?
I feel I learned a lot from the past year, as the last time I rode X-Fighters was in 2008-9, and back then I wasn’t riding freestyle the way I wanted to, so when I came back last year I felt really good in my head because I didn’t care what people would think about my riding style – like, I wasn’t flipping, and rode differently to everyone else. I just wanted to travel again and have fun with my friends because freestyle is like a big family to me – and it’s important to connect with them. Because I was riding how I wanted to, I felt it was easier to handle the pressure in competition and it was fun again. When you get good results from the hard work put in, in the direction you like, it really helps with motivation.
How hard is it to pull all of your best tricks in one run, which is the premise of X-Fighters?
Every time I go out there and do my run it seems harder and harder. In Mexico it was so hard. I wasn’t happy, and it’s hard to ride well and take risks when you’re not happy.
Why were you unhappy?
I was missing Eigo [Sato, Japanese FMX rider who died from injuries sustained during training in February]. It’s never going to be the same and I’m going to need a lot of time to get over the fact he is not here anymore. He left a big hole. I wore his jersey in Mexico – I believe he helped me to ride. And to answer the previous question, yeah, it’s really hard to pull all those big tricks in one run because I don’t practice them too much on dirt before events. I don’t know how I do it – I guess it’s because I want to be different.
The way you’re riding now is influencing the direction of the sport. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t know. Like, I didn’t invent the Body Varials – Chuck Carothers and Kyle Loza had done them before – but only ever in Best Trick at X Games. I also did them at shows, but my goal has always been to bring all those types of tricks into a special run. I like this direction, and I am motivated to keep bringing new tricks to my runs. I want to keep pushing myself, and if that means I’m pushing the sport at the same time, OK, but I don’t really want to say that because I don’t want to come across as too proud. Right now I’m happy with my tricks – Volt, Special Flip, Flair, 360 – all of which are really hard to land, but my goal is to bring seven really hard tricks. I need three more!
How have the courses changed since you had your time off?
Course innovation and design are good right now. I think we’re lucky to have a guy like Dane Herron building the courses, as he has a lot of experience, and over the last few years the riders have been able to talk to him and the X-Fighters crew about the changes we need made to make the jumps safer – and they have listened. When the courses are too technical it’s hard for us riders to focus on the big tricks, especially with tight double-double lines. I remember how big some of the courses were at X Games back between 2003 – 2008. They were just too hard to ride and do massive tricks on. With X-Fighters courses now, they are designed so we have time to think about our tricks and riders are comfortable doing big Flip combos, for example.
How about the judging? Has that improved?
I think the judging of X-Fighters is better than before because years ago you had to be on tour for a long time before being rewarded for what you did. I remember coming up against Robbie Maddison in Madrid, 2008, and I had all the big Flip combos back then and I didn’t win one helmet. I didn’t understand why, but maybe it was because I was the only guy doing some of those tricks, so the judges didn’t get what I was doing. Now the Cliffhanger Flip is rewarded really well because it’s seen as a really hard trick and everyone knows it. The way I’ve been riding since returning to X-Fighters is being rewarded, as I’ve won two rounds in the last 12 months, and I came so close to winning the  series overall. Coming back, I never thought I’d win without a Backflip, which shows there’s more room for innovation and less racing around a course.
What else would you like to see change?
I think there needs to be more reward for riders putting everything on the line and not playing it safe. Like, Josh Sheehan dropped his bike twice in Dubai riding out of a Double Flip and he got straight back on, but he didn’t even qualify. If he rode safe he would have made it, for sure. I just don’t want to see riders like Josh stop trying these big tricks in a run in case he doesn’t quite ride away from it. The sport would become too boring for fans and the riders wanting to push the sport forward.
If the reward isn’t there, why push so hard? Right now there’s no room for mistakes in a freestyle run, which limits progression, I feel. Maybe it’s a good thing but it doesn’t encourage you to go big!
What are your thoughts on the bikes being used for FMX?
At the moment, the bikes we use are too heavy compared to our body weight, so if you compare the sport to BMX, we have to go higher and higher on bigger jumps to do more spinning rotations – and that becomes more dangerous. If we had a lighter bike that enabled us to try bigger tricks on standard size jumps, it would make the sport safer.
For the full feature and images grab the September 2013 issue of MAXIM.
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