It's always hard to leave home, but this trip was especially difficult for freestyle motocross rider Dany Torres. It's the Friday before Red Bull X-Fighters Glen Helen in San Bernardino, Calif., one week before X Games makes its European debut in Barcelona, and Torres is missing home.
The only Spanish rider in the field this weekend, Torres has spent most of the week speaking in English, a language he started learning a few years ago so he could better communicate with sponsors, fans and the media, and it's taking him outside of his comfort zone. Unlike his peers, Torres has never considered moving to the United States and doesn't spend much time outside of Europe. He's more comfortable speaking Spanish, sleeping in his own bed, riding smaller European courses and not dealing with the jet lag associated with 20 hours of travel.
But that's not what made this trip so tough.
"I got married," says Torres, 26, "on Saturday." As in, six days ago, Saturday? "Yes. Just last Saturday," he says. Two days later, on Monday, he boarded a plane for Los Angeles. "It was very hard to leave," he says.
Angela Tellez, his new bride, remained at home in Sevilla while Torres traveled to California to attempt to retain his lead in the X-Fighters series. The honeymoon must wait until later this summer. "After X-Fighters Japan [on June 1] will be the honeymoon," Torres says. "I don't have the time right now."
Torres is hot off a win at X Fighters Dubai, his first major victory so far from home. After two stops, he leads the series by 180 points. But the oversized course in Glen Helen -- the largest in freestyle motocross history -- does not suit his riding style, and he knows this might not be his best showing this season. He plans to ride his best, stay healthy and remain in contention for the title. No pressure. It's next week that will bring the pressure.
"For Barcelona X Games, I feel the pressure because the crowd is a Spanish crowd and I want to make a podium," Torres says. "I want to do my best."
In five X Games appearances, Torres has medaled only once, taking bronze in Freestyle in 2011. That same year, he won the Madrid tour stop and the overall X-Fighters season title. He also won the Madrid event in 2009 and says he prefers to compete in smaller stadiums such as the Las Ventas bullfighting arena in Madrid. "When I won in Madrid the first time, it was amazing," he says. "I won in front of my crowd in my home country. I would like to do that again."
If he does, he'll do so in front of more family than he's had to support him at past X Games. His father and brother have made the trip to cheer him on in L.A., but a torrent of Torres family members will travel the 600 miles from Sevilla to Barcelona to watch him compete this week.
And if the home country crowd isn't enough to spark him to ride his best, Torres has another motivator: He'll be competing alongside his best friend, 25-year-old Maikel Melero, who is making his X Games debut. The two met while racing motocross as kids, and eight years ago, Torres suggested his fellow Spaniard give freestyle a try.
"I had so much fun in freestyle, I told him, 'You have to do freestyle too,'" Torres says. There wasn't much of a freestyle scene in Spain at the time, and Torres was excited to have his friend join him in the sport. "It's more popular now, maybe 20 riders, but freestyle needs more media coverage in Spain. X Games will be really good for freestyle, and for all the sports."
Torres and Melero often train together at Torres' backyard compound, one of the biggest in the world, and have competed against each other a handful of times. These days, however, Melero spends just as much time training in his own compound, which he built in his hometown of Cotillas, a small village about four hours from Torres' home, as he does riding with his mentor.
Last summer, after six years in the sport, Melero scored his first podium. He took third at 2012 X-Fighters Madrid, which means he could be a dark horse for a medal in Barcelona. "I'm happy to ride with him in X Games," Torres says. "He's so good."
Torres says he also would like to compete with a new run in Barcelona. Known for his double-grab backflip, he's been working on a flair -- a trick he's yet to land to dirt -- and plans to begin working a double backflip into his freestyle run. But whether that happens depends on how much practice time he is able to squeeze in between X-Fighters and X Games and how well practices go at Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, where the freestyle event is being held. Unlike the oversized beast at Glen Helen, the X Games course is smaller and better fits Torres' riding style.
Saturday morning at Glen Helen, Torres qualifies in seventh place. When high winds force the cancellation of the finals later that afternoon because of high winds, qualifying scores are carried over. This bumps him into second place overall heading into the next stop in Japan, 35 points behind French rider Thomas Pages.
For now, however, Torres must put X-Fighters away and concentrate on X Games Barcelona, where he knows the cheers coming his way will be the loudest and his comfort level the highest. So no matter whether his new tricks make their way into his run, "In Barcelona, I will have fun," he says.