THE ISDE & ME
By Drew Smith
Six days? They should call it the six-month enduro. The ISDE actually starts months and months before the first bike leaves the line. Team selection, fund raising and training camps all have to be organized and orchestrated by anyone who is willing to take on the task. This year I tried to do what I could and was named the team manager for the U.S. Trophy team. The story could fill books. But it all came to a climax as my wife, Loretta, and I touched down at the airport in Bordeaux, France on Wednesday, August 22nd and traveled to the tiny village of Lissac.
There, I picked up a rental Gas Gas EC250 for the official event pre-ride. That?s where a representative of each country gets the opportunity to see the whole course including grass tracks and enduro tests before the event starts in earnest. The official pre-ride is not just a trail ride. Each country assigns its most capable rider so it?s not unusual to have several former world champions along for the ride. This was probably the only part of my job that you could honestly call fun–I got to ride the ISDE without any of the pressure of performing. But this year will surely be my last time for the pre-ride as I felt it took away valuable time that I needed for other duties, which seemed to pile up by the hour as things when awry. So much for the no pressure bit.
What can go wrong? For one thing, when the U.S. riders arrived they were shocked to see that the container with the bikes, team pit supplies, tools, gas cans, etc. was not there. This started a three-day period of anxiety leaving our whole crew wondering if we had come all this way for nothing. I left that problem for Hugh Fleming (our jury representative) and Gunny Claypool (overall team manager) to deal with while I was on the pre-ride. But the team?s problems were never far from my mind. When I left for the second day of the pre-ride, I didn?t know if we would have bikes or not. The container was confirmed to be in France but coordinating the trucking and unloading of it on a tight time schedule was very difficult at best. To make matters worse, our official tech inspection and impound was also on Saturday and the organization seemed unlikely to postpone that.
When I returned I was elated to see the American container there and unloaded. This seemed like a miraculous turn of events in a country where you usually couldn?t find an English-speaking person to tell you when the restaurants were open or where to find a bank to change money. The American team really pulled together that day.
DAY ONE, MONDAY, AUGUST 27 2001:
The next trophy rider was David Pearson, on a YZ250, a 18-year-old with only one previous Six-Days ride. I had only talked to David on a few occasions previously. But I had seen him ride a number of the cross tests in last year?s event in Spain and his smooth, flowing style convinced me he is a guy who has the right idea.
The next trophy rider, Russ Pearson on a YZ250, was back for his fourth ISDE and has a very bright riding career in the U.S. He has a terrific work ethic and seemed sure to be one of our top performers.
That was our youngest trophy team in years; a bunch of Pearsons and Garrahans with a Hoess thrown in for good measure. We had relieved criticism because people said it wasn?t our best team. That?s nonsense. This was the best U.S. team possible because they all wanted to be there. The ISDE isn?t something you can succeed at if you aren?t 100 percent committed.
BETTER AND BETTER
Despite the willingness of the riders and the best efforts of our team?s sole chase rider Ken Tomeo, the trophy team had little momentum. American off-road riders are true endurance athletes and when they come to the ISDE, the event is much more like a series of sprints. There was a lot of talk about the benefits of a training camp before we left for the Six-Days but with the lack of any kind of a team sponsor and all the trophy team riders having to pay for their trip to France, there was just no money for this important part of team preparation. So initially, our times weren’t in the hunt. It was frustrating to see the riders try so hard and rewarded so little.
However, the momentum did start building by the third day of the event. The American riders started to narrow the gap in test scores. They were learning how to play this European game. They were giving their all and stretching the throttle cable wire in its housing.
After Day Four, the team was in eighth place. At the end of Day Five we had moved to seventh place with just one minute separating us from the German team in sixth. The final moto on Day Six remained as our only hope of moving ahead. After a relatively short trail day, all the riders and support people arrived at the final moto track; a beautifully prepared natural moto track, very hilly with sweeping turns going into steep downhill jumps.
John Beal set the tone for the American riders by capturing a podium finish in the first 125 moto followed by a podium finish by Nick Pearson in the second 125 moto. Russ Pearson also scored a podium finish in the final and fastest 250 moto, coming from a mid-pack start and digging down in the first few turns moving to the front. All of our trophy riders scored well. Brian Garrahan moved up to sixth in the 400 four-stroke moto only to be plagued by a stalling bike possibly caused by a plugged vent link on the carburetor. I saw him stopped in a far turn with riders passing his stopped bike and all I could feel was my heart pounding. Finally the bike started moving again enabling Brian to finish in the top ten of his moto.
Club teams were enjoying great success in their motos as well. There was a lot of great effort and even a moto win for the Trail Riders of Houston?s, Mark Faulk.
In the end, due to hard work, the U.S. trophy team moved into sixth position. I think we were all proud of our efforts, riders and support people alike, but this wasn?t the end of our rewards. At the closing ceremony, France was awarded the win in the six-man trophy team competition, with Italy winning the Junior Trophy competition for the four-man team. Club France #1 won the club competition and America was awarded the Waddling Cup; an award given for the most improved team. This may sound like a kind of consolation prize but having been there I can truly say the Americas were the most improved team.
You might wonder how America with the most riders and the best motocrossers in the world can be considered such an underdog. It?s really quite simple. This is a European sport that is almost nonexistent in the U.S. Our off-road racers do something entirely different. It would be like sending the Denver Broncos to the World Cup soccer finals. Just because both sports are called football doesn?t mean they are the same thing. Yet the most encouraging aspect of the 2001 ISDE was how our young team improved and moved up throughout the week. They learned the game an accelerated schedule. Despite our difficulties and frequent lack of resources, this team had a lot of heart. I hope we can build on that for the future.
Throughout the time I was at the Six Days I felt a great deal of anxiety over the future of our team. I knew a poor finish was sure to mean difficulty in recruiting clubs to promote ISDE qualified events. A poor finish would also make it more difficult to get team and individual sponsorship needed so badly by the riders and the overall organization. The team sponsors have always been faithful but Bel Ray, Arai, Cycle Gear and MSR can?t possibly be expected to support the whole effort. We need to reach sponsors outside the motorcycle industry. A major team sponsor would make it possible to improve pre-race preparation, such as a training camp.
We need to continue to come together more as a team with all the available support people working with the organization. This will allow excellent support not only at the checks but also at the cross and enduro tests so that every American rider has his best chance.
Next year?s team will be very different. It will be reorganized and led by different people. AMA representative Hugh Fleming will be gone after almost 20 years of hard work. Gunny Claypool will be moving on as well. As always I remain optimistic. With better event coverage of ISDE events, we can hope for more crossover of riders from motocross and GNCC contributing to our talent pool. Americans have always been equal to the hard work necessary to be the best and I?m sure we can achieve the best