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Erzberg: The Before and After

Nothing comes close to the Erzberg Experience. This supreme test can shatter expectations and illusions in the blink of an eye but then also cast riders as heroes. In the interest of finding out how tough this special event can be we grabbed some revealing ‘before and after’ impressions at the very wet 2013 edition…

Ivan Cervantes (31), KTM 350 EXC, factory rider and Enduro World Champion from Spain
Before Erzberg: “This is my first time at Erzberg. Any special training? No, just normal practice for enduro. I am second in the world championship, close to first, so I come here, to have fun basically and to change my routine a little bit. Of course there is nervousness because it´s difficult. I do not know much about this race. I have spoken to many riders and they all tell me I’m crazy because this is the hardest race in the world. So I expect I’ll be a bit destroyed after the race!”

 

After Erzberg: “The goal was to get to the finish. So I was surprised after two or three checkpoints to be in second position but then I made mistakes and lost time. In the ‘Carls Diner’ section I crashed and the bike fell into a big hole; getting it out was complicated. After I passed the Dynamite control point there were only five minutes left to the finish, so that was a unbelievable feeling. A couple of sections were extremely difficult, and I had to fight with the bike. Yes, I thought about giving up and returning to paddock, but my inner voice came up and said, ‘hey Ivan, you are here to go through to the end’. So I pushed-pushed-pushed myself 120% and finally finished in seventh. Without mistakes maybe a top five would have been possible, but well…”
“I am much more exhausted than after a normal Enduro! Going back to normal physical condition will take two or three days then I can start training again. For sure I will be back next year with better weather hopefully. The start was unbelievable; many bikes stopped working with too much water all over the place. My engine also stopped after the first corner. After two minutes it started again, no problem except that I lost 2 minutes!”

 

Lars Enöckl (23), KTM 300 EXC, Austria’s best Extreme Enduro athlete
Before Erzberg: “For me, Erzberg is THE main event, for others also it is a high priority. Preparation takes one year; it is constantly in your mind. For training you are looking for something similar with rocks and steep slopes. Wooded areas where it is narrow and slippery are difficult to replicate but if you master the basic technique, you can hit any surface. The start is special. You drive in convoy to the arena to line up in rows and you can feel the extraordinary tension. With 500 riders there together it is a special feeling. There are also 30,000 or 40,000 spectators and you won’t see as many people together for the whole year. Of course you know what you’re getting into. But that’s why we are here; to give maximum effort up to the point of total exhaustion.”

After Erzberg (retired at Checkpoint 6): “I won the prologue, which was great. Then in Sunday’s Hare Scramble I got out of the first corner well but then saw nothing more than sheer water! The front wheel went into a hole and tucked in. The motorcycle was on its side and sucked in water. I got it back up and running but then more rows from the grid were coming towards us. In the chaos to the next uphill I again flooded the engine and I kicked until it was running once more and continued fighting until checkpoint 6, then it was over. No more power, probably a result of damage from all the water. This is very depressing. All that preparation for nothing. Not a pleasant moment.”

 

Graham Jarvis (38), GB, Husaberg TE300, one of the world’s best Extreme Enduro riders
Before Erzberg: “Erzberg is very extreme, so I have trained hard mostly fitness-based. The bike is good, so it’s a case of not making any mistakes. I got here early to check out the track as much as possible. It’s difficult here, especially at the start with lots of other riders, so I hope to get away without any problems. It is a bit nerve-wracking maybe because this event is getting bigger and bigger with more interest from everybody. You know there could be a lot of pain ahead; you will be tired and on some sections is easy to make mistakes but then you know the track from previous years so that helps to keep up confidence and not freak out.”

 

After winning the Hare Scramble at Erzberg: “After the prologue I started from second row. Oddly, that worked in my favour. I saw the riders on the front row have problems with the water. So I stuck carefully to my line and did not do anything stupid. Once through that part I began to think about racing. I pushed hard and steadily worked my way past as many riders as I could. I knew I was going well as I saw less and less wheel tracks ahead of me. Just before ‘Karl’s Diner’ I took the lead. Then I was able to ride my own race. I didn’t run into too much trouble at ‘Dynamite’ and was able to cruise to the finish. It’s a relief to have finally won Erzberg, because it is the only Hard Enduro race I hadn’t won. This is extremely rewarding. I’m a happy man.”

 

Jonny Walker (22), GB, 2012 winner and factory rider on KTM 300 EXC
Before Erzberg: “I feel good and strong also confident after last year’s win. I have done a lot of training, six times a week. For practice I choose the hardest conditions I could find that mixed Enduro and Trial. I practised on the slipperiest, harshest rocks and also on wet grass. The Hare Scramble is especially hard because 500 riders head down to the start. It’s scary sitting on the line, waiting until the flag drops because all you are thinking about is whether your engine will start okay. The rain? No problem, I am British!”

 

After Erzberg (finished fourth): “If I had to describe my race in one word, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Last year everything went my way, this year luck wasn’t on my side. Right at the beginning water got into the engine, and that cost me a lot of time. I fought back as much as possible but I’m not satisfied with fourth and will try again next year.”

 

Taichi Tanaka (31), KTM 250 EXC, Japanese Extreme Enduro ambassador
Before Erzberg: “I’m really motivated. I want a good result, to get on the podium or to win. Erzberg is special. People and riders come from around the world to do this. Japan makes good bikes and technology but races and entertainment like this is not at such a high level. I am 31 years old, not quite that young any more, so I want to pass on something to next generation. I want people to just try something like this, take some risks, even if you have no money. I want to make Extreme Enduro more popular in our country. This is why I organised public viewing of Erzberg in six major cities in Japan. Erzberg is crazy, but it is also fantastic. That is why I come here.”

 

After Erzberg (finished eighth): “It was much harder than last year. Constant rain and so much water at the start made it very difficult. I had a great fight with Dougie Lampkin in the forest and we were passing each other all the time. There was a new section on the mountain that was not possible without some help. Last year I didn’t need any assistance but this year Dougie and I helped each other, otherwise it would have been the end for me. So I’m happy with my result.”

 

Michael Zajc (23), Austrian graphic designer at Kiska in Salzburg, KTM 250 EXC
Before Erzberg: “I have been a spectator at Erzberg for eight years and now I competing for the first time. The decision was made pretty quickly. My friend Christoph Hauthaler, a motorcycle dealer, organized a starting place, even if it was already fully booked! I could not pass on the opportunity. I was preparing on MX tracks and on the bicycle. You cannot just get on a bike and go for Erzberg. I have not slept well the last few days and have been staying awake until 4am. It is the most brutal Extreme Enduro in the world. Just arriving at this huge mountain of iron is a magical moment, simply stunning.”
“In the visitation outing at Rocket Ride, a side-event on Thursday, I went up the mountain for the first time. Training at Erzberg is generally forbidden. It is important to remember the route, when things get tight, or slower or when you are able to fully nail the gas. In between the course goes over blind crests. If you blast along at 140 km/h and a curve comes up, it gets tricky! For the prologue, the gravel paths up the mountain are just ridden full blast. The best 500 of 1500 Prologue starters qualify for the Hare Scramble. This begins at the bottom of the arena. Afterwards there are steep hills, then back to gravel around the mountain to the rear side, where the extreme terrain begins, but you get to see this only on Sunday, if you get that far.”
“My KTM 250 EXC is fast, super light and agile. The few people who get to the finish in the Hare Scramble at Erzberg are all on two-strokes because they are easier to pick up after a crash. I have four-stroke experience; and after three to four times down you are done. Should I make it to Sunday then sleep will not a problem because the beer tent here is open to 2 o’clock!”

 

After Erzberg (withdrew at Checkpoint 4): “I managed to get to Checkpoint 4 then it was over for me. I started out of Row 7 into the Hare Scramble. I was glad that I had come so far at all! It’s an incredible feeling being on the grid, surrounded all by the rocks. My plan was to watch the front row with the crème de la crème of the Enduro world to see how the first steep sections could be mastered. I was then amazed to see that only a handful of people from the first row got through, the rest was lost in water puddles. When row after row was started, the chaos was growing, it took me a long time to leave that first sector.”

“At the first checkpoint the field was already thinned out and I was in a group with five or six, everybody was fighting as hard as possible. We went through the forest then through the ‘bathtub’. Before the fourth checkpoint was a slope that was impossible to do without help. I first stood and helped the others pushing their bikes and we agreed that they would then help me out, but everyone arriving on top drove on and just left me behind. That was hard. Without help, I could not make it. Thus, the race was over for me. Anyway I enjoyed it; the fine line between euphoria and brutal despair.”

“I was waiting two hours at the start. With a raincoat and extra gloves to be able to switch. I stayed dry but after five metres of riding I was wet down to my underwear with temperatures of four or five degrees. At the start there was pure chaos. Sometimes the water was 20 inches deep. I tried to orient myself with regards to others but it was totally unpredictable. I was happy that my bike didn’t pull in any water. So many others had to stop and give up early on.”

“No matter how your goggles were prepared, you had to remove them after the first metres in water. On the slopes you got roosted from the others by flying stones. With the adrenaline you don’t really notice it but after a shower you discover that you are shot blue all over your body. It was all so crazy but awesome. I’m already looking forward to next year and will have a friend or two posted on the slopes ready to help me out there.”

 

Karl Schagerl (20), KTM 450 SX-F, St. Pölten/Austria, works in KTM Event Marketing
Before Erzberg: “This is my fifth Erzberg and I start in the prologue only. I was eighteenth last year. I am more of a motocrosser than an enduro rider. Friday is the first Prolog run, Saturday the second. I am relaxed but that will change the night before the race. Even though I have trained a lot and spent time at a KTM Race Camp I know I will be nervous. The Erzberg Prologue is the fastest off-road race in the world; 1500 participants, 38 nations, nothing technical, just high speed and full throttle. The top 500 qualify for the Hare Scramble. It starts down in the arena then follows a 13km long gravel road through the serpentine up the top to the finish. It is quite dangerous but if you want to be out front then you do not think about it. Starts are set individually with start numbers to 100 in 30 seconds intervals then every 10 seconds. I have start number 59.”

 

After Erzberg (finished 21st in the Prologue): “It was bitterly cold. We had 20cm of snow on the mountain at the finish and it was a few degrees below zero. My trip took a little over seven minutes; I was almost frozen, forearms completely numb. It was so slippery, so I did not risk too much. That first run was later postponed and restarted a day later. So the second run got cancelled. Saturday’s starter had better weather, seven of which were then in front of me but you just have to accept this. On Sunday I was watching only. It was abnormal after continuous rain, something I’ve never seen. So much water all over the place, sometimes you could not even see the fenders of the bikes. That was mad. At least 50 bikes were stranded and flooded. It was extremely difficult and cold; I was glad not to be in there!”