x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Red Bull X-Fighter tour launches in Dubai

Some 15,000 spectators are expected to watch motorcycle stunt riders twist and turn in the Red Bull X-Fighters competition tonight.

Freestyle motocross rider Lance Coury, on his Honda CRF 450cc during practice at Jumeirah Beach yesterday, aims to be the man who pleases the crowd most. Jeff Topping for The National
Freestyle motocross rider Lance Coury, on his Honda CRF 450cc during practice at Jumeirah Beach yesterday, aims to be the man who pleases the crowd most. Jeff Topping for The National

DUBAI // When Lance Coury revs the 450cc engine on his motorcycle tonight, he will mentally go through each stunt he is about to perform before he actually does it for the crowd.

With 15,000 spectators in the purpose-built stands at JBR looking on, the 21-year-old daredevil will have just 90 seconds to perform a number of stunts to beat his competitors.

"When you lose focus, you mess up," said the Los Angeles native. "At the show, for me, I get the energy from the crowd and see everyone and really, you want to show off. I just want to do what I know the best way to show off."

The Red Bull X-Fighters will feature 10 riders battling it out in Dubai - the first leg of six in a world tour. The riders will square off against each other and score points by jumping off a ramp at 40 kph and performing aerial stunts.

"I always tell people it's acrobatics on a motorcycle," Coury said ahead of the opening event.

Tes Sewell, sport director for the Red Bull X-Fighter tour, which is in its 10th year, said the event was more than just a show. "From the outside, it's a very elaborate, entertaining show. From our perspective, the core of this event is a very serious competition," he said.

Coury has always taken it seriously and is now up against the men he has looked up to since he was a child. Participating as a wild-card entry, he is up against the top six riders of 2010 and the top four riders in the world. Last night, two were knocked out in a pre-qualifying event.

One of the top riders at the event is Nate Adams. At age 13, Coury saw Adams compete in the X Games in Los Angeles.

"I said, 'man I want to do that'. Before I was even in the sport, I looked up to him and now I am competing against him. It's a cool experience."

Coury started riding a motorbike at age five after his father bought a small 50cc motorbike. "I fell in love," he said.

The affair continued and he raced motocross all over the US until he was 16. The stunts started to come when he was in the middle of the pack and knew he was not in contention for first place.

"If I wasn't winning, I was doing no-handers and jumping the bigger jumps and trying to do cool whips and fancy stuff in the middle of races or during practice," he said. After motocross he started to perform in shows and exhibitions in LA.

"It had nothing to do with the money because I was 16 and living at home. I was saying, 'this is so awesome. These guys are so cool, I want to do this. I want to be the best, I want to be the guy the crowd are applauding for and looking for my autograph because I did the coolest tricks," he said.

After each show, he would replicate the stunts the other riders performed at the exhibitions. Coury was lucky to practice on a donated strip of land in an oilfield in California. He still practices there.

Most riders practice over giant foam pits, similar to what gymnasts use.

"A lot of it is one step at a time. If you are practising a certain trick, you do it at a smaller level. Every day you progress and get comfortable, make it bigger and then you get it," Coury said.

According to Mr Sewell, the risk can be bigger in the foam pit because the rider's motion stops once he lands.

On a ramp a rider can slide and, after what may look like a serious fall, walk away with only a few scrapes and bruises.

"In the foam pit, it can work against you and you land hard enough and fracture things. If things are going wrong and you can toss that bike and land on the foam it's the nicest thing in the world. But you've also got 220 pounds of an angry motorcycle coming down," Mr Sewell said.

The sport constantly breaks its own boundaries.

The front flip is one stunt that has yet to be landed correctly at a competition. And the one to watch out for at this event is called the Backflip Tsunami, where a rider hangs under the bike while holding the handle bars, his body arched out.

The competition starts at 8.20pm tonight. Tickets can be bought in all Virgin Megastores across the UAE and at www.timeouttickets.com.

eharnan@thenational.ae