Red Bull X-Fighters rider liaison Drake McElroy really likes Sydney's Cockatoo Island. This is partly based on the fact that it's a popular spot during seagull nesting season, and Drake is commander-in-chief of the curiously named Smoking Seagulls motorcycle cult. McElroy's avian chums should make life interesting on Saturday when motorcycles also crowd the airspace for the final round of Red Bull X-Fighters here in Australia because the gulls aggressively protect their young by screaming and swooping over anyone who comes close. Drake commented on his reaction to the Alcatraz-like former penal colony:
"It's quite a place actually. First thing I noticed was the seagulls -- call me crazy! Took the quick tour and I think it is going to be a great site for the event."
The story here is, of course, all about the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour championship and the ongoing battle between Nate Adams and Dany Torres. Adams looked like a lock after his win in Poland, but disaster struck while practicing for Sydney and Adams limps into Australia with an injured wing.
"I was just doing a holy grab to no handed lander -- trying to add some new little tricks to my run," Adams explains. "I lost my front end on one holy grab, stuck my shoulder in the ground and it dislocated. I've got a torn rotator cuff, bicep tendon and crack in the humerus bone, so it's sore this weekend. I'm just kinda going to see how it goes. It's at the point where it's getting better daily, but honestly I know I'm not going to be able to do my full run -- that's out of the question."
With Adams trying his best to salvage some kind of result, the door is much more mathematically open than it otherwise would have been for Torres to claim his first major championship. Adams is going to have to hope for a Torres mistake and if Adams just takes the start for the base five points, then Torres needs to finish in the top four to break any ties and guarantee the World Tour title.
Though Adams may be out of contention, there is another wave of Americans set to do battle with Torres and the rest of the international field -- not to mention the seagulls -- here in Sydney. Mike Mason got re-invited back into the X-Fighters tour ranks since his last time out in rain soaked London 2010.
"When I heard that X-Fighters was going to Australia, that was the one that I wanted to do for sure," says Mason. "Australia is such a fun place. X-Fighters last year was pretty much the last contest I rode. Even though it's the end of the season and maybe a lot of guys are getting over it, it's brand new to me. So I am ready to get down there."
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion into the Sydney competition is Todd Potter, who's having something of a renaissance lately.
"After X Games I just kind of started riding a lot, learned some tricks, got some seatgrab flips and lazyboys and stuff," Potter explains. "I just felt like I was way more dialed in on my dirt bike. I actually wanted to ride for me and not like, 'Oh you're invited so you have to go and do this.'"
Potter -- one of the most natural and gifted riders to ever grace the FMX scene -- cites the death of his friend Jeremy Lusk when trying to explain what has been a conspicuous absence from the competition scene over the past few years.
"Jeremy was huge and back when he passed away I just really did not want to push any harder," he admits. "When I first got into the scene I actually wanted to beat everybody, because I thought I could. When I started getting out of that feeling, I didn't really feel I could do that great. If I step out of my comfort zone on a run, usually I will start dead sailoring because I get nervous and lock up, but right now I am to a good point where I am really confident with stuff. So even if I get a little squirrely, I'm still comfortable." Potter finishes, "I want to just make a push for the next couple of years and be in the contests that I should have been in the whole time."
Saturday in Australia will be an epic battle to the finish for the two guys who are in the hunt for the championship, but will also be a personal quest for a lot of riders who really want to make their mark as the 2011 season winds to a close. Ten thousand screaming fans and a few hundred screaming gulls will surely help propel them to success.