An interview with a flying madman with a dose of common sense.
Why Red Bull X-Fighter rider Tom Page is a sensible daredevil
Tom Pagès spends his professional career doing crazy stuff we all look at and wonder, with our jaws on the floor, how it's ever possible. Flying through the air with a Yamaha YZ 250 motorcycle dangling beneath him, he is one of Red Bull X-Fighters' competitors, and the stunts that he and his contemporaries pull have to be seen to be believed. Actually, forget I said that, because even when you've seen them you can't quite believe them - these riders seem to defy gravity with poise, balance and nerves of unshreddable steel.
The annual X-Fighters competition takes place in six venues around the world and the first this year took place last month in Mexico City. This evening, the second is scheduled on our very doorstep: Dubai. Having opened the season for the past two years, not only has Dubai moved its place in the Red Bull schedule, but the venue has changed, too, from the sands of Jumeirah Beach Walk to the urban environs of Downtown's Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, in the shadow of the Burj Khalifah, where some 18,000 fans are expected to gather for a truly memorable spectacle.
Pagès is one of 12 international competitors in the championship, currently leading after a storming performance in Mexico, where the thin air (the event was staged at 2,240 metres above sea level) proved a challenge, and he is looking to extend that lead in the face of stiff competition from the last two tour winners, Spain's Dany Torres and New Zealand's Levi Sherwood.
Freestyle Motocross (FMX) looks so insane when you see it that, given an opportunity to speak with Pagès while he's readying himself for tonight's competition, I ask the really obvious question: just how did he get into this? And the answer is even more obvious. "I started out in BMX competitions," he says. Of course. "And my older brother Charles got into it first, in 2005, with me starting competing in 2007."
The 28-year-old from Seignosse, France, had, within just a couple of years in the FMX circus, worked his way from his own backyard up to fight against the best riders in the world, before vanishing from the Red Bull X-Fighters Tour in 2009. He'd seen just too many accidents involving close friends and had suffered a series of injuries himself, and decided to focus more on freeriding and working on film production. But he was tempted back to the championship last year. Although he did tone down some of the crazier stunts (no more backflips), he looked more than capable of winning throughout the season. So what does he think about his chances in 2013, especially after his Mexican victory?
"It is far too early to say. But I have been training hard with my brother over the winter and I'm ready to give it my best." There are, he says, some new tricks up his sleeve and people at the heart of the sport have said that he'll do the occasional upside-down stunt if he needs to open the gap on his rival competitors, but it's heartening to see someone at the top of his game who also has a healthy respect for his own life. Although you'd never know it by observing what these guys get up to.
Would he recommend this sport to newcomers? "Of course. But it is essential to have fun - that's the reason I do it. Some come to the sport from motocross, some like me from BMX, and some love what they see so much they just get straight into freestyle with no background. But the competition element can, if you are not careful, get in the way of having fun. And if you are not having fun, why would you do this?" Exactly.
If you fancy seeing firsthand what Pagès and his fellow competitors are capable of, the show kicks off tonight at 8.45pm and tickets are still available from the usual sources. Just don't try this at home, kids.
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