Levi Sherwood's kiss of death turns the tables
When Palmerston North's Levi Sherwood executed tricks like the jaw-dropping Kiss-of-Death Backflip and the seldom-seen Turntable to perfection in Mexico City, his rivals couldn't stay with him.
He won the opening round of the 2014 Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour to set up a season that will span four continents.
Sherwood came into the competition determined to ride his own way in front of a sellout crowd of 38,000 in the Monumental Plaza de Toros bullring .
"I was really trying not to focus on who I was riding against and to just do my best," he said. "As the season goes on I'll continue to push and take my own way.
"I didn't even really know what [the crowd] were saying, but it feels amazing. I couldn't even hear anything, the crowd was so big.
"It feels like an eternity since I've had a moment like this, so I'm going to embrace it."
Sherwood, the 2012 World Tour champion, beat up-and-comer Josh Sheehan, of Australia, and 2011 World Tour champion Dany Torres, of Spain into third.
In a shock to fans and riders, last year's overall champion, Frenchman Thomas Pagès, of France, was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
They took on the tightest course of the series decorated with murals of the snake god Quetzalcoatl, the world's best FMX riders soaring 15 metres into the sky.
"Not to be rude or anything, but it was just about not caring," Sherwood said. "I came here with a carefree attitude and I really just wanted to have fun. I didn't have fun all last year and it seems to be working for me this year."
The result gives Sherwood a big boost in the five-stage series, which continues in Osaka, Japan, on May 25.
But the battle was close, with Sheehan top in two of the five categories.
Crowd favourite Torres gave a stellar performance despite a nagging ankle injury.
With nine long months since the last Red Bull X-Fighters event, all the riders were eager to see what their competition had in store, and each brought his best.
Sherwood was first in qualifying ahead of Sheehan and Torres.
Sherwood was back to the form that first made him a star when, as a 17-year-old in 2009, he burst onto the scene to win the event in Mexico before progressing to the World Tour champion three years later.
"I really feel like I am back on my bike riding like I want to ride," he said.
Last year, which was injury-plagued, he was third in Mexico and second at Dubai.
Sherwood's lead-up to Mexico was at the annual Farm Jam at Otapiri Gorge, Southland, on March 2, where he won the FMX event. He even helped build the track.
Mexico results:1. Levi Sherwood (NZL), 2. Josh Sheehan (AUS), 3. Dany Torres (ESP), 4. Adam Jones (USA), 5. Thomas Pagès (FRA), 6. Rob Adelberg (AUS), 7. Javier Villegas (CHI), 8. Maikel Melero (ESP), 9. Libor Podmol (CZE), 10. Remi Bizouard (FRA), 11. Erick Ruiz (MEX)
LEVI VS THE WORLD
Levi Sherwood's World Tour Results
2014: Won Mexico
2013: 2nd Dubai, 3rd Mexico
2012: Won Sydney, Madrid, Dubai
2011: 2nd Sydney
2010: Won London, Moscow
2009: Won Mexico, 2nd London