By now you know Team USA made us proud by emerging victorious at the 2019 International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) in Portugal, and even though the final day of racing took place over a week ago there’s still strong buzz surrounding the milestone win. And for good reason, too. The team, consisting of Taylor Robert, Kailub Russell, Ryan Sipes, and Stu Baylor, dominated the event to bring home the United States’ second win in 94 years of racing. Yes, 94! We had to get some first-person perspective, and when the boys got back Stateside, we immediately went to Robert, the team captain, to get it.
Read Robert’s first-hand explanation of the ISDE format, the 2019 race, and much more.
The Lead Up
“The enduro format is very similar to a mountain bike enduro format. You’re on the bike for like eight hours a day, but you’re not necessarily racing for eight hours a day. There are stages, or what they call special tests, throughout the day. At this specific event there were seven special tests every day. We’re allowed to check out the special tests, but we’re not allowed to ride them. You can only walk them. We got there a week before the race so we could go walk all these special tests and know where we were going. We literally tried to memorize every single turn. We’ll end up walking them at least twice that whole week before. I did like 82 miles of walking in six days. There’s this whole preparation that goes into it that people don’t even know about. It’s a lot of work. I’ve done this event nine years now, and the first time I did it, we’d go walk all the special tests to get an idea of where we were going and that was it. It was just to get an idea, a general clue of what was going on. But then in 2016 I went over and did the full World Enduro [Super] Series in Europe, and that’s when I realized how much time and effort those guys put into preparing and making sure they have literally every turn memorized. Since then I’ve kind of, being the team captain, pushed the guys to walk as much as we can the week before the race and it’s really paid off. The first year I told these guys about it was 2016 and we walked a lot more then and won, and we’ve been pretty much a threat since then. It’s really made a big difference in our program. We’ve had the speed but we were never as prepared as the rest of the guys.”
“How the first day works, it’s based off how the team finished the year before, and they do it by class. There’s the 250F Class, which they call the E1 Class, and they take off first. The Australians took off first because they won in 2018 and our 250F rider, Ryan Sipes, took off second. After all the E1 riders go the E2 riders take off. Those guys are Kailub Russell and I, and the top Australians took off right before us. So Sipes was our first guy out, and he started the day like a madman. He put in some super solid times right off the bat. Kailub and I started a little off the pace though. When you’re able to walk the tests you’re able to pick your lines and know exactly where you’re going to go. But if 50 guys ride between you and that next guy, the track changes. As it changed throughout the day, by the time Kailub and I got there it’d changed even more than we thought! It was like, ‘Okay, we gotta pick it up!’ The whole rest of the first day, Kailub and I were playing a catchup game. It ended up working out. At the end of the first day all three of us were in the top five and we were less than ten seconds apart. That was huge for us. Not only did we have three riders in the top five, we had three riders in the top five on the first day, which for Team USA, is unheard of. Usually we get better as we go on because we may not have been as prepared as the rest of the guys there. But it was huge to have everyone start off like that and be that tight.”
“From day one we were riding phenomenally. The guy who won, Daniel Sanders [of Australia], and not to take anything away from him, he was killing it all week, but he was really carrying that Australian team. From the first day he pulled this huge gap out on everyone else, but as a team, compared to everyone else, we were by far the most consistent. We knew that if we just kept doing our thing and riding that consistently we’d all be in a good spot.”
“Kailub Russell messing up his [rear] sprocket was really the only moment we had where we were like, ‘Oh man, this could really cause us some trouble.’ It seems like every year I’ve done this event, one, two, or three major things happen that set us back. Last year, day two, Ryan had a big crash where he lost like 45 seconds in one test and thought he broke his sternum. After that he was never the same, and that pretty much took us out of the fight. But this year everyone held it together. Nobody had any major get-offs, no nagging injuries were holding anyone back, nothing.
The only upset we really had was with Kailub. It wasn’t even in a special test, it was in a transfer section in between. He clipped a rock and bent his sprocket. When he got to the checkpoint he only had like two or three minutes. They were like, ‘We have to fix your sprocket, you can’t keep going.’ It was going to take more than three minutes to fix the sprocket so he was going to have to take a penalty. But luckily, someone had the idea of giving tools to Kailub. While you’re in the service area you can get as many tools and parts as you want, but you can only be in there until your time is up, and he only had three minutes. So they gave him an extra sprocket and all the tools he needed and he pushed his bike through the time check. Once you’re on the other side of the time check, it’s just the rider and the bike. Nobody can hand you tools or anything, but he had all the tools with him. He wheelied his bike up onto a retaining wall, used it as a center stand, and changed his sprocket right there on the side of the trail.
Everything was kind of muddy that day too, so changing the sprocket took a while, like nine minutes. Usually you don’t have that much time to spare, so as soon as he was done he had to haul ass through the transfer section. He pretty much had to race in a section you’d usually use to recover and chill for a minute. But he had to go into full race pace so he wouldn’t lose any time at the next checkpoint. He handled it like a champ—we didn’t lose any time and it worked out great.”
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Today was a bit stressful for me. Broke a sprocket a few miles before a time check, and luck was on our side to even make it to the check. Didn’t have enough time at the check to swap the sprocket out so I carried the tools necessary along with a new @renthal_moto sprocket with me through the TC and promptly found a nice retaining wall conveniently located next to the trail to start swapping parts. I lost close to 10 min on the repair and had to spend a lot of energy racing through the next 30 min of transfer to the next special test, race the special test and make the next TC on time to avoid penalty. After all was said and done I was able to keep on time and help extend our teams overall lead! ?????? ?: @kato.foto
“We took over the lead on day three, but honestly at that point it was kind of expected. We’d all been riding so consistently up to that point, and Kailub and I were still inside the top five. We knew if we kept doing that it was going to happen. We knew there was no way Sanders would be able to carry the other three guys through the whole week and we tightened up that gap on Sanders. I was the top guy on Team USA and he was the top guy on Team Australia, and we really tightened up that gap between us and them so that he wouldn’t be able to keep carrying them. And like I said, the rest of our guys were just consistent. Kailub was right behind me and Ryan was another few spots behind him. I think it was like a minute-and-a-half, the gap, a minute 45, and then boom, the next day we had a minute lead. It was like a two-and-a-half-minute swing in one day, which is really good. We knew we could do it, but it was frustrating at first. We were beating all the other guys, all the other Australians, but this one guy was carrying them. Finally we were able to keep riding fast and consistently and were able to chip away."
The Special Tests
“There are two different types. There’s a cross test and an enduro test. A cross test suits your typical motocross racer. It could be a grass track, or like the ones this year were in a sand pit, and most of the ones we did were like six to eight minutes long. They lay out a course, wherever it might be, a grass track, sand pit, or even a desert landscape, whatever, and there are ribbons on both sides, you can’t cut the track at all. The cross tests are going to have more flow like your typical moto-style event. Some of them are even on a motocross track. They’ll start you on a motocross track before you ride out onto a grass field next to the track.
The enduro tests are much more technical, like a GNCC race or something like that. They’re usually longer too, like nine to twelve minutes through the trees, forest, or whatever technical area they have around there. It’s much tighter and less flowy. It’s more of your traditional off-road type stuff. There’s a big mixture between the two different types of tests. A lot of motocross guys can do really well at the ISDE. Stefan Everts actually won it one year. The intensity suits the motocross guys really well, but when they throw in the really technical stuff, that’s when it suits the enduro riders more. Last year we had Zach Bell on the team. We usually try to have a couple guys with a strong moto influence in their lives, even if that’s not what they’re doing at the moment. Guys who grew up with that kind of intensity usually do really well in this type of racing.”
Surviving the Game
“It’s very tough. Luckily there are like five checkpoints throughout the day so you’re constantly trying to eat and hydrate as much as you can to have the energy to keep going. But day four is always the hardest day. By day four you’re just past the halfway point. When you start day four you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’m exhausted and I’m only halfway through. It’s going to be a long day.’ But once you get through day four, by the end of the day, you’re pretty much set. Day five is really the last tough day because day six is pretty much a motocross race. You’re not on a bike for eight hours that day, maybe 20 or 30 minutes. But day five is the last enduro day, and even though it can still be really hard, it’s like, ‘Okay, I can definitely do one more day of this. You get through day five and it’s just this huge relief, like, ‘Okay, I just have to do this motocross race and I’m set.’
The morning of day four is different. That light at the end of the tunnel is still pretty far away, but by the end of the day it’s a lot bigger. And when we got halfway through day five this year and everyone was still intact, it was one of those moments. We didn’t want to start celebrating but we were like, ‘Man, I think we can do this! We got this under control!’ We got to the last test on day five and everyone was still good and putting in good times. Kailub actually won the last test on day five, which is the last real enduro part, and after seeing that it was like, ‘Okay, we’re not slipping at all, they’re not creeping on us, we’re still pulling away. And now we only have the motocross race left!’ It felt pretty good.”
“It’s pretty unique where we were in Portugal. If I had to liken it to anything I’d say it was kind of like Central or Northern California. Kind of like a desert, but with a lot of vegetation. Not like the Southwest where it’s just desert and pretty sparse. There were a lot of big trees but the ground was very dry and rocky. The variety of terrain and different elements we had to deal with when we went up into the mountains was only part of it. We weren’t up there all day, we’d go up there, do a special test, and come back down into the valley. You had to be super adaptive, which is what the ISDE is all about. We’d go up into the mountains, it’d be raining, and we’d ride a super slippery pass through the trees or on a grass track. Then we’d come back down into the valley and it’d be bone dry. You’re literally dealing with one of the dustiest tests of the week and then you’d go back up into the mountains where it was muddy. I thought that was a cool element we had to deal with this year.
We really can only run one style of tire over there and you had to adapt very quickly. The tires, if you’re running a hardpack tire in the mud, you have to figure out how to use it there before going back down into the dry and slick terrain in the valley. Then you have to figure it down there again. It’s not like you can spin a couple laps to warm up on it, you just have to go fast right away.”
“The weather was pretty crazy. We were like 30 minutes from the coast on the Southwest part of Portugal, and the track was more or less sea level. As you drove in from the coast it was pretty flat and kind of down in a valley. The paddock we used was at a MotoGP track, so where we started every day it was generally pretty nice. A couple mornings were super cloudy and it was misting, but on days three, four, and five, we’d ride right from the paddock straight up into the mountains. Up there it wasn’t a torrential downpour, but we rode straight into the clouds. It was raining pretty good and it was super windy up there, like 40 to 50-mile-an-hour winds. There were sections where you’d pop out onto the road and you were exposed, and you’d have to lean into the wind just to get down the road. It was nasty. It was cold too, and it was raining and sleeting. With the wind coming at you sideways you just couldn’t get away from it. It was so windy, I think it was day four, I was riding with the top two guys, Daniel Sanders and Josep Garcia [of Team Spain], and a big gust came and blew Garcia off the trail and into the bushes. It was really uncomfortable being cold and wet and dealing with all the elements. Wind is so miserable, even if it’s warm out it just beats you down.”
“It was one of the best feelings. I won overall personally in 2016, and we won it as a team in 2016, but honestly, it did feel good, but that year we got a little lucky. Our team definitely wasn’t as strong and we had some issues here and there. But so did some of the other teams—they had some mechanical issues and some riders got hurt. This year it just felt great. Great Britain had a guy get hurt, but other than that none of the other top teams really had any issues. Definitely no mechanicals. It really came down to the fact that we had the best group of guys and we made it happen.
The women won their class too, which was incredible. It was so awesome to see them win. We had totally USA dominance. The Junior team got second, and there’s also a club class for guys who aren’t on the world trophy team, and we won that class as well. We won just about everything you can win and it felt great. The women have had a rough few years and it’s taken us a while to get the women up to par with some of the other countries. Some of the other countries have some seriously strong women! But we had a really good women’s team this year and it was the same deal. They went out there and did exactly what they had to do. It was really cool for all of us to do it at the same time, and after the race there was this incredible Team USA vibe with a lot of American pride going on. The camaraderie was insane. There were flags everywhere and people were singing the National Anthem out of nowhere. It was awesome. We did it in 2016, but to do it again, to put a stamp on it, felt really good.”
“He drank too many beers to count! It got pretty wild after the race, it was pretty fun. We all had a good time. I don’t know how many burnouts we all did. Immediately after the race we all did burnouts. I won the E2 Class, so there was a celebration for that, and there’s a manufacturer’s award as well. It has nothing to do with any country, but every manufacturer can pick three riders to be represented by, and myself, Josep Garcia, and Ryan Sipes were the KTM team and we won that. And obviously there was the World Trophy win, the women won, we were just doing burnouts the whole time! I did a burnout until my tire split in two and my mousse came out and hit me in the back. The celebration was real!”