Editor's note: Tes Sewell is the sport director for Red Bull X-Fighters.
The penultimate round in the 2012 Red Bull X-Fighters Championship has just rolled into Beer Country. The riders are ready to do battle in the heart of Bavaria at the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
For a sports complex that was built starting in the late 1960s it looks amazingly modern and well-kept today. The stadium itself is an imposing structure with a massive floor that once was host to soccer and track and field at the 1972 Olympic Games. For this week eight massive dirt piles are dominating the space in Dane Herron's first course build since the epicly giant Glen Helen beast for Round 2.
Coming off a win in Madrid and leading the series is Levi Sherwood of New Zealand. After this event, the tour riders get to throw out their worst result and the remaining points total is tallied up before the finals Oct. 6 in Sydney, Australia.
With two wins in the series this puts Sherwood in an enviable position. The math seems to say that a win in Munich would give the Kiwi an unassailable lead going into Sydney and would, therefore, give him the championship. I caught up with him in a locker room deep in the bowels of the stadium to get his thoughts on the being the guy with a target on his back:
ESPN.com: What kind of pressure do you feel coming in to Munich and knowing that a win would almost certainly secure you the X-Fighters championship?
Sherwood: Not much. I crashed beforehand, I'm hurt, I'm injured. I haven't ridden since I crashed and I don't know how I'm going to do. I came here and if I get 15 points I'm happy; it's going to count in the long run.
Obviously if I win it means I can relax for the next few months, which I am pretty excited about and is obviously the goal. I have not worked out what position I need to be for optimal points, obviously winning is the best, but I have not worked out where I need to be to win the series.
Do you think this series has become more of a strategy game than it was in the past?
So if you look at the other guys in the top five right now: Dany [Torres, the 2011 champion], Tom [Pages], Javier [Villegas], who do you feel is the biggest threat on a course like this?
I think anyone is. Like I said at any round, anyone can win it. I think Dany, obviously after Madrid he knows he's back at it. He doesn't want to lose the series. With the whole strategy thing, pretty much everything I have learned this year I have learned from Andre [Villa]. He hasn't actually taught me himself, but if you look at how he has done in the last few years, you can learn a lot from it.
No sure thing for SherwoodThough Sherwood looks a bit banged up from his practice crash, he did take the time to visit the tour's resident physical magician, Dr. G, for a little corrective tweaking. Watching Levi in practice and hearing his praise to Dr. G afterward, it certainly looked like the magic might be working.
Sherwood does have to spend a lot of time here looking over his shoulder, however. Todd Potter might be missing after a mean foot peg puncture he received in Madrid, but Torres has enjoyed a return to form lately that could prove a major threat to all of the other riders. Villegas has also been quietly clawing his way up the X-Fighters ranks and now sits in second place within sight of a run to the title. Villegas comes off a good run at X Games, a new Rockstar sponsorship and a real thirst to win.
The story of this event might turn out to be the French triple threat. Tom Pages has been wowing fans and judges alike with his amazing trick-filled, but flip-free runs and the rumor here is he has something else new up his sleeve.
Young David Rinaldo had a rough time at his last X-Fighters visit when he crashed out in Madrid, but looks very comfortable on the big course and was the first to flip here in Munich.
The most interesting threat in this group comes from Remi Bizouard who has not been seen at X-Fighters for quite some time. Bizouard has been putting in killer runs in the Night of the Jumps series and some say his depth of tricks and clean executions could prove to be a big surprise for some of the Tour veterans.
On Saturday night in Munich perhaps the most curious sight will be the layout of the course itself: For the first time at X-Fighters, the public actually crosses into the center of the track by using a tunnel that passes through one of the landings. The course literally flows around them.
Then there is the riders' pit area, which is usually tucked away from public sight outside of the stadium. Here it is front and center at the edge of the course and built to resemble a traditional beer garden [complete with beer garden games and white Christmas lights].
Normally some rider boxes can have the shambled appearance of a teenager's bedroom, but this weekend I think somebody better make sure Bilko [Blake Williams] puts his dirty socks away.