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Looking Back At Six Days

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After a historic first-ever World Trophy Team victory last year in Spain, the US ISDE Team went into this year’s event in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, with hopes of bringing home a second-straight title. Certainly, it was going to be tough to beat the French in their backyard (in recent years the French have been widely recognized as the best Six Days riders). But US team manager Antti Kallonen had a powerhouse World Trophy Team consisting of three of the defending 2016 winning team members, Taylor Robert, Kailub Russell, and Thad DuVall, with the addition of Ryan Sipes, who won the event’s individual overall in 2015.

Unfortunately, the US World Trophy Team’s bid for a repeat win died in the very first test on day one. With two turns remaining in the section, DuVall’s front end darted out from under him on a slippery grass track. When his left wrist hit the French soil, a ligament tore. He soldiered on through the next 50 miles of transfer, but by the time he reached the next time check the pain was unbearable.

Since no “throw-outs” are allowed under the new ISDE rule changes that went into effect just last year, the whole US World Trophy Team was dead in the water. The French ran away with the World Trophy division, beating out Australia and Finland for the top title. However, Taylor Robert and Ryan Sipes carried the flag for Team USA by bringing home individual honors: Robert winning the E3 class and Sipes finishing second in E1.

The US Junior Trophy Team and the US Women’s Team both had their share of problems but did America proud by coming away with podium finishes. The Junior Team of Grant Baylor, Lane Michael, and Josh Toth finished third. The Women’s team took an impressive second. This was the first year that Kallonen had managed the Women’s team along with the World and Junior teams—even though it was supposed to be a learning year, Brandy Richards, Kacy Martinez, and Becca Sheets went above and beyond expectations.

The results pages reflect all this, but we were there in France to bring you a little more of what else went into the US teams’ efforts.

Although racing for six days straight and covering more than 750 miles of tests, trails, and roadwork this year is an incredible a challenge, the week preceding the event might well be the more grueling. It’s also the most tedious and perhaps the most important. That’s when all the preparation takes place, which Kallonen touts as much of the reason for last year’s success.

There’s no practice in Six Days, so walking tests is the way to learn the trail. According to his phone’s GPS, Taylor Robert walked more than 58 miles of tests during approximately 37 hours over the course of the two weeks. “Doing well at Six Days is all about your lines,” he said, “and you absolutely have to walk as much as you can to get that little bit of an advantage.”

Kallonen told us the team walked 12 hours a day during the week leading up to the race. “That first week of walking is as important as any preparation we’ve done at home. Everything is in the preparation, and normally we don’t have this many tests. Maybe [usually] we have five to seven tests to walk, but this year we had 10. So it just means a higher pace to get every test walked at least twice. The riders just have to push through it.”

This year’s event came in August, right in the middle of the US race season. Trophy Team member Thad DuVall had been on a roll, having won four-straight National Enduro rounds and two of four GNCCs. He rode the Ohio National Enduro on Sunday, August 20 then drove four hours to his home in West Virginia that evening and flew to France the following morning. He and his teammates were walking tests within hours of landing in France on Tuesday, just six days prior to the start on the next Monday.

Robert was coming into the event having spent most of the year recovering from major injuries he suffered at King of the Motos in February, though he had won three rounds of the AMA National Hare & Hound Championship Series and was definitely up to speed.

Kailub Russell was hesitant to race Six Days this year due to the timing and because he was already racing two series, but Kallonen was able to renegotiate his contract to entice him to go, allowing him to drop the National Enduro series so he could concentrate on GNCC.

“One of my tasks is obviously the factory KTM racing team, all the national series, but one of them is also Six Days,” Kallonen told us back in May. “For Kailub, he said August is too early. Yes, we have all summer break to prepare for it, and then we go, but once we come back from France he has seven nationals back to back to back to back, so if something does happen at Six Days, when I’m asking guys to give 100 percent… He’s not the strongest guy. He gets beat down at Six Days, and smaller bodies get a little bit bigger beating. He was just concerned about the scheduling. So we changed around a couple things.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the US has to ship our bikes, parts, and tools in containers two months before the event, while European teams can drive fully equipped rigs to the event. Team France worked out of three huge, fully equipped haulers, while the US team worked out of two shipping containers.

Jay Hall has been one of the main organizers of the US ISDE effort for the past 14 years, and he coordinates the Team USA pits. Hall estimates there were at least 100 volunteers at this year’s event. “We’ve learned from year to year, because of the fact that we take good notes from year to year, what works and what doesn’t. There’s a lot of work at home we do all year long. This isn’t just something that happens in a month. This is a 12-month process to get here, to do this.”

Cody Webb, who was making his first Six Days appearance as a Club rider, was surprised by the amount of support from the US support crews: “Every check, after you ride an hour straight of just transfers, it was nice to sit back and have everything catered for you right there. It was unreal how much effort goes into the whole team program. It makes it easier for the riders. All we have to focus on is just hammering down on the checks and make sure we’re not making any silly mistakes in the transfers.”

Despite the meticulous preparation, mistakes do happen. US Junior Trophy Team member Josh Toth cost him and his teammates a one-minute penalty when he entered a time control early on day three.

Baylor had problems too. On day five, the South Carolina rider had his shoulder pop out of place in the middle of a test. Baylor was able to slip it back in by himself and finish the test, where the US team doctor, “Doc” McGhee, was able to tape him up.

Becca Sheets suffered a mechanical issue on day one and was close to houring out. However, she pushed through it, stopping at the work areas just long enough to fuel up and grab a drink of water to keep the Women’s team’s hopes alive. In the motocross test, Brandy Richards turned in the ride of the day coming from behind to pass Spaniard Laia Sanz for the lead and runaway for the win.

Sunday, after the final day of racing, the American riders headed off in their different directions. Thad DuVall had actually left on day two, returning to the States to see a specialist and get the news of a torn ligament in his wrist; he was forced to sit out the Unadilla GNCC yet just one week later finished third at the Lead Belt National Enduro to hold onto his point lead in that series. Kailub Russell grabbed his fifth win of the season at Unadilla. Taylor Robert headed to California where he won his fifth WORCS race of the year. And Sipes, since returning from the ISDE, is struggling with a wrist injury from two seasons ago that surely was also affecting him in France, but you’d never have known it.

Next year’s ISDE will be held in Vina del Mar, Chile, on October 22–27, which will likely be a much better time of the year for the American riders. Plus the terrain should suit us well, and all the European teams will have the same travel/pit challenges the US has faced. With continuing support from the racers, team members, and fans, maybe 2018 will be the year of bringing home more Trophy Team titles for the US.