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James Palmer flies up the global BMX rankings

North Van rider gunning for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games
James Palmer
North Vancouver’s James Palmer rips around a track while competing for Canada on the World Cup BMX circuit. The 22-year-old Argyle Secondary grad posted strong results on the world stage this summer and will begin the qualification process for the 2020 Olympic Games next summer. photo supplied Kersten Van Kerckhoven/Cycling Canada

North Vancouver’s James Palmer whipped and ripped his way to some impressive results against the world’s best BMX racers this season.

The 22-year-old Argyle Secondary grad has turned his passion for racing into a full-time job, training and competing for Cycling Canada on the World Cup circuit backed by funding from Sport Canada. Back at home on the North Shore for a few weeks for some downtime following his final race of the summer, Palmer took a moment to talk about a season that saw him shoot up the global rankings, finishing the year at No. 16 in the world.

The big-time results began at the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships held this summer in Rock Hill, S.C., where Palmer was the top Canadian finisher, making it through several rounds of racing before a crash ended his day in the semifinals.

“There were so many Canadian fans there,” said Palmer. “Right from the first race in the motos all the way to the semifinals, the Canadian fans were going wild. It was a super cool experience.”

Palmer was in the mix for a spot in the world championship final before crashing on the final turn.

“I was battling with two other guys for the fourth position and I went to make a move and ended up just washing out,” he said. “I took out one other guy with me. I think we bumped, then I ended up washing out so I dove into the turn, we bumped and then went down.”

Despite the crash, Palmer gained confidence from the showing, having advanced through several rounds of racing against the world’s top riders to make the semifinals on one of the toughest tracks in North America.

“It was my first time making it to the semifinals at a world championships, which is huge,” he said. “Being the top Canadian at that point too was really cool.”

That confidence carried over to the BMX Canadian Championships in Calgary, where Palmer claimed silver in the elite men’s division, finishing second behind two-time Olympian Tory Nyhaug.

“It was a good race, we had a good battle for the podium spot,” said Palmer. “Tory is one of my good friends, we train together all the time. I know how good of a racer he is and how hard he works, so he’s a tough guy to beat. I’ll just try to get him one of these times.”

On that same weekend, Calgary also hosted the final round of the seven-stop Canada Cup series. Palmer also finished second in that race, earning enough points to win the crown as the overall Canada Cup series champion. It was Palmer’s second straight Canada Cup title, a series that this year contained stops in Surrey, Toronto, and St. Albert, Alta., as well as the final in Calgary.

“We really don’t get to race at home too much anymore, so getting a chance to take part in that series and to show the Canadian fans what we do on the world circuit is awesome,” said Palmer. “And to come away with that win, it’s just kind of a cool prize to finish off the season.”

There was one more late-season stop on Palmer’s schedule as the UCI BMX World Cup season wrapped up with races No. 5 and 6 on the circuit Sept. 16-17 in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. In Round 5 Palmer made the championship final, finishing eighth. It was the second World Cup final of his racing career. The strong showing came after Palmer had a rough start to the day, wrecking his bike in a crash during a pre-race practice session.

“I was warming up for the race day and I got tangled up with another rider, crashed,” he said, adding that his bike was “taco’d,” which is cycling slang for a wheel that gets folded in on itself so that it resembles a delicious Mexican treat. “I had to get the coach to fix a bunch of things on it. Luckily he got it ready, we bounced back and I was able to put it in the final that day, which was really cool.”

The result helped Palmer finish 23rd overall in the World Cup standings. Those results should help set him up for a big season next year, an important one for BMX riders who will begin accumulating qualification points for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Back on the North Shore now for a few weeks of rest before heading south to San Diego for off-season training, Palmer has resumed his hobby of vlogging, posting quick videos describing what life is like for a full-time BMX racer. When the North Shore News caught up with him he was on his way to film his latest vlog, a game of B-I-K-E on a local track, a slightly riskier variation of the basketball shooting game of H-O-R-S-E.

“A lot of people just like the behind-the-scenes stuff that we do. It’s pretty fun,” says Palmer. Look for him trying out crazy tricks on the vlog soon, and, hopefully in a few years, flying even higher in a race for Olympic gold.