© Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool
Mani Lettenbichler rides through green hell to win Red Bull Erzbergrodeo
Mani Lettenbichler dominated one of the toughest-ever Red Bull Erzbergrodeo events as world champion Billy Bolt rode through the pain barrier – get up to speed here.
Lettenbichler's father, Andreas, was one of four winners in 2015 when the riders were thwarted by a new section that took them into a deep, wet ravine surrounded by trees.
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Main race – Red Bull Erzbergrodeo
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Known as "de Grüne Hölle" (Green Hell), the event made a return this year as the Motorex Highway and the massive obstacle nearly undid the five-minute lead Lettenbichler had built by the 22nd checkpoint.
Up to then, the German rider had made short work of the taxing course. After the front runners struggled to pick their way through the billowing dust at the start, he took the lead from the first climb ahead of Billy Bolt and built a five-minute lead over Michael Walkner at the entrance to Carl's Dinner, the notorious boulder-strewn technical section.
30 minutes later and with the overall race time hitting the two-hour mark, Lettenbichler cleared Carl's Dinner while Walkner had faded in the exhausting heat, losing position to Mario Roman, Tristan Hart, Alfredo Gómez and Bolt. The Austrian looked a spent force, but he wasn't finished yet.
I'm over the moon. It means so much that both my dad and I have won this race
The next section was the Motorex Highway, and it knocked Lettenbichler out of his groove. Having ascended up a mountain stream, he was faced by a steep climb up a near-vertical slope covered in slippery vegetation.
After four attempts, Lettenbichler had created enough of a line up the slope to clear the obstacle, but by the time he was descending the other side, Roman was already at the foot of the hill. Following his rival's line, the Spanish rider cleared the climb at the first attempt and was hot on his heels.
"That nearly killed me," said Lettenbichler at the finish line. "I was the first guy to arrive and there was just no line. I had to try several lines and then I pulled some logs out of the way, which made it a little bit easier for the rest of the riders. But I was so done after that."
It set up a nail-biting chase to the finish, as the Sherco rider pursued the KTM man through a super tough Dynamite section. With Lettenbichler looking stranded on a new climb, Roman drew up to the start of Dynamite little more than 50 yards behind, but the German was able to clear the section, put the hammer down and speed off to the final climb at Lazy Noon.
After 2h 58m 51s of racing, Lettenbichler crossed the finish line to take a spectacular victory and his second consecutive win of the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship season after victory at Xross Serbia.
"When I cleared Lazy Noon, I was like, 'Oh man, how sick is this'. Literally, the last push wasn't too difficult and it was an unbelievable feeling. I'm over the moon. It means so much that both my dad and I have won this race. Not many people will do that."
Having sat out the opening round of the series through injury, Lettenbichler's fitness is giving him a serious edge in this year's competition.
An emotional finish
With most of the field still trying to reach the first checkpoint at Wasserleittung (Water Pipe), Roman crossed the line a mere three minutes behind Lettenbichler to take a brilliant second place. Clearly emotional, the Spaniard dedicated the result to his grandfather, who had passed away earlier in the week. Having won the opening race of the championship, the Minus 400 in Israel, the Spaniard is squarely in the title race.
"I made a decent start, but there was a crazy amount of dust and I lost a lot of positions, but then I reached the forest. I kept calm, ran at my own pace and started to make up some places one-by-one. Second place was the best I could manage this year.
"The race is getting harder and harder every year. For sure, this was the hardest one yet. The toughest part is that there were some surprises on the track. We walked the track on Saturday and thought we knew every section, but there were several sections I didn't recognise."
Another surprise was Trystan Hart. The Canadian endurocross star, who's leading the US hard enduro series, is competing in four races in the world championship this year. He produced a superb run, even recovering from a slip that dropped him to seventh on the run up to Double Fault. Hart climbed back up to third through Carl's Dinner, passing Wade Young, Bolt and Gómez to take third place and become the first Canadian on the podium at Red Bull Erzbergrodeo.
A race of champions
Hart wasn't the only rider from the Americas to impress, as Kailub Russell – winner of eight-consecutive AMA Grand National Cross Country Championships and the International Six-Days Enduro – set the fastest time in a Prologue that was packed with cameos from past winners David Knight and Taddy Błażusiak, as well as national hero skier Marcel Hirscher, who was taking part for the first time.
On Sunday, the Olympic champion conquered big climbs at Zentrum am Berg and Machine to finish on the approach to Carl's Dinner by the end of the event – an astonishing achievement on his debut. Also impressing was Pol Torres, riding on a massive 700cc Yamaha Téneré adventure bike.
At the finish line, a battered Bolt crossed the line in fourth, having ridden through the pain barrier. Nursing an injured right foot and left hand, the defending FIM Hard Enduro world champion came into the weekend as joint leader of the championship and needing to minimise the damage to his campaign.
Bolt stuck with Lettenbichler at the start before falling back and taking a heavy tumble in Carl's Dinner. He held off challenges from Gómez and Young, crossing the finish line – his jersey in shreds – in fourth place to take vital points and retain the championship lead.
Two-time winner Gómez – who's now heading his own GasGas team – came across the line in fifth place ahead of Walkner, the 20-year-old having recovered brilliantly and becoming the highest Austrian finisher at the event. He crossed the line to riotous and deserved applause from the home crowd – a star is born.
Wade Young and Matthew Green, leading a strong South African contingent, were the last of the finishers, Young nursing what was left of his bike and its buckled wheel over the finish.
Graham Jarvis came into the weekend as joint leader of the championship and recovered from a frustrating start that saw his Husqvarna drowned during the chase across the bottom of the quarry in the first few hundred metres. After an hour's delay, he got going again but only with outside assistance. Although he was disqualified, the Brit produced a brilliant ride to reach the Motorex Highway by the time the clock ran out.
Hard Enduro World Championship Standings
- Billy Bolt, GBR, Husqvarna, 45pts
- Mario Roman, ESP, Sherco, 43pts
- Mani Lettenbichler, DEU, KTM, 40pts
- Alfredo Gómez, ESP, GasGas, 34pts
- Wade Young, RSA, Sherco, 32pts
- Graham Jarvis, GBR, Husqvarna, 30pts
- Michael Walkner, AUT, GasGas, 29pts
- Teodor Kabakchiev, BUL, KTM, 27pts
- David Cyprian, CZE, KTM, 24pts
- Dominik Olszowy, POL, KTM, 21pts
The riders have just three weeks to put their bikes and bodies back together ready before Round 4 of FIM Hard Enduro World Championship Red Bull Abestone in Italy.
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