Two years ago, Ryan Sipes tried the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) as a member of an American club team, and turned some heads with his off-road skills. Sipes, no longer wanting to live in Southern California chasing the ever-elusive 450 factory supercross ride, staked some ground off-road, moved back to his Kentucky home, and started racing the Amsoil Grand National Cross Country Series (GNCC). Last year was a struggle, but this year has served as a breakthrough for the Rockstar/Air Group Husqvarna rider, with three podium finishes in the last four races.
Now he’s going next level. Last week, Sipes made history by becoming the first American to ever take the individual overall win at the ISDE. That’s huge for him and the entire American off-road contingent—and we bet a lot of Ryan’s old motocross buddies were cheering for him as well.
We called him yesterday to talk about it.
Racer X: This is absolutely massive. You are the first-ever American winner of the ISDE. Can you even wrap your head around that? Do you even know what to say or how you’re supposed to feel about this?
Ryan Sipes: Yeah, it’s funny you say that. It is kind of weird. I guess I never really thought about doing it. It’s not winning a supercross championship, which I dreamed about for twenty years. It’s just a little different, but it’s still super cool. Proud that I’ve done it and just thankful to have had the opportunity to do it.
Two years ago, you raced the ISDE, and that’s where you came up with the idea of even becoming an off-road guy. This is a pretty fast turnaround.
Yeah, and that’s what a lot of people are saying: “You came two years ago and you’re a moto guy.” Last year, it was a rough year in GNCC. It’s not fun to lose or to not be good. I put a lot of work in over the winter and GNCC is going much better this year. And that format in ISDE really fits me. Coming from a moto background and then having some off-road experience, it’s just the perfect combination because the format over there is full-sprint, ten minutes long. Sprint speed is what you have to have in supercross and motocross, and then they throw in the off-road elements and it was a nice blend for me. I felt like that’s why it worked out for me.
The U.S. team’s been getting better and better each year, and you seem to be getting better at the off-road thing, but did you think “I should be able to win this thing”? Was that your expectation going in?
I didn’t have any expectations of winning it, just because like you said nobody’s ever done it. I don’t ever like to put much expectation on myself. I looked at kind of the facts. I guess Kailub [Russell] was close last year—he was third—and I know that my speed is pretty similar to his so I was hoping and I was thinking that that’s probably where I should be, up there toward the front. And then after the first day I was just one second off Kailub for the overall for the first day, and at that point I was like, “All right, I can stay up here. I can do this.” And then after the second day I was leading. As the week went on, after the first few days, it was kind of like, “Where’s everybody else? Why aren’t they up here with us?” After day four I pulled a big lead, and at that point I knew I could do it. That’s when it got to be where I got anxious because a bike malfunction or something like that can end your week in a heartbeat, or a big crash. So it was a super stressful week. It was almost like going for a championship and trying to hang onto your lead.
I heard you didn’t even really want to talk about it or think about it.
I think that’s the only way you can do it…. That’s the best way you can do anything in life, is just be 100 percent present and not think about one second of the future or one second of the past. That’s super hard to do! It’s way easier said than done. But people started talking about it like day three and I’m like, “Just keep that to yourself!”
Everybody kept telling me it’s going to take time. I kept saying, I’ll just work harder and it’ll be fine. I’ll figure it out.
The last day is a motocross test, so you had to have a little bit of a smile there.
For sure, but at the same time there were two things that were on my mind pretty hard. You still have a transfer trail to get there. It’s like thirty miles maybe, maybe even less than that. Mostly road but there’s a little bit of gravel and something could happen. A rock could kick up in my chain and the chain could come off. I’ve had zero mechanicals this year, but you never know. Freak things could happen. Thad DuVall was having a good week for us, and then his bike just quit on day four or day five. So that was always kind of on my mind.
And then on the moto, I knew if I got up front that I had a pretty good chance of taking it, but getting through the first turn and not having something stupid happen…. I was on a 350. Most of those guys are on 450. So I knew that I had to be on my game coming out of the gate. And then the first turn—you’d never see a first turn like this is America. The whole first turn was off-camber. And these guys are not moto guys. They’re great riders—I’m not taking anything away from them—but it’s not like I’m going out there with all the guys that I’m used to racing with. I walked down there and people were like, “Why are you pacing around?” I’m like, “I’m not pacing; I’m going down there to watch starts so I can see how this first turn is working out.” And sure enough everybody was pushing wide, because it was off-camber. So I kind of just had my game plan of if I’m first to the first turn, I’m good. If I’m not, I’m going to let off and cut in, cut under everybody. That’s what ended up happening. We didn’t have holeshot devices, so I kind of wheelied and all that stuff. I got to the first turn in probably tenth, but I let off early and cut under and came out second, passed the one guy in front of me before the second corner. It ended up being good, but it was stressful. Like I was telling my wife, half the stuff is out of my hands anyway but I still worry about it. I hate worrying about things that are out of your hands because there’s really no point, but it was still hard to not just kind of be anxious about it.
So give me an idea of the team thing. For the first day or two, things were looking really good. It’s awesome to win the overall, but I’m sure you guys were hoping to win the team thing. What was it like when all the stuff started falling apart?
It was tough. It was just disappointment all week because day one went pretty good. Everybody was riding good. We had the lead, with a minute lead over Australia and a minute and a half over France. Day two, some guys had some crashes, maybe tried a little too hard or maybe taking the wrong line or whatever, but still the team, I think we still had the lead or we were close. Day three, when we lost Kailub [due to a crash and knee injury] that was huge, because he would have been in contention to have that overall, too. He was super fast. And then Taylor [Robert], he was right there. He was going as fast as anybody in some places. When he missed that check, there was like ten guys that missed it. It wasn’t like they did it on purpose to cut the track; they got lost and then missed the check. Basically the course wasn’t marked very well right there, and when you’re in a pack, if the lead guy goes one way, you’re really not paying as much attention to the markings as you should. You’re just following everybody. So that was a bummer because they were saying that’s a disqualification. Then Thad’s bike went out, and it’s like, what else can happen?
We just had this black cloud hanging over us all week. Everyone was so bummed, and then they’re like, “Well, only thing we got left now is we got to win you this overall, so no pressure.” And I’m like “Yeah, no pressure!” But it was cool because everybody was kind of rallying around and helping me. Taylor was super fast on the last few days, so he was starting on the front row with me. Some of the tests, it rained one of the nights, so when we got to the test he’d go out first and then try to be one extra bike to dry it up for me or whatever. There was definitely some strategy in that. Me and Taylor go way back. We’ve been riding together for years. So we’re out there on the front row all day together and talking about tests and strategy and all that. It was super cool. Thad Duvall and Layne Michael, once they were out—Layne got hurt and Thad’s bike broke—they would go to a test and kind of walk it and come back and say, “Hey, you need to watch out for this or take this line over here.” It was a huge help.
I know you’re relatively new to the ISDE thing. The three years you’ve done it the team’s been pretty good. But it just seems like on the outside that this was a little side hobby thing for the riders in the past and now the Americans are all into it. This kind of shows how focused they are as a team.
I know everybody’s passionate about winning it. They’re serious and they’re focused all week. We were going to bed at nine and doing everything right, everything that we could do. I felt like as a team we all had the same goal in mind and we were all serious about it. We were pulling out all the stops and doing everything how it should be done. Kind of just some bad luck last week.
What does this mean going forward for you? The GNCCs were really turning around for you in the last couple rounds before the summer. This has got to be some sort of confidence or momentum even though it’s a different format. You’ve got to be excited about this weekend at Unadilla, I would think.
Yeah, it’s 100 percent different format but similar at the same time. It’s not a big difference. I’m just going to go in and try to be focused on what’s in front of me and not really thinking about last week or anything. I’m going to go out there and do my best. My goal is to win at GNCC, so that’s what I’m going to be focused on.
This was somewhat of an experiment two years ago, you trying to be an off-road guy. Has it all pretty much worked out the way you would have hoped?
Last year, getting twelfth and fifteenth at some of the races, I didn’t know if this was going to be the sport for me, but it’s been good. I’ve got a great bike. I’ve got good people behind me. My riding has been turning around. My results are getting there. I’m pretty confident I have the ability to be good at this. It takes work, and honestly it just took time and experience to make it to where I can go out there and not struggle. For sure I’m racing GNCC again next year and some more off-road events probably. And then I’ll still do the one or two nationals, but I’m officially an off-road guy now. I was kind of just hoping that I could keep it on motorcycles for a couple years and make some money and not have to go swing a hammer yet. So it was kind of a risk I guess. Everybody kept telling me it’s going to take time. I kept saying, I’ll just work harder and it’ll be fine. I’ll figure it out. It took me a year, but now we’re there and I just want to keep working and keep getting better. I think I can do some cool things in off-road. Just got to stay focused.
You do anything to celebrate this?
I don’t know. I got home on Monday and the local TV station was there, mom and dad and my wife, a bunch of friends and stuff. I wasn’t expecting anything like that. We went to eat, but we didn’t do anything crazy. I’ve got to be ready to leave on Friday to go to Unadilla, but we’re enjoying it that’s for sure.