Photos by Adam Booth
“I’ve really been wanting to win an EnduroCross, and I think I picked the right night to win my first one!”
These words were some of the first out of Mike Brown’s mouth after a hectic 10-lap main event at the X Games Enduro-X, where the hard-charging KTM rider took his first-ever EnduroCross win. It wasn’t easy by any stretch—Brownie beat out what may have been the most stacked lineup of riders in EnduroCross history—but the dominant performance put on by #311 served as proof that he was the man to beat in Los Angeles.
The day started off early, as Shane Schaefer and the Schaefer tracks crew pulled an all-nighter at the Staples Center in order to transform the Women’s Moto-X/ Speed and Style course into something that Geico Honda’s Geoff Aaron referred to as “probably the toughest course I can remember in this series”. Schaefer admitted at lunchtime on Sunday that he had slept a total of 1.5 hours since Friday night, but he loved every minute of his job as lead track builder. The course featured a fairly trick boulder hill over the repurposed freestyle landing, a massive water section, a tight and tricky rock turn and one of the longest firewood pits that anyone had seen. During the track walk, a number of racers looked way more nervous than usual—especially a number of the women’s racers, who were undoubtedly feeling the pressure of the biggest women’s off-road race of the year.
Practice went fairly smoothly, with the biggest hitch coming when Christini’s Wally Palmer got his GoPro camera stuck in his throttle cable, causing him to smack into a log at full speed and sheer his steering tube in half! Palmer managed to walk away with a bruised lung and some swollen body parts, and as an alternate he ended up sitting out the rest of the evening.
The qualifying hot laps made for an interesting glimpse at who was on their game and who was feeling the heat from the big show to come. Most EnduroCross hot laps see the top five riders divided by less than a second or two, but in this case there was a nearly five second gap between first place qualifier Mike Brown and fifth place racer Geoff Aaron. Colton Haaker came in at a respectable second place, while Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Taylor Robert grabbed third ahead of Graham Jarvis. Italian Husqvarna racer Alex Salvini came in a solid six place in his first U.S. EnduroCross event. Reigning Gold Medalist Taddy Blazusiak had a rough Hot Lap and finished outside of the top 20 after a fall in the rock turn. The women’s racers did not complete a Hot Lap, as all ten went to the main event.
When the big show got started, the heat races and last chance qualifiers provided some incredibly fierce action. Standouts included a great heat race ride by National Enduro youngster Steward Baylor, who put his name on the map and showed that he definitely knows his way around an EnduroCross track. Baylor would fail to qualify for the main event, as would Salvini, Beta’s Max Gerston, Booby Prochnau, Gary Sutherlin and a host of other extremely talented racers who just couldn’t break their way into the top two. Haaker rode a fast race after qualifying in second out of the Hot Laps, but a few mistakes had him watching the main from the sidelines as the fastest non-qualifier. Another surprising non-qual was Husqvarna hard enduro start Andreas Littenbichler, who many had believed to be a sleeper going into the event. On the qualifying side, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Destry Abbott made it in to yet another EnduroCross main event. Even in semi-retirement, this guy is still hauling! Abbott later admitted that he had no idea he was in second place in his heat race, and was absolutely thrilled to make the cut.
The women’s class left the line and immediately tangled up in a fairly massive pileup in the river rock corner. Trials rider and Gold Medal hopeful Louise Forsley was dead last coming out of the first turn, but by the end of the second straightaway she held the lead over last year’s winner Maria Forsberg and fastest timed practice qualifier Tarah Geiger. The ensuing six laps made for several lead changes, with every rider falling or getting hung up at some point. In the end, Forsberg was out front when the checkered flag flew, with Forsley in second and a steady Chantelle Bykerk in third. A number of crashes put Geiger outside of the top five, but without hitting the deck the women’s motocross racer might have been at the top of the podium. That’s racing!
In the final race of the night, Mike Brown got the start that he needed to get and pulled out front to an early lead. Blazusiak was dead last, but we’ve seen him come from last to first several times before and this certainly did not mean the end of his night. The bulk the action was in the middle of the pack, as Taylor Robert, Cody Webb, Cory Graffunder, Graham Jarvis and Kyle Redmond battled it out while maintaining a blazing pace around the brutal track. Brown enjoyed a clean track as he held the lead, but for the nine riders behind him the challenge was in not only riding a clean race but also getting around those who were having problems or were dicing with another racer. Graham Jarvis looked solid initially but lacked the intensity of some of the other competitors and had to settle for sixth place. Taylor Robert hit the deck extremely hard yet still managed to pull of a top five finish; he may have been on the podium if not for the crash. Blazusiak seemed to have trouble getting around the racers in front of him, and the crowd was shocked to see that the Polish superstar wasn’t able to muster more than a fourth place finish. Husqvarna’s Cory Graffunder used his long legs to his advantage and bagged an incredible X Games Bronze Medal, finishing just behind Trials star Cody Webb, who turned in an outstanding ride and showed not only solid speed but also poise on his way to a Silver Medal. Yet the ride of the night went to Brown, who quite simply rode the race that he needed to ride and looked dang good doing it!
Coming out of X Games, it’s important to point out how incredible this event is for the sport of off-road. By placing EnduroCross racing in front of the mainstream, X Games has given a talented group of men and women the chance to show the world just how gnarly off-road truly is. Kudos to all of the racers, as well as the promoters and ESPN for making the event a success.
As a points paying round of the GEICO/ AMA EnduroCross Championship, Enduro-X saw a shake-up in the points standings as Haaker got bumped from second place to sixth. Blazusiak still holds the lead just eight points ever Brown, while Robert, Webb and Graffunder round out the top five. The series now takes a bit of a break, with racing resuming on September 15th in Ontario, California. Keep an eye on www.dirtrider.com for more content from X Games throughout the week, and head on over to our sister site, www.motocross.com, for full recaps on the other two-wheeled events from X Games.