Competition for X Games gold could not be any hotter as the global freestyle motocross scene shifts its focus from California to Barcelona.
Taka Higashino has to be the favorite after winning gold in the past two X Games Moto X Freestyle events. He rolls in fresh off a podium finish at X-Fighters Glen Helen, so expectations are high.
"I feel good, but at the same time, I get more pressure because the last time I won, so everybody is watching me again. Pretty big pressure for me," Higashino said. "Last time in Brazil it was [pressure] too because everyone was like, 'Last year's gold medalist, Taka Higashino!' They say good things, but I get pressure and I feel like nothing moves, like my body's heavy."
Higashino will have to hope his heavy body does not drag him down, because hot on his heels are the elite of the European freestyle scene, led by Spain's favorite son, Dany Torres. He is fully fit, and the Barcelona course really suits his style of riding. He is also known to rise to the challenge when the Spanish crowd wills him along.
"I feel really happy because this is the first time that the X Games comes to Spain, and now they are going everywhere around the world," Torres said. "I like to ride in Barcelona because I have ridden many times there before. I like the city, and for sure the X Games in Barcelona will be really, really good. I rode the Supercross and freestyle there, and the crowd is amazing."
Torres said most events require a ton of jet-lagged travel days, but this one is local for him.
"It's easy because the travel is short. I don't have to fly a long way," he said.
A definite home-field advantage.
The Euro crew's big heat is also showing up in Barcelona. Frenchman Tom Pages is ready to do battle and hopes to improve on his result at X Games Los Angeles 2012, when the Pages team believed he deserved a better score in his second run at Best Trick, finishing a disappointing fourth.
But this is also a new, inspired Pages, who has been astounding judges and fans with his uncanny freestyle abilities over the past year. Watching Pages compete is like watching an entire Best Trick event condensed into one run. He has the special flip, 360 and the volt on lockdown, but so far there is no quarterpipe on the Barcelona course for him to unleash his signature flair 540, which could be a deciding factor for a guy who otherwise has no big flip tricks.
A great deal of the talk and anticipation at this event will be the return to competition of Nate Adams. He has been out of the competitive scene for some time because of a nerve injury to his shoulder area and pulled out of last week's X-Fighters event at the last minute. "As everyone is aware, Nate is just returning from 10 months of injury back to the sport of FMX and the Red Bull X-Fighters USA round was set to be his comeback event. Unfortunately, last week Nate was required by one of his primary sponsors, DC Shoes, to attend to functions out of town for appearance requirements that he is obligated to them for," said Adams' manager Jimmy Button. "Nate had been practicing and getting ready for the event when this happened.
"Upon his return, the weather turned bad and Nate was not able to get any practice in for the event. Having missed an entire week and cutting it close with him being prepared has forced him to choose to sit out, as he felt he simply wasn't ready to compete at a level that is required at the X-Fighters."
Hopefully an extra week at home sees Adams prepared for some heated competition in Barcelona.
With all the big names and hoopla surrounding the Freestyle event, nobody should be overlooking the dark horse lurking around Barcelona. Rob Adelberg was suddenly thrust more clearly into the spotlight last week after winning the Glen Helen round of X-Fighters after his top qualifying run held up for the title when winds forced the cancellation of the rest of the competition.
Adelberg has long been a podium threat, but with a major win under his belt to go along with the silver medal he won at X Games Foz do Iguaçu, he could be ready for a breakout performance in Spain.
"It's been a long time coming, something that I thought would be very satisfying. But because of the circumstances [wind and cancellation], it's bittersweet. I want to win a full event fair and square," Adelberg said.
With that confidence boost, he said he's not threatened by the list of FMX luminaries -- rounded out by Libor Podmol, Javier Villegas, Adam Jones, Maikel Melero and Wes Agee -- who will be competing in Barcelona.
"I know I have what it takes to be up there. I just have to stick to my game plan, be smooth and consistent," Adelberg said, adding that he believes Higashino is the favorite. "Taka, the way the judging is at X Games, it favors people with the big spectacular tricks like his rock solid flip."
Tune in at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (ESPN and WatchESPN) to see if the flash of big tricks or consistent smoothness reaps the rewards on Spain's Mediterranean coast.