The opening round of this year’s Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour in Dubai always had the smack of a wide-open competition. With defending champion Dany Torres coming back from off-season foot surgery and some big hitters from previous seasons absent (most notably Nate Adams and Robbie Maddison), the form guide had pretty much been ripped apart even before qualifying. Couple those facts with an adjusted format that would in the end catch Torres out and there was always going to be potential for upset.
That the upsetter was New Zealand’s Levi Sherwood was, in itself, no great shock. After all, nobody’s ever said that the Rubber Kid hasn’t got the chops. With a deep reservoir of tricks to draw on and an uncanny ability to make them look crazier and wilder than almost anyone else, Sherwood has long been a favourite of both crowd and judges. But it was the manner in which he triumphed in Dubai that makes next week’s round in Glen Helen, California such an intriguing prospect.
In the run-up to the competition, Sherwood reportedly spent a long time at the pre-event judges’ clinic questioning the competition adjudicators on the new format (in which in round two - the quarter-finals - riders are restricted to just six tricks). It was in this round that Sherwood triumphed over Torres, the Spaniard failing to complete his final trick in the allotted time.
Thereafter, Sherwood was unstoppable. In the semi-final he beat Josh Sheehan, also coming back from injury, and easily dismissed Rob Adelberg, making only his fourth appearance at a Red Bull X-Fighters round, in the final.
Those results might suggest that Sherwood got lucky by coming up against inexperienced or under-prepared riders, but it was the sheer breadth and flawless execution of his tricks on the night that propelled him, post Torres, to a comfortable victory. In particular, the massive Dead Body Shaolin Flip with which he signed off his run in the final showed just how secure Sherwood was in Dubai.
However, there’s one additional element that swung Dubai in the Rubber Kid’s favour, and which should play into his hands in the US – the course size.
Taking up most of the Jumeirah Beach Resort seafront, Dubai was a relatively large course, the kind on which Sherwood thrives. Indeed, two of his most impressive victories, in Moscow and London in 2010, were achieved on vast courses.
“I don’t know why it is,” he said last year. “I used to like the small ones but I changed my tune completely for some reason. I like big courses, nice flowing tracks, ones that allow me get into it, so I don’t have to force anything.”
Glen Helen, set to be the series’ largest ever course, will provide that space and flow in spades. But even if future rounds don’t provide that room to roam, Sherwood should be prepared. He recently completed work on his own course at his home in Palmerston North in New Zealand and admitted to purposefully constructing jump sequences in a tight pattern to mirror many of the courses used by Red Bull X-Fighters.
So Sherwood looks a hot ticket for Glen Helen, but who’s likely to give him a run for his money? Certainly Torres can’t be dismissed. The champion was caught out badly in Dubai and will be looking to make amends and with a month of practice time between Dubai and California, DT should be approaching his big-tricking best again.
With Sheehan, Mat Rebeaud and Blake ‘Bilko’ Williams absent due to prior commitments, the tag of dark horse could fall to Andre Villa. After last year’s horror crash in Poland, the Norwegian rider was told he might never ride again but, despite feeling uncomfortable with the new format, Villa rode superbly to fifth place in Dubai, demonstrating again that he’s still perhaps the sport’s most graceful stylist. With the intense emotions of his comeback behind him, expect to see the Andre of old riding out in the US.
Javier Villegas too could provide an upset. The Chilean rider has progressed in leaps and bounds in the past couple of years and with a 2011 record of sixth, ninth, seventh and fourth in the rounds he competed in, and a third-place finish in Dubai this time around, the rider know as Astroboy is due a big result soon.
Beyond those riders, it’s hard to see where a challenge could come from. Certainly, the highly regarded Todd Potter could figure in the round two shake-up but at the moment this one is again looking like a straight fight between the champion and the Rubber Kid and if Sherwood eats up the big course and replicates the scintillating style shown in Dubai, he could take an early grip on this year’s World Tour standings.
Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour, Round Two, Glen Helen, USA
1 - Dany Torres - ESP - KTM - 250SX
2 - Martin Koren - CZE - KTM - 250SX
3 - Andre Villa - NOR - YAM - YZ250
4 - Wes Agee- USA - YAM - YZ250
5 - Nick Dunne - USA - YAM - YZ250
6 - Eigo Sato - JAP - YAM - YZ250
7 - Rob Adelberg - AUS - YAM - YZ250
8 - Maikel Melero - ESP - KTM - 250SX
9 - Levi Sherwood - NZL - KTM - 250SX
10 - Todd Potter - USA - HON - CRF450R
11 - Javier Villegas - CHL - YAM - YZ250
12 - Tom Pages - FRA - YAM - YZ250
Ahead of the next Red Bull X-Fighters event in Glen Helen on May 12, Ronnie Renner and friends took a trip to the Southern California locations that gave birth to freestyle motocross. Check out this video to see what they got up to...
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