This week the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour rolls in to Madrid, Spain for the fourth of six stops. The overwhelming favorite here is Dany Torres, the Spaniard who executed an electric run to take the first qualifying spot in Rome last month, before crashing out in the first few seconds of the evening competition and limping to an unfortunate fifth place finish.
The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in the heart of Madrid is a splendidly ornate bullring that is really way too nice to turn over to a bunch of freestyle urchins. The floor is only 215 feet in diameter, which causes a challenge for the course builders. The shape of the bullring also acts like a lens and amplifies the heat and the light to dehydrate the unwary and dry the course to dust if left unattended.
The riders situation here is usually different to the other stops, with no plush rider lounge to escape the heat and the rider pit boxes are built outside the horse-filled (and stench-filled) stables. The host hotel is really close, however, being only a few hundred feet up the street. An austere Euro-chic place with a nice pool for afternoon lounging and the wonderful Bar Biarritz just across the tiny street to ensure that thirsts are consistently quenched.
Here, riders walk to and from the venue, eschewing the usual shuttle bus. You can often find them casually signing autographs in the plaza's parking lot, or watch excited fans respectfully rub shoulders with their freestyle idols at the local watering hole.
I caught up with Dany Torres on our hotel front steps this morning to chat about Friday night. First I asked him what happened in that big crash in Rome: "Yeah, that was really absurd. It is a trick that I master quite well (backflip saran wrap to nac nac). My left foot slipped off the footpeg in the air and then it all happened so quickly. I rode really well at qualifying and then, in a silly mistake, all my chances faded away. I prefer not to think too much about it and concentrate on Madrid!"
Of course Madrid is the best place for Torres to be carried on the emotions of the locals, but I wondered if that placed extra pressure on him?
"I am more motivated than ever," he replied. "First because it is my home, my fans, and second because after my injury and being forced to skip Brazil and then my bad luck in Rome, I definitely need to do well in Madrid! I have been practicing really hard since I came back from Rome and I feel great and ready."
Perhaps Torres' greatest challenge here in the bullring is already withdrawn from the competition. Nate Adams had a freaky crash in Rome, going long on a landing and running into the soft, air fence barriers. Right now his shoulder and knee are both sore, so he has to concede the Spanish stop. I wondered if this would affect Torres' approach to the event.
"Not at all, Nate being out does not change anything," he said. "In this series you have to compete against 11 riders, all of them top level worldwide. Any of them can win. Any of them can beat you if you make the silliest mistake. It is the most important series worldwide and you need to fight at your best level."
Ten years ago, the first Red Bull X-Fighters event was held in this same bullring, gathering the small international field of competitors that existed to compete against the sport's big name Americans. In the final, "Mad" Mike Jones -- then at then at the top of his game -- was defeated by a young Spaniard named Edgar Torronteras.
The Americans were kings of the world in those days and it was rare for any "foreigner" to take them down at any significant FMX competition. There were Canadians like Kris Garwasiuk and Reagan Sieg who would lurk on the scene and two notable Australians, Dan Hall and Dayne Kinnaird, who tried to make their mark, but apart from their funny accents they seemed like locals, hanging out in the California hills and deserts. Torronteras had been asked to take part in X Games a couple of times, but had always turned down the opportunity to compete on American soil.
It was a defining moment for the X-Fighters tour, cementing Las Ventas as the event's spiritual home. But even more than that, it was a defining moment for freestyle motocross, proving that elite competition existed beyond the United States, in places few in the sport had even been to. Over the course of 10 years, the Red Bull X-Fighters tour has taken the sport to most of those places and discovered more than a few Edgar Torronteras in the process.