Red Bull X-Fighters sees fierce rivalries every season, but this year the intensity seems more insane than ever. As the competition heads into its first-ever season final on the African continent this Saturday, only five points separate the two men at the top of the leaderboard.
Saturday's action at the Union Buildings in Pretoria will determine the 2014 Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour Champion. For the riders, it's the culmination of a year's worth of work, innovation, hopes and dreams. But when the season started, few would have predicted that two men from Down Under would be battling it out for top honors.
This week, as the World Tour final comes to Africa for the first time, New Zealand's Levi Sherwood stands in the lead with 265 points, and Australia's Josh Sheehan is a hair's breadth away with 260. Anything can happen in the world's most prestigious freestyle event series. However, with the closest contenders – former champions Thomas Pagès of France and Dany Torres of Spain – 70 points and more behind, chances are that when the red dust settles on Saturday, either Sherwood or Sheehan will be on top of the World Tour podium.
For Sherwood, the 2012 champion, taking the title would elevate him – at age 22 – to one of the all-time greats. The Kiwi already has the most Red Bull X-Fighters event wins in history (eight) and claiming a second championship would put him in the elite company of Nate Adams, the only rider to have won the World Tour twice (2009, 2010).
What's on the line for 28-year-old Sheehan is the potential for his first-ever Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour title, something only seven other riders have ever claimed.
Sherwood and Sheehan have a lot in common, including their extraordinary talent and, of course, their determination to claim the title on August 23. They also shared a lackluster year in 2013, when Pagès dazzled the judges with innovative tricks. But this season has been a different story. Pagès has been on-again, off-again, while Sherwood, a classic perfectionist, found a renewed joy in his riding, winning the first two 2014 events back to back.
And Sheehan, known as one of the hardest workers in the field, has finally come out of Sherwood's shadow to chip away at his rival's lead. Every time Sheehan has pulled out his mind-bending double backflip this year, he's come out ahead of Sherwood, including the previous stop at Munich last month, where the Aussie stood on top of the podium. "It's been cool to go up against Josh this year – it's been a real challenge," Sherwood states.
Sheehan meanwhile, comments, "If Levi rides smooth and effortless that gets rewarded more, so I almost need the double flip along with all the best tricks I've got to beat him."
While the momentum may seem to be in Sheehan's favor, the results when Red Bull X-Fighters celebrates its 50th event on Saturday are anyone's guess. First, there's the altitude in Pretoria: at over 1,300 meters (4,300 feet), it's unsure whether the riders' bikes will be able to suck in enough air to power massive tricks like Sheehan's double backflip.
After a track at a bullring in Madrid and a slopestyle course over water in Munich, Pretoria serves up the largest track of the season, with the most lines and options to choose from. Sherwood, who is renowned for his flow and finds it harder to differentiate his runs from the other riders on small courses, "can't wait" for the freedom of a bigger playground.
He goes on, "If I go out there and give it everything I have and Sheeny does the same, then whoever wins deserves it."
Watch Red Bull X-Fighters Final in Pretoria LIVE!
Catch all the action from Red Bull X-Fighters in South Africa:
Webcast: We will stream the entire competition live right here on redbullxfighters.com/pretoria-live, Red Bull TV, Xbox 360, Apple TV and Samsung Smart TV. Please note that the live webcast is not available in the US, but the highlights will be aired on Fox Sports 1.
South Africa: 01:30pm (SAST) | Europe: 01:30pm (CET) | Canada: 04:30am (PST) | Mexico: 06:30am (CST)
Brasil: 08:30am (BRT) | Japan: 08:30pm (JST) | Australia: 09:30pm (AEST) | New Zealand: 11.30pm (NZST)
TV: The main event will also broadcast live on several TV stations around the globe. Please check local listings for details.
Live Results: To get results and standings in real-time, hit redbullxfighters.com/results.