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Saturday, October 22, 2011
Updated: October 23, 11:54 AM ET
Villegas wins IFMXF Riga stop

By Colin Bane
ESPN.com

From left to right: Josh Sheehan (third place), Javier Villegas (first place) and Remi Bizouard (second place).

Chilean rider Javier Villegas won the eighth round of the 2011 FIM Freestyle MX World Championship series in Riga, Latvia on Saturday, defending his overall lead. Villegas edged out French rider Remi Bizouard (the 2008 and 2009 FIM champ) by just one point for the win, finishing 379 to 378. Australian rider Josh Sheehan was close behind, rounding out the podium in third place with a score of 376 and ending his six-win streak on the International Freestyle Motocross Federation (IFMXF) Night of the Jumps World Tour.

"Everyone was riding so great and I was mentally prepared for every single rider to be riding awesome after four months of break," said Villegas. "I've been watching everyone to see what I should be expecting and everyone was top-level today, so I had to step it up and I just tried to hold my tricks as long as I could, tried to make the tiny little difference that comes in first place. One point between first and second place? It doesn't get any closer than that."

Villegas opened his run in the finals with a big backflip Superman to Indian air, then ticked off his best tricks including a ruler flip, Pastrana, backflip double Indian combo, rock-solid sideshow combo, tsunami flip, nac-nac flip whip, cordova flip, and backflip no-hander. IFMXF/FIM Freestyle MX competition rules give each rider a chance to score double points on an additional trick after the buzzer, and Villegas impressed with a huge flip whip. The win helps secure his overall lead in the FIM series, which resumed this weekend. Villegas now has 138 overall points, ahead of Bizouard (115), Spanish riders Jose Miralles (112) and Maikel Melero (96), Sheehan (96), and 2010 FIM champ Libor Podmol (89).

Javier Villegas, winner of Night of the Jumps.

Bizouard was riding a new 450cc four-stroke Honda in Riga, and the extra power seemed to give him new confidence on the course. His run included a Kiss of Death, backflip Superman to super can-can, flatliner, whip, combo holy grab to Superman seatgrab Indian air, backflip Hart attack, sideshow, cliffhanger backflip, and super can flatliner, with a big ruler flip on the double-up hit after time. "I'm happy about my runs and this is my first time on the 450 in a contest," Bizouard said, after the podium presentation. "It's been working like I wanted it to be. I'm really happy about myself and just kind of disappointed about the judging, but you have to go a step ahead and looking for the next one."

He'll have plenty of chances at redemption: The IFMXF Night of the Jumps World Tour continues on November 11 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, then moves on to Danzig, Poland (November 26-27); Fortaleza, Brazil (December 3); and Sofia, Bulgaria (December 17), with up to 20 overall points going to each rider at each event (for complete standings visit www.IFMXF.com).

Sheehan had been dominating recent IFMXF events and a win in Riga would have given him a record-breaking seven-win streak, but a recent shoulder injury appeared to be slowing him down in Riga. After qualifying in first place he could be seen favoring his shoulder in finals and skipping some of his biggest tricks like the 360 flip, and the course at Arena Riga was too small for the double backflip that helped Sheehan win the final 2011 Red Bull X-Fighters event on his home turf in Sydney, Australia and take bronze in Moto X Best Trick at X Games 17. Sheehan has been playing catch-up after missing the first few events in the 2011 FIM Freestyle MX World Championship series, but could still be a contender as the series concludes over the next two months.

"I'm just happy I'm able to ride," Sheehan said. "I felt really good in practice and qualifying, and then I don't know what happened but I just wasn't quite feeling 100 percent and had a few little minor mistakes... these other guys rode awesome, so they deserve it."