Few people who take up freestyle motocross riding as a hobby or career can expect to retire without a scratch. If you have an injury-free record, you know you’re blessed. For the team who make up the Red Bull X-Fighters, the dangerous reality of the sport involving 15m jumps for distances of up to 30m – has once again become searingly apparent, following the loss of one of their members, Japanese Eigo Sato, 34, who died from injuries he sustained while training in Japan for the 2013 tour.
The accident came just a week before he was due to appear as one of the 12-strong X-Fighters in the inaugural Red Bull event of 2013 in Mexico City on Friday March 8. Frenchman Thomas Pàges, 28, wore Eigo’s jersey in a tribute to his friend as he rode the Mexican course, and in an even more stunning homage, proceeded to win the event. ‘There was no way that I was not riding, because we had to make him proud and honour him,’ Thomas explains. ‘Riding with his jersey made me really go for it, but I was not riding for pleasure, I was just doing it for the job at that time.
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I was not happy landing a trick, I was happy riding with Eigo,’ he says, with an audible sadness in his voice. ‘Normally in freestyle, when you ride, you do it because you love the sport, it’s your passion, your lifestyle. You take risks because you want it. In Mexico, I didn’t know why I was there doing it.’
He describes Eigo as his closest friend through all the X-Fighter series he has ridden in since becoming part of the collective in 2009. Sadly, it’s not the first time tragedy has struck those to whom Thomas is closest.
‘In 2009, we lost Jeremy Lusk and he was a really good friend of mine too. It was terrible, and it was really hard to come back. It took me more than a year,’ he explains. ‘But I grew up, and I understood why I was doing this. When things like this happen, you grow up really fast. Nothing else in life compares to it. I miss Eigo, but I know that now I’m not scared any more.’
Thomas is determined to be ready and to be on his best form ever for Dubai – and is looking to secure another win. ‘If I’m going to “go big” for an event, I’m not going to do it if I’m not ready. I’m going to be at my best level – though I won’t do anything stupid.’ Even then, he adds, ‘Maybe going big would be the way to see him again, so I’m not scared. It will be my first time in that part of the world, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s like: Dubai is apparently a crazy city.’ Having won his second Red Bull X-Fighters in Mexico, he is determined to do everything possible to win again, ‘because winning is fun’. ‘It’s the payback for all the work I’ve done in the past, and I do think I deserve it a little bit’. We couldn’t agree more.
Dhs75 standing, Dhs175 grandstand, Dhs275 main grandstand. Friday April 12 from 8pm. Downtown Dubai, www.timeouttickets.com.
Coming soon: more petrolhead fixes
Watch a daring display of power in this action-packed monster truck show, which takes place in Abu Dhabi on Friday May 10.
From Dhs150 per person. From 6pm. Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, www.thinkflash.ae (800 35274).
Sharjah Classic Cars Museum
Peer inside the museum, which underwent a facelift late last year, and marvel at more than 100 classic cars all manufactured between 1917 and the 1960s.
Dhs5 adults, Dhs15 families, children free. Open Sat-Thu 8am-8pm; Fri 4pm-8pm; Sun closed. Al Dhaid Road, Sharjah (06 558 0222).
Total UAE National Race Day
The next of these regular race days takes place on Friday April 19, when you can watch the NGK Racing Series, the Motor City UAE Sportbike Championship and Drift UAE.
Free. 9am-5pm. Dubai Autodrome, Motor City (04 367 8700).