IN A SPORT whose women's racing division was once called Powder Puff, the new generation of motocross's dirty girls proves there is nothing soft about them—at least not on the track.
This summer, the X Games gets a boost of estrogen and speed. The inaugural Women's Moto X Racing contest is any lady's race, and a 10-woman field will be pitted against one another on a not-so-familiar Supercross-style track. On course, they'll be set to unleash new levels of moto madness when they tackle bigger jumps and tighter corners than they're used to, but speed alone won't guarantee X Games gold. The winner will need technical prowess, flawless execution and steadfast focus to power past the checkered flag at X.
Tune in on August 2 for a 6-lap showdown that will determine the next chapter in X Games her-story. To tide you over, here's a peek at our five favorite contenders.
Name: Ashley Fiolek
Hometown: St. Augustine, Fla.
D.O.B.: October 22, 1990
Years Riding: 14
Say What? "I'm deaf and I love it," says Fiolek, but if she could change one thing about herself, she says, "I'd be taller."
For a 5'2", 107-pound racer who can't hear the sound of her own bike's engine, Ashley Fiolek is making a lot of noise. The 17-year-old rookie, who was born deaf, is quickly earning the reputation as the one to beat. Undefeated in all three Women's Motocross Association National Championship races in 2008, this sprightly sparkplug is the hands-down favorite to win X Games gold. Despite having all eyes on her, Fiolek remains unaffected, "There's always pressure in racing," she explains, "but I try my best and have fun with it."
Known for getting out of the gate fast, Fiolek feels her bike's vibrations to tell her when to shift. She always knows where other racers are before changing her line, and if she gets the holeshot and maintains her lead, she'll ride scot-free through the checkered flag. If she's caught in the pack, Fiolek will need to be smart about line choices, as the single race format won't allow her to compensate a second time around. That said, Fiolek has yet to lose this season and will be tough to beat.
BAD BOY'S BAD GIRL
Name: Jessica Patterson
Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.
D.O.B.: September 14, 1983
Years Riding: 17
Say What? What does Patterson have in common with Gretchen Bleiler, Stephanie Gilmore and Lindsey Jacobellis? They're all contenders for a 2008 ESPY award. "I think I'm still shocked," JP says about her nomination.
At a crusty 24 years old, Jessica Patterson is the oldest rider in the XG14 field. She is also the most experienced, arguably the most competitive and the one least likely to toy around. "I don't really hang out with other racers. I am there to do my job and that's it." Having grown up riding alongside Ricky Carmichael, Patterson's job, she contends, is to win. With the WMA's Pro National Champion #1 plate on her bike for the fourth consecutive year, she's not the type to be intimidated by the X Games hype.
One of the most well rounded riders overall, Patterson has the ability to tailor her riding style to any track. But before she can fight off other riders at X, Patterson will need to power through a grueling schedule leading up to the Games. In the span of one week, she'll race at a WMA event in Washington, train in North Carolina and make an appearance at Loretta Lynn's in Tennessee. X Games is the one win she doesn't have, so jet lag will be hard pressed to get in the way of such an important victory.
Name: Sarah Whitmore
Hometown: Cheboygan, MI
D.O.B.: July 26, 1984
Years Riding: 16
Say What? On being featured on MTV's True Life: "I'm just bummed they showed me crying like a baby on national TV."
Sarah Whitmore is blonde, beautiful and fast. Still, she was given the brush off by her hometown newspaper after winning a National Championship because "it was football season." She's also being asked more and more often if she will retire soon because she is, ahem, "getting old." That's the one that really gets her going.
The slender Whitmore, who looks more like a ballerina than a professional motocross racer, is determined to prove that she's nowhere close to done racing. In fact, the 23-year-old feels like she's just starting to peak. "I'm nowhere near as strong as I will be in five years," Whitmore says. Like male motocross racers, who peak in their mid-20s and race well into their 30s, Whitmore is determined to have a long and successful career.
The smooth and consistent Whitmore is on the right track, and currently sits in second place in WMA point standings. Heading into X, the super-fast Whitmore will focus on building her Supercross abilities—specifically jumping. Though her experience lies mostly in outdoor motocross racing, Whitmore will maintain her confidence in her abilities as a racer to keep from being intimidated by the high jumps or tight corners at X.
LA MERA MERA
Name: Tarah Geiger
Hometown: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
D.O.B.: September 18, 1985
Years Riding: 12
Say What? Her folks own a surf shop in PR, and Tarah claims that if she wasn't riding bikes, she'd be a pro surfer.
In its 60-year history, only one woman has raced in the prestigious Motocross des Nations, and that's Tarah Geiger. Though the 22-year-old from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico has been on the periphery of the WMA series this season, she remains a serious threat at X.
Named last year's American Motorcyclist Association Female Rider of the year, Geiger duked it out to finish second behind Fiolek at Hangtown in June. But in order her to post the results that she's capable of, Geiger must improve her starts and remain focused on racing her own race. "I don't need to be in the back working to get ahead," says Geiger. "I need to start up front and stay there." With her strong jumping skills and her aggressive riding style, she has the potential to kick it into high gear and leave the rest of the field in her dust.
Name: Sherri Cruse
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.
D.O.B.: March 2, 1989
Years Riding: 10
Say What? Pre-moto rituals: "I give myself pre-arm pump and shotgun an Accelerade. If I'm nervous I pull out the iPod."
Inspired as a youngster by Geiger's style, the effervescent 19-year-old Californian has forged her own path this year—a path that has led to her first pro moto win and an unexpected invitation to the X Games. "I didn't think this would ever happen to me," Cruse says about X. "I didn't even think women would race at the X Games during my career. I feel very privileged."
The 2006 World Off-Road Championship Series Women's A-class champ now finds herself in competitive company of women she's proven she can beat. In the second moto at the WMA race in Colorado in late June, Cruse sped away with the holeshot and maintained a quick pace to finish second overall. One of the two racers besides Fiolek, Patterson and Whitmore who have found their way onto the podium this year, Cruse is now in fourth place in the season's WMA points standing. Unlike Brazil's Mariana Balbi, the other 2008 podium finisher, who tends to not let faster girls pass her, Cruse has shown herself to proficiently lead a chase by staying ahead of the pack. Obsessive in her training, Cruse plans to ride four times a week and hit the gym leading up to X, and will rely on her conditioning to push her over the top.