Madrid has hosted Red Bull X-Fighters for 13 consecutive years – more than any other city in the world. Each event has brought new innovation, not only in the tricks, but in the track itself – and Friday's contest will be no different.
The planet's most prestigious freestyle motocross event series and the world's most important bullring: After 13 years of Red Bull X-Fighters at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid, that may sound like a natural pairing. But the idea of hosting a radical action sport in a solidly traditional venue seemed all kinds of crazy when the first event was planned in 2002. Since then, the Red Bull X-Fighters action in Madrid has been a constant influence on the growth of the sport; and as the riders have progressed, the track has had to progress right along with them.
Jesus Rodriguez has been involved in the production of every Red Bull X-Fighters event at Las Ventas. "I think that what we do here influences the whole sport, and actually it's the same with bullfighting. In Las Ventas bullfighters always try to do new things, and then it spreads throughout the rest of Spain. With Red Bull X-Fighters, what happens in Madrid spreads to the rest of the FMX world. It's fantastic."
Rodriguez laughs when he remembers the first Madrid track in 2002. "That track was a toy compared to the one we have here. Since we had three tunnels, we set up three ramps – the same three ramps, as easy as that. And the landing field was tiny. We didn't even have to set up for backflips because at the time riders didn't really do backflips."
As simple as it sounds now, that track was state-of-the art for the time, and the concept worked. When the audience went wild, raising their handkerchiefs in the old bullfighting tradition, there was no looking back.
The very next Madrid contest marked the beginning of what Rodriguez calls a "revolution." It was in 2003 that a kicker ramp was added to the track, so that two radical American riders, Kenny Bartram and Nate Adams, could try their backflip, a trick so new that it was still referred to as "the holy grail." That night opened Pandora's Box.
"From that moment, when they started to flip, the rest of the riders started trying lots of new tricks, innovating new things. Of course they needed track features that enabled them to do what they were practicing," Rodriguez comments.
The additions and innovations that have appeared at one time or another at Las Ventas include an old-school fan box, a wall ride, and a ramp that shot directly out of the audience area to the track itself. Rodriguez especially remembers how "amazing" Travis Pastrana was on that feature, making the most of the audience's surprise as he went zooming by. Pastrana still holds the Las Ventas record for most Red Bull X-Fighters wins, with three.
Another special addition was the track's first quarterpipe, and with it, the first Flair performed in competition anywhere, by the "Sweet Swede," Fredrick Johansson, in 2008. It's a trick many have tried to emulate ever since. For France's Thomas Pagès, one of a select few to master it, the Flair 540 was a key tool in his arsenal to capture the 2013 Red Bull X-Fighters overall crown – which, by the way, he locked at Las Ventas. Spain's own Dany Torres, the 2011 overall victor, as well as several other contenders, are hinting at laying down a Flair in Madrid this Friday, as well as moves like the Bundy, the Double-Grab Backflip and, just maybe, the long-awaited Bike Flip.
Another important step in the evolution of the Las Ventas track was the addition of a 35-meter jump three years ago – a tricky construction puzzle since the diameter of the ring is only 60 meters and the riders need plenty of room to take off and land. So the ramp begins inside a tunnel. Rodriguez says, "The riders are flying right away as they come out, before they can see the landing. But they like it and the spectators love it – they're so close to the action."
That crowd is another key to the innovation that is a hallmark of FMX competition at Las Ventas. Ronnie Renner, who performed his first competitive backflip here in 2004, explains, "There's nothing like competing in a bullring. You come out of these dark tunnels into this huge crowd, and the energy is right on top of you – it pours. It just takes your level of execution even higher."
Every year, Red Bull X-Fighters Sports Director Tes Sewell and the production team stay in close touch with the riders, finding out what they are planning to do at Las Ventas and whether the track requires anything new.
"This year I feel we've created an amazing track and the riders are happy, so I think we'll see some new tricks here," Rodriguez says.
Sewell is even more enthusiastic. "What you're going to see here is incredible freestyle motocross riding – there are so many guys bringing new things, riding at the top of their game. The atmosphere is going to be more electric than you can possibly imagine. Be prepared for something special here again in Las Ventas."
Watch Red Bull X-Fighters Madrid LIVE!
Catch all the action from Red Bull X-Fighters in Spain:
Webcast: We will stream the entire competition live right here on redbullxfighters.com/madrid-live, Red Bull TV, Xbox 360 and Apple TV. Please note that the live webcast is geo-blocked in the US.
June 27: Europe: 10:00pm (CET) | Canada: 01:00pm (PST) | Mexico: 03:00pm (CST) | Brasil: 05:00pm (BRT)
June 28: Japan: 05:00am (JST) | Australia: 06:00am (AEST) | New Zealand: 08.00am (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.