Villa chooses health, fun over freestyle

Ricky Monti

Andre Villa says he wasn't having fun in freestyle anymore but Speed & Style has rejuvenated him.

Not long before he was slated to compete in the Freestyle competition at X Games Foz do Iguacu, Andrè Villa decided it was the right time to announce that he was retiring from freestyle competitions. Villa said he will now focus on having fun riding his bike and being a strong competitor in Speed & Style at X Games.

Believing that he had reached his peak in his semi-short, 12-year career as a professional freestyle motocross rider, Villa said he was not willing to take the risks needed to be a gold medal contender in the freestyle competition at the sport's premier events, X-Fighters and X Games. His last injury left him questioning if it was really worth risking his health and future.

With Speed & Style extending the careers of a lot of the veteran riders, such as Ronnie Faisst, Mike Mason, Nate Adams and others, the thrill of racing rejuvenated Villa, 31, and reaffirmed the decision he had been struggling with for quite some time.

When Villa, who picked up a silver medal at X Games Brazil, was asked what it was like being back racing for the first time in 10 years and in touch with his roots, his eyes lit up like Clark Griswold's viewing his "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" ornament masterpiece.

Jose Mario Dias/ESPN Images

Andre Villa races to a silver medal earlier this month at X Games Foz do Iguacu. Word on the street is you're retiring from Freestyle competition to focus on Speed & Style and enjoying your riding career a bit more.
Yeah, I'm not retiring fully from FMX, I'm retiring from Freestyle competition at X games, X-Fighters, etc. I'm still going to ride demos, and this gives me the opportunity to ride Nitro Circus, Nuclear Cowboyz and stuff like that.

Was there any particular incident from X Games Brazil that triggered this semi-retirement announcement?
No, I actually wanted to do this for a long time now. I've been professional for 10-12 years now, I felt I reached my peak in freestyle MX and I was not willing to go the route to learn the double back flips, front flips, flares and body varials, you know, all that stuff. My body has been through a lot. My last injury being my 28th broken bone, where I broke my femur and pelvis, really put things in perspective for me. I was in a wheelchair for six weeks and I never wanted to feel like that again.

So it was either go 100 percent all out the next two or three years or retire from freestyle competition to focus on Speed & Style competition and doing demos. So obviously I went with the second choice.

I think this decision will leave me in the sport a longer time. I always told myself in the beginning that sponsors or money would not be the key reason that I rode. It would be because I was having fun. And I was not having fun competing in freestyle anymore, you know, getting injured and then trying to get back to where you were and then excel from there to be competitive.

Ambitions change with time and winning doesn't really mean that much to me anymore. But when I started doing Speed & Style and getting to race again, I got that good feeling in me again and I had so much fun. That's what it was all about.

What's that pressure like to have to step it up to doing double back flips, flares, body varials?
I know I can do those tricks, but what it comes down to is do I want to take that high of a risk. There's a huge amount of risk that goes into that and I am not willing to take that risk anymore. I know the age I am at right now, there will come a second chapter in life and I will want to have a family, play with my kids and not be hindered by my past injuries. I don't want to be crippled.

We really do get caught up in the moment and we think that the most important thing in life is our sport and that medal means so much to us but I am not willing to take that risk again for just another medal, it doesn't really mean that much anymore.

I think the biggest misconception for people who see it live or watch it on TV don't know the difficulty between tricks. And because you guys make it look so easy, they don't understand the pressures or risks involved to do those tricks.
You're totally right, we make it look so easy out there, we put thousands of hours behind the bike practicing for that 60-second run or that final showdown moment at X Games. And we are scared. You should've seen everyone in the pits before the runs were about to go down in Brazil, there wasn't one rider speaking to each other or anyone in general for that matter. Everyone was looking straight forward, focusing on their run and scared as s---!

We are scared now, the level that the freestyle MX runs have come to now are risky. We literally have one or two friends a year dying from this now. The pressures of getting hurt or seriously injured and destroying a future outside of riding is something the general audience does not see.

There will come a second chapter in life and I will want to have a family, play with my kids and not be hindered by my past injuries. I don't want to be crippled.
Andre Villa
Now that you have made this new commitment it seems like you have breathed new life into yourself. When you talk about racing in the Speed & Style events I see you light up and it brings you a lot of happiness.
Yeah, you know Speed & Style is dangerous for sure but it seems a little bit more predictable and we don't have to do those crazy tricks that you would have to do in a freestyle competition. There's always going to be a risk factor there, too, but the risk involved is a little less risky I believe, you know there's only one ramp, and I feel like I am capable of dealing with that. And yeah for sure I want gold medals, I'm a competitor, dude (laughs).

I just wasn't feeling freestyle competitions anymore and … you know, I needed new challenges. I've been doing this for so long that I needed a different stimuli on my brain and if I can still do Speed & Style and love riding my bike then I'm happy.

Speaking of Speed & Style and X Games Brazil, you and Lance Coury had a battle to the end almost. What happened with your crash?
Yeah, I felt that was my race to win, my tricks were better than his, I was riding good. There was a timing section where I was the only rider to go triple triple through there. But Lance was tripling the first triple triple in that timing section and he cased it and drifted left right as I was committing to triple the second one, so to not land on him I had to drift left and I went out of the course.

It was a good battle, you know. Looking at the race later I know I can do a lot of things different. But at the stage I'm in now, yes, I want to win but having fun and enjoying the moment is why I'm doing it. And I had a lot of fun!

Is there a difference between an adrenaline rush racing versus doing a 90-second freestyle competition run?
Yes there is, and that is the racing feeling. I raced from the time I was 4 years old to 20, I lived every week to go racing and when you're racing someone it is a completely different feeling.

Then you have the freestyle tricks, as well, so that's already routine right now but it is kind of hard to go from racing hard laps with that adrenaline rush and then hit a ramp and do an FMX trick with the different types of heart rates you have with racing compared to FMX tricks. It's a more fun feeling than it is a scary feeling.

What was it like being behind a starting gate again, staring at the 30-second board, waiting for the gate to drop?
It was cool, man. I remember I was laughing, thinking I can't believe I'm racing again. My first start in 12 years and all these people watching me. I mean I was feeling good all day, man. I was confident, I felt like I could win. It was hard to even get past Mat Rebeaud, he was riding good, as well.

And then we got the camera in our face and had to redo the race (laughs). I was already a little tired, it took them three laps to finally red flag the race. But I think it worked out better for me because Mat was more tired than me and I was able to use it to my advantage on the restart.

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