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"Dirt", December 1, 2012

UNCOMMON VALOUR

IN A TALE OF SURVIVAL FROM THE ENDURO BATTLEFIELD, THE 2012 ISDE OF GERMANY WILL BE REMEMBERED AS THE YEAR THE AUSTRALIAN SENIOR TROPHY TEAM TOOK ON THE WORLD, BLOODIED AND BROKEN

STORY ADAM RIEMANN

PHOTOGRAPHY JOSH BALLARD

The International Six Days Enduro is often referred to as the Olympics of dirtbike racing for the simple fact the best of the best are representing their countries and competing for gold on a world stage. But one thing you’re unlikely to see at the Olympics is athletes smashing their bodies into the ground at high speed, breaking bones and ripping their skin apart, only to remount their bent and buckled bikes to fight to the finish.

A gold medal finish! That’s right: despite nasty injuries, Australia made history at the 2012 ISDE in Saxony, Germany, where the six-man team of Josh Strang, Toby Price, Chris Hollis, Daniel Milner, Matt Phillips and Glenn Kearney finished on gold in their respective classes and secured second place behind France in the Senior Trophy Team standings. It was a history-making effort and the highest-ranking finish for Australia since Shane Watts, Jamie Cunningham, Ian Cunningham and Shaun Reed won the Junior Trophy Team title at the Polish Six-day in 1995.

If you can fathom riding a bike for six days straight through gnarly German pine forest chopped apart by a field of more than 500 world-class riders — as well as hammering up to eight special stages per day — you’ll appreciate how much our boys put on the line to prove Australia is a superpower in the world sport of enduro.

Now stitched, plated and pinned, a few of our toughest enduro soldiers recount the events of what was one of the toughest Six-Days they’ve ever endured.

TOBY PRICE #135

“It was a tough one, for sure. I crashed big during the enduro test toward the end of day one and smashed up my front wheel pretty bad. I thought I’d ended my Six-Days right there. Three spokes broke and the rim was so buckled that the knobs were rubbing on the fork leg. I had to cruise through the last few stages and tests without jumping anything too big. I put new spokes in during the work period while I was fitting the front tyre and managed to true up the rim a little by eye but she was a pretty wobbly front wheel for the rest of the event. Things were looking OK for the next two days and I even won some tests outright, but then I crashed big again and busted some ribs. The whole event went downhill for me from there. I was hurtin’ so much and hating the ride, but I just shut it out and kept going for the team. It was a relief to make second on the podium in E3, but I was even more stoked our Aussie team scored second in the world!”

CHRIS HOLLIS #132

“It was so full on, man. All of us had big crashes; we just didn’t expect the enduro tests to be so gnarly. Especially this one test in the pines: it was scary trying to ride it fast. You’ve never seen anything like it. The ground was completely covered in tree roots, spitting you further off line the harder you tried to ride. I cartwheeled it hard in there on the first day and bent my bike up pretty bad. Toby crashed hard, too, and was lucky not to collapse his front wheel. The boys were holding it on throughout the event, though, going blow for blow to take outright wins on different tests. I managed second outright in one test but I didn’t feel I nailed it ’cause I caught Mike Brown through the rutted grass track; then he kinda pulled me through the last motocross section of the track. I should’ve had a crack at passing him, which might have given me the outright win for that test. But everybody was flying; our boys stepped it up another level in Germany. I can’t believe Toby, but — he’s a machine. I don’t know how he could handle so much pain through the night then get on his moto and go smash tests each day like he did. We were sharing a room together and every time he moved he’d wince and struggle from the sharp pain in his ribs. And Kearney, what a soldier. His knee was split wide open after crashing in that same gnarly pines test; then he rode two more tests and two full-on sections of trail after the crash — then changed two tyres!”

GLENN KEARNEY #130

“Yeah, things never seem to go smooth in these events. I didn’t realise my knee was so bad at the time. It really hurt despite the knee brace patella cup taking most of the impact but the force must have ripped the skin right open. I got up and finished that enduro test I crashed in but was pretty slow cause the levers and ’bars were all bent and pointing to the ground. It kinda freaked everyone out at the end of the day when I peeled off my nylons and there was a massive gash in my leg, but you know what? It was actually easier to ride with it split open than it was when they stitched it up. It was so swollen and tight the next day that I couldn’t bend my leg properly so I just rode fast enough to salvage points for the team. At the end of each day, it felt like my knee was freeing up, but that was only ’cause the stitches were busting open enough for me to bend my leg properly. I just went through the motions at the end of each day, back to the medical tent to get more stitches put in to get me through the following day. I had to keep goin’; the boys were doin’ so good that I felt I had to be there to see them through to the end.”

JOSH STRANG #134

“Overall I was happy with my personal result for the ISDE. I wanted to finish top Aussie but both Price and Phillips were hauling all week. It’s also awesome to see that Australia has gone from a country that can only just scrape into the top five to a country that in every test has riders in the top 10 outright and not just one like previous years. I think there were a few tests where there were four of us all in the top 10. I believe if we get on a course that’s suited a little more towards the Aussies we can have a good shot at winning that senior trophy. It’s a big ask but with all the guys going so fast back in Australia it’s not out of reach, for sure. Well, that’s it for me. I really can’t wait for ISDE 2013. I know I’m going to be more prepared and I think this year lit a fire under all of the boys to get some speed and fight those Frenchies for that top step of the podium.”

DANIEL MILNER #131

“I actually didn’t feel fast in Europe because most of the enduro tests were so foreign to what we ride. They were so gnarly. There was almost no dirt, just roots and stumps. We were too scared to try and ride them fast because we’d just crash so hard — and we all had big crashes in there. Our times were really suffering from those tests ’cause we couldn’t ride them like the Euros can. Us Aussies just didn’t suit the gnarly pine tests. There was one grass track test I felt sick on and won it outright a few times. Days three and four were full on because it got real muddy from heaps of rain and there were these impossible hills on the trail sections. You had to keep a pretty good pace to get through on time, but most controls I was able to see Toby and the boys so we could talk about how we were going and what was ahead. When I saw Kearney with his bike bent up after his crash, he said his knee hurt a bit but didn’t seem too fazed. That afternoon he changed two tyres and everyone kinda forgot about his crash. Then he came back after checking his bike in and we all nearly spewed when he peeled off his riding gear to find his knee was opened right up. He had to get it restitched at the end of the remaining days because he kept ripping it open. Even watching Toby getting high-fives on the podium after his final moto, you could see him gritting his teeth to take the pain of his broken ribs while everyone wanted to congratulate him. Kearney and Price are the toughest dudes I know.”

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