Over 1500 competitors entered the Erzberg enduro and just nine finished. MCN witnesses the toughest event of them all
he world of extreme enduro is booming, and it is now one of the fastest growing motorsport disciplines in the world. International riders, big money sponsors, TV coverage and big audiences have seen it explode into the limelight, but while new events constantly appear on the calendar there is one that remains the daddy – The Erzberg Rodeo Hare Scramble.
It’s been won by Dakar legends including Alfie Cox and Cyril Despres along with the irrepressible David Knight, and with every year that passes it just gets bigger, with more than 1500 competitors being whittled down to only the best of the best during four hours of brutal competition. In 2015, just four riders finished. It would have been none had the four best riders in the world not agreed to work together to get each others’ bikes to the top of an impossible climb. Yes, it really is that hard.
In 2016, another 1500 riders piled into this Austrian working iron ore mine. Like lambs to the slaughter, only a tiny percentage would get to the finish, but that doesn’t matter. Aside from the riding it’s a festival like no other.
The suffering begins
The pain written on the face of 21-year-old South African factory Sherco rider Wade Young gives an insight into the suffering endured competing in the Erzberg Rodeo RedBull Hare Scramble. Young is regarded as a force of nature by his rivals, given his ability to physically manhandle his bike and even carry it where necessary. Yet, despite his undisputed riding ability, he looks like a man on the brink of being broken as he tries to scale one of Erzberg’s notorious climbs. Young dug deep, finishing in sixth place at the end of the brutal race.
A festival like no other
Not only does the Erzberg Rodeo take over the biggest iron ore mine in Austria, it also takes over the entire town of Eisenerz. On the Saturday night on the eve of the main Hare Scramble event, thousands of competitors and fans descend on the town. Cheered on by the passionate locals, riders are encouraged to misbehave, with fans holding out signs instructing riders to do wheelies and burnouts. Factory KTM rider Johnny Walker was unable to compete this year due to injury, but he still played his part in the Saturday night parade.
Anything goes at Erzberg – even grown men doing skids in pig and bunny onesies. The carnival atmosphere at the event is unique, but on Saturday night that goes into overdrive. Then there is the beer tent – big enough to hold at least 2000 people – where things get steadily out of control. The night culminated in a session of body surfing, when the tables were turned into beer drenched slides.
The start of the mayhem
More than 1500 riders enter Erzberg but only 500 proceed through the prologue qualification to reach the main event. Those 500 are split into 10 rows of 50, with each row released at five minute intervals. No one has ever won Erzberg who didn’t start on the front row.
The torture begins
By now, the extreme riding elite are long gone, but the men pictured here are still some of the best enduro riders in the world. The fact they are slowly being broken as they manhandle their bikes up the side of a bolder covered mountain illustrates the severity of the event.
Teenager Billy Bolt shocks the field
There’s always a new kid on the block and this year that kid is 18-year-old Geordie, Billy Bolt. Bolt stunned in his first ever Erzberg. Not only did he finish fifth from a second row start, the result came despite him having to remove his swingarm to unravel his chain, which had come off the rear sprocket and wrapped itself around the front sprocket.
The fight for survival
With 500 riders battling to tame the Iron Giant, the action quickly turns to carnage. Within seconds of starting, competitors are faced with hillclimbs so high and steep they have to be seen to be believed. The result is chaos, with crashed riders and their bikes being used for grip. In hard enduro, anything goes. The event lasts four hours, with each rider having to make their way through 25 checkpoints. Twenty riders failed to start, 11 didn’t get to the first checkpoint and more than 100 failed to make it past checkpoint three.
Even the best riders struggle
The man pictured losing control of his factory KTM is 28-year-old American Cody Webb, showing that even the very best get it wrong. Webb is fast becoming one of the sport’s main contenders and after this crash, remounted to finish second ahead of Spaniard Alfredo Gomez.
Graham Jarvisstorms to victory
The winner was Brit Graham Jarvis, but he didn’t just win it – he smashed it. Aged 41, Jarvis is up against a glut of young, hungry talent determined to knock him off his pedestal, but when the going gets tough, Jarvis’ superior trials skills (he finished fourth in the world trials championship in the late ’90s) come to the fore and he excels. His winning margin was an incredible 33 minutes. He says it is the best win of his long and distinguished career.
Words: Michael Guy Photos: Red Bull