Going into the 15th year of Red Bull X-Fighters at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid, it's clear that the planet's most prestigious FMX event and the world's most famous bullring are an all-natural pair.
However, the idea of hosting a FMX event in a solidly traditional venue seemed all kinds of crazy when the first event was planned back in 2002. Since then, the Red Bull X-Fighters action in Madrid has had a consistent influence on the growth of the sport, and as the riders have progressed, the track has had to progress with them.
This year, the event format will establish a new benchmark for the sport by opening up field with the Novillero online qualifier, giving aspiring young FMX talents the chance to battle against the stars of the sport and make a name for themselves.
FMX history is made in Madrid
Each year, the event in Madrid has brought consistent innovation to FMX, not only with the tricks but the featured courses, which have repeatedly set new standards.
The track designers always try to bring the latest ramps and riding options into the small circle of Las Ventas. The additions and innovations that have appeared include an old-school fun box, a wall ride and a ramp that shot directly out of the seating area onto the track itself. The landing zone in the center has also been extended every year to give more options, and other space is always used in a very creative way. An unforgettable highlight was the track's first quarter-pipe in 2008, and with it the first Flair performed in competition by the 'Sweet Swede', Fredrick Johansson.
Madrid’s track layouts are ahead of the curve
Last year, we saw three quarter-pipes positioned in the center of the course, giving various options to riders, including breathtaking transfers out of the quarter onto the regular landings. Quarters are standard for any big FMX event nowadays, and Las Ventas had one long before the main field of riders was able to handle them.
Jesus Rodriguez has been involved in the production of every Red Bull X-Fighters event at Las Ventas.
I think that what we do here influences the whole sport, and actually it’s the same with bullfighting. In Las Ventas, bullfighters always try to do new things, and then it spreads throughout the rest of Spain.
"With Red Bull X-Fighters, what happens in Madrid spreads to the rest of the FMX world. It's fantastic," he says.
Rodriguez laughs when he remembers the first track in Madrid in 2002. "That track was a toy compared to the one we have here. Since we had three tunnels, we set up three ramps, the same three ramps, as easy as that. And the landing field was tiny. We didn't even have to set up for backflips because at the time riders couldn't do backflips."
As simple as it sounds now, that track was state-of-the art for the time, and the concept worked. When the audience went wild, raising their handkerchiefs in the old bullfighting tradition, there was no looking back.
Check out this clip from 2015 in which FMX legend Ronnie Renner explains the set-up the event.
New tricks and new heights always
The very next Madrid contest marked the beginning of a revolution. Back in 2003, a kicker ramp was added to the track, so two hardcore American riders, Nate Adams and Kenny Bartram, could try their new Backflip.
That night opened Pandora's box, as Backflips became a regular part of most rider's trick arsenal. Bartram was victorious that night, while Adams ended up second. After that event, everyone knew they had to stick the flip in order to win. From that moment, it was game on! The rest of the riders started trying lots of new tricks and innovating things to debut in Madrid. Any set-up in Madrid had to be ahead of the evolution of the sport and give the riders the chance to pop out their world firsts.
For France's Tom Pagès, one of very few to master it, the Flair 540 was a key tool in his bag of tricks to capture the Red Bull X-Fighters 2013 overall crown, which he secured at Las Ventas. The Frenchman's surreal Bikeflip was also shown first in Madrid, and after his third victory in the Spanish capital last year, Pagès announced that he will return in 2016 with a few new innovations for Las Ventas.
There’s nothing like competing in a bullring. You come out of these dark tunnels into this huge crowd, and the energy is right on top of you – it pours. It just takes your level of execution even higher.Ronnie Renner
What to expect for 2016
A few things are certain for this year's 15th anniversary. It's going to be another incredible freestyle motocross competition with many riders probably showing new tricks. To give all that a new spin and continue the evolution, the event format of the 2016 edition will be slightly different.
This year's competition kicks-off on Thursday, June 23 with a qualifying session, which will define three groups of four riders who will compete in a Jam Session. An additional new feature at the Jam Session will see the riders performing their own series of tricks in a roulette round: each group will spin a roulette wheel with the names of established tricks and all four riders in the round will have to spontaneously perform that trick.
The best two riders of each of the three Jam Sessions will advance to the three Semi Final rounds, where the top six riders will battle it out head-to-head, with the three top guys heading to the Final 3.
Novilleros – Everyone has the chance to shine
With the new format in Madrid, the event will also give two Novilleros – a term for an aspiring young bullfighting getting their first taste of the ring – to compete in the action. The Novilleros can win a spot in the competition by sending in a video of their best tricks.
If you think you have the skills and balls to ride in Las Ventas with the best riders, visit the Red Bull X Fighters website and upload your 90-second clip.
The public will then have the chance to select the first Novillero by popular vote, and the Red Bull X-Fighters sport committee will select the second newcomer.
Watch Red Bull X-Fighters Madrid 2016 LIVE
Get a ticket for the FMX highlight of the year by visiting EVENTO TICKETS and become part of the Las Ventas history.
The entire competition will also be streamed live on redbullxfighters.com and on Red Bull TV. Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. For a full list of supported devices visit about.redbull.tv.
Please note that the broadcast is geo-blocked in the USA, but will be shown exclusively on Fox Sports 1.
Start Times: 22:00 Local (CET)
June 24: Europe: 22:00pm (CET) | Canada: 13:00 (PST) | Mexico: 15:00 (CST) | Brasil: 17:00 (BRT)
July 25: Japan: 05:00 (JST) | Australia: 06:00 (AEST) | New Zealand: 08.00 (NZST)