Sky rider … a Red Bull X-Fighter stunt competitor in action.WITH a flurry of flip vaults, flairs and 360s, New Zealander Levi Sherwood won the final leg of the Red Bull X-Fighters series yesterday to claim the International Freestyle Motocross championship.
Nanjing Night Net

The 20-year-old defeated Frenchman Thomas Pages in a thrilling final in which each rider had two minutes to hurl themselves over imposing dirt ramps and fling their bodies about like rag dolls while keeping control of the bikes that flung them up to 15 metres in the air over Cockatoo Island.

”It’s a big relief for me,” Sherwood said. ”It’s been a long time coming. I put a lot of pressure on myself.

”I knew I had to give it everything. Thomas really brought the heat today. He came back from his bad qualifying run and took it all the way to the final. He made me work for it.”

You know guys are tough – or maybe they’re crazy – when they’re introduced with ”Back from a broken neck!”, as last year’s Sydney winner Josh Sheehan was. This is a sport where a common move is to put your feet on the handlebars of the bike while soaring through the air across 30 metres or more.

Of course, there’s not always a happy ending. And when Pages bit the dirt early in his final ride, it seemed a painful fate had ended his tilt. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old got back on his bike – only to fall even more heavily in the dying seconds of his section. He got up again. But it took a little while.

That left Sherwood needing little more than a clean ride to snare the title, which he provided – and still put on a show. The Kiwi ended up winning in all five categories: variety, execution, style, course and energy.

”It makes it a little bit easier,” Sherwood said of his opponent’s falls. ”But I still had to go out there and do two minutes. So I couldn’t celebrate yet.”

The event was the climax of a six-stop series, which took in the UAE, the US, Turkey, Spain and Germany, though the event in Turkey was cancelled because of poor weather.

Thankfully, the weather played ball yesterday, ensuring the track was dry enough and the wind placid enough for the 12 riders to do their thing. And they did it on 6500 tonnes of dirt moulded into five ramps, two ”super kickers”, a 35-metre mega-ramp and a dirt quarter pipe.

The riders performed all sorts of manoeuvres, with all sorts of inventive names, such as front and back flips, 100-footers, flairs, lazy boys and one-handed strippers.

While the competitors risked their welfare, the crowd of skater-chic 18 to 35s enjoyed a dreamy setting, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge providing the backdrop. The event was widely broadcast but what the television cameras couldn’t pick up was the pungent smell exuded by the machines, a mixture of motor fumes, burning engine parts and melting rubber. Not that anyone was complaining.

Twitter – @davesygall

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