It is 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Dubai today, but things are likely to heat up much more in the next week. This is the first stop in the six-stop Red Bull X-Fighters 2011 world tour. By Friday, 12 of the worlds top FMX riders will be here to do battle on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Carved out of the Arabian desert, Dubai is a fascinating collision of ancient cultures and international wealth, where Porsches and Ferraris cruise the streets alongside camels. The X-Fighters venue is in the heart of one of Dubai's most popular neighborhoods, the Jumeirah Beach Residence or "JBR" as it is known to the locals. The course is right on the sand at JBR Beach and will be a focal point of another steamy Friday night in the most populated emirate in the United Arab Emirates.
This season opens with a lot more questions than answers and no one rider really stands out as the obvious favorite.
Nate Adams is the back-to-back champion on the tour, but his most recent championship was achieved without the pleasure of an event win. Being Mr. Consistent can get you the hardware, but a guy like Adams doesn't train that hard just to be on the bottom steps of the podium. There are some unique challenges for him this year, however. His home-based course (formerly Brian Deegan's Metal Mulisha Compound) was leveled recently while he awaits zoning approval, causing the loss of easy practice time. Then there is his switch to the big four-stroke Honda and the fact that he's has never competed on the heavy machine. Of course, only a fool would count out Adams.
Andre Villa was last year's heartbreak kid. Leading the series from the opener in Mexico City, he was defeated and lost the championship when he missed a trick in the last semifinal heat of the year. Villa has been hiding out in plain sight in the hills of Temecula, Calif., this winter, riding with the SoCal crew and trying to get his game face on. He wants to prove he can start and finish things this year.
Villa was first on the scene at JBR Beach, coming in a whole day earlier than his rivals to try to lessen the jet lag and gain any kind of advantage. He considered the season ahead: "This year, at least half of the field comes in here thinking they can win it. That's a lot different from last year. I'm better physically, mentally and riding-wise and I want it more than ever after being so close last year. You could say I'm older and wiser [laughs]."
Levi Sherwood was the darling of the freestyle world for most of last year's season. Riding at the top of his game and displaying a newfound dominance of his tricks. Sherwood's rubber limbs and free-flowing style were impossible to beat when he was on -- and he was on in Moscow and London, where he recorded his second and third X-Fighters victories. Then a freak accident in September resulted in a broken femur and a lost chance at the X-Fighters title. The real question on everyone's lips is whether the young Kiwi can come back from such a traumatic injury and ride with his original devil-may-care style?
Speaking of banged-up, Robbie Maddison found it almost impossible to avoid wrecks in 2010. An assortment of injuries from X-Fighters to X Games also kept the affable Aussie out of the X-Fighters finals in Rome. When he was on his game, he took the win in Madrid, adding a Volt body varial to his repertoire and really showing that he has a lot more than just distance jumps in his arsenal. Now, Maddo is relatively healthy and has a shiny new foam pit in his front yard that has seen some heavy use in the past 10 days. Expect at least one new trick from the Down Under wonder.
One rider who won't be throwing his leg over the seat, but will certainly be present at the party is Drake McElroy. Drake has a new job at X-Fighters this year as the rider liaison -- a go-between for the riders and the producers. Working with course designer and builder, Dane Herron, he has been trying to get the best out of the JBR course. "This initial layout in the tight space is quite basic, but whoever has a good imagination is going to be able to make it flow. It's going to be hard to judge. Did you see the list of talent we've got here?"
The action begins Friday night, local time (1 p.m. ET). You can catch the live webcast here.