Despite a promising start, Team USA's women have been off the podium more than on in recent years. At the 2007 ISDE in Chile, the first year there was a Women’s Trophy division, Nicole Bradford, Mandi Mastin, and Lacy Jones won it. As of 2017, 10 years later, that has been our first and only win. This year, our women’s trophy team was a step above recent attempts, tying our next best finish in the division (2008 Greece) with a second-place finish in France. While not quite surprising, given the caliber of the riders selected to compete on the US Women’s Trophy Team this year, what makes this finish all the more remarkable is the fact that none of them had ever competed at the ISDE before. Notable as it was, the team still fell short of the top step, courtesy of the powerhouse Australian team of Tayla Jones, Jessica Gardiner, and Jemma Wilson. The Australians have won the division for five years straight. Now, almost a month after the event, I asked the 2017 ISDE women’s team riders to reflect back on their first event, the ways it was similar and different from their expectations, what they think it would take to beat the Australians, their future plans for the ISDE, and what needs to be done to finally bring the women’s world trophy home again.
Tell me a little about yourself and your career here in the States.
Kacy Martinez: I am 27 years old and from California. I started riding when I was 8 years old, when our family would go camping at our local OHV parks. Then I began racing for fun at the District 36 Hare Scramble series around age 12. I went through the ranks there before moving on to national-level series—the National Hare Scrambles and then the WORCS series not too long after that! After winning multiple championships on the West Coast, I wanted to head over to the East Coast to race the GNCC series. I won two championships there then went on to race National Enduros as well the last year I was on that side. In March of this year, I had the best day of my life, marrying my best friend Travis Coy! This year, in addition to the ISDE, I have been doing the National Hare & Hound races along with the EnduroCross series. It's been a learning experience with the Hare & Hounds racing in the desert, but I am enjoying racing something new! I've raced many EnduroCrosses in the past, but never a full series so that will be fun also.
Becca Sheets: I am 24 years old. I grew up in Ohio and still live here with my boyfriend Tyler and our vicious pit bull puppy named Corsa. I have actually been racing dirt bikes for 17 years! I grew up racing motocross and only started racing off-road in 2011. In 2016 I won t my first (AMA) championship, in the GNCC Women’s Pro class. Racing is obviously a huge part of my life and I fully enjoy my career in off-road.
Brandy Richards: I’m 21 years old, from Arizona. I would say that I’ve had a pretty good career here in the States so far. I started off doing off-road and got onto a factory team. But then Kawasaki lost its off-road division, so I moved over more toward motocross. So I did that for a few years, and now I coming back to off-road again.
Is the ISDE something that you've always wanted to do?
KM: Racing the ISDE has never been a big interest of mine. Growing up I never heard much about it, and even once I did hear about it, the event just didn't seem very enjoyable to me. These last couple years I've been asked to go, but I still wasn't that interested. Last year my mind started to change a bit about it and I decided to give it a try. I knew it was a bucket lister, and I wanted to fulfill that!
BS: I actually was never really interested. I always had people tell me it would be something I’d be good at because of my motocross background. I thought it would be cool but never had the time or funds to do it. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 2017 season when I was approached by Antti Kallonen and the AMA, suggesting that I should go to the qualifiers so that I could be considered for a spot on the Women’s team, now that the team was under Antti’s management. So I jumped at the opportunity.
BR: Yes, actually! Growing up this was my dream race to go and do.
What made you decide to accept a position on the team this year?
KM: Everything seemed right to go this year, and it seemed like they were putting in a lot of effort for the Women's Trophy Team. I knew it was going to be a strong team [and that was a reason I wanted to go].
BS: Well, everyone had always told me how hard it was too, which maybe scared me off at first, but I finally decided I was up for the challenge. Everything had just worked out with the timing, and opportunities like the one I got don’t come along every day.
BR: Well, like I said, I’d just always wanted to do it. I had decided this year that I wanted to focus more on off-road anyway, so when I got the call I didn’t even have to think about it.
Was this your first time overseas? If it was your first time, what was that like, or if you've raced in other countries before, how did it compare to other times you've raced outside of the US?
KM: This was my fourth time traveling overseas to race; the three times before were for the Global X Games rounds. I'd say it was pretty different compared to racing the ISDE—actually the total opposite. At X games we were racing EnduroCross on a track inside an arena with little seat time. While at the ISDE I was on my bike for six days straight riding 100-plus miles a day!
BS: This was my first time out of the US! It was cool to see all of the old architecture and stuff. My favorite part was riding all of the transfers through the small villages and farm country. You really get to experience it in a different way than most tourists ever would. As far as the racing goes, I found that it’s still just racing. You adapt to the terrain (which was fairly rocky and silty everywhere that wasn’t a grass track) just like you do anywhere else here in the US. So I didn’t feel too out of place.
BR: Yes, it was. It was definitely a different experience, a little hard at first to be racing somewhere so unfamiliar. But after a while I got used to it and kind of figured things out.
Were you at all nervous before the event since it was a new format to you and you were preparing to represent your country on the international stage?
KM: Surprisingly, I was actually pretty calm! My husband Travis has been to two ISDEs and he had me prepared very well coming into this event—I knew if I could get through that first day, then I was good to go.
BS: A little bit! Obviously I wanted to win and I knew we could all do well. I just tried not to think about it too much since it was the first time for all three of us. I just stayed focused on staying healthy and making it through the week.
BR: Yeah, I mean I was a little nervous. I was pretty well prepared though, and I went into it knowing that it was my first year and since I was a rookie it would be more of a learning experience. That first day I struggled a bit, but after that first day, everything came together.
How many miles of special tests do you think Antti [the trophy team manager] made you walk before the event even started?
KM: We walked just around 60 miles that first week. Pretty brutal, but Trav had me mentally prepared for that and it actually wasn't too bad. Taylor Robert did an awesome job giving us information and leading the group that whole first week too!
BS: (laughs) I don’t know exactly, somewhere north of 80 miles? It really wasn’t that bad though. Antti did a good job of telling us ahead of time how much we’d be walking. So I was kind of able to prepare for it by doing some extra training. I didn’t want it to affect me going into race week.
BR: When I first got there, I actually came down with food poisoning. So I didn’t walk quite as much as everyone else. I think Becca was saying she walked like 80 miles or something, but I ended up only doing about 30 or so.
Speaking of the special tests, were they similar to things you've practiced here in the States, either in normal races or at the training camp? Or were they different than what you expected?
KM: Out of the 10 tests for the week there was only one test that was actually an enduro test; the other nine were grass tests. I was a bit bummed there weren't a few more enduro tests. But I do feel like the training camp prepared us well for the grass track test. The one enduro test was actually similar to a WORCS race we have up in Washington, which I really enjoy.
BS: The special tests were fairly similar to what I’m used to. They were mostly grass track so it wasn’t really any different. I’d say a lot more off-cambers but that’s about it. The enduro test was definitely different than anything I practiced though. The dirt was very silty and you couldn’t see the roots or rocks lurking underneath it. So that one was a little challenging.
BR: They were a lot different than I expected. The dirt was a lot different and the courses were a lot tighter than I had anticipated.
On the whole, was the event harder or easier than you expected? I heard that due to the extreme heat, the trail sections ended up being a little easier than planned, but of course, the heat would provide its own challenges…
KM: I don't feel it was extremely hard. I mean, it did have its hard parts but I feel that it went pretty well for me, and you just need to have the right mindset. The warm days were only the first two days. I don't remember hearing they took out any hard trail those two days; later in the week when we were wearing jackets all day, the trail got a bit hard then and they did take out one section for the women.
BS: As a whole it was not as bad as I expected, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done. It definitely could have been worse though. I’m not sure that they changed transfers specifically for the heat, but they did have a couple of re-routes for the women around stuff that was super gnarly. But don’t let that fool you; there were still some pretty crazy transfers!
BR: It was a little bit easier than I expected for the actual riding part. But the distance and having to ride as long as we did and as far as we did made it definitely a lot harder than I’d expected.
According to what Dave Chamberlain, a longtime ISDE worker and friend, told me, there were some struggles in the work area, but you all made it through okay. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
KM: I felt, for myself, it went fine. I believe one day, one of the other girls had an issue and wasn't able to get both tires done. Other than that, we all did both tires every day. There were little things we might have to change or maintain, but I always had plenty of time.
BS: I struggled a bit with the rim locks [on the tires] the first couple of days—I don’t know why because at home when we practiced it was never really an issue. Then Dave showed us a trick that helped a lot. I also had some problems on day two; things got really hectic. One of my forks had broken, which we didn’t realize until after I had changed both tires. Then Antti was yelling at me to take the fork off and throw a spare one on. It was madness because I had almost no time left. But we made it work.
BR: Yeah, the first day, when we got into the final check, I struggled with my tires. I wasn’t being very patient with it, was trying to rush it. After that I calmed down a bit and think I did a lot better.
What were your best and worst moments of the race?
KM: My best moments were the enduro test, transfer trails, and pushing my bike into impound at the end of each day. My worst moment was falling with another girl in the third turn off the start of the final moto.
BS: My worst moment was on day one, when I broke down for the second time. I thought there was no way I was going to be able to finish out the week because of how far behind I was on time. I was just so angry and the whole thing sucked! In a way it turned out to be my best moment too because once I got the bike running again I just held faith and kept it pinned all day, just so that I could have a shot at continuing to race the rest of the week, without having any clue if I could or not. I ended up doing things that day that I never thought I had in me.
BR: My best moment was probably when I won two of the special tests on Friday. I finally found a test that really suited my style, the first and fourth tests on Friday [day five]. It was a little bit faster and more wide open than the others. That one was really good for me. My worst moment was probably on Tuesday. That second day was pretty hard; it was all silt and like riding a completely different track. So I struggled a little bit through that already, then I came up on this silt rut. I was before most of the other women, so I was the only one there and didn’t see anyone else go through. I got stuck in it, and everyone else behind me saw me stuck and got to go around it (laughs). It took me a bit to get unstuck from that, and I only made my time at the next check by like 30 seconds.
All things considered, was the race a good experience for you?
KM: Yes, the race was a great experience! Having the opportunity to represent your country while doing the thing you love most was surreal!
BS: Yeah, it really was. I’m so happy I went, and it’s really cool to see firsthand how passionate the rest of the world is about racing dirt bikes.
BR: Yeah, it was a really good experience—I learned a lot! I definitely know a lot more now and I know exactly what to prepare for. I just feel like I’m a lot better off now.
Now, the three of you had the best team finish in recent memory but still came up short of the top step. What do you think needs to happen for the women's team to win?
KM: The only thing we were lacking was experience with the sprint-style format. All the other girls have been racing this style format for a while now. I believe we were all very consistent each day, as all three women were starting in the first three minutes each day! [Author’s note: Start times—what “minute” or row you are on—are based on the previous day’s finishes.] But I'd say we need to work on our sprint speed for all tests.
BS: Well, I’m not sure what my teammates’ thoughts are, but I think we all have really good bike skills. I know that we can beat the Australians. I think it just comes down to being a little more aggressive with the speed we do have. That’s what I notice for myself at least in this style of racing.
BR: Hopefully next year we will have a similar team with a little more experience. We’ll know going into it how to train for the ISDE and what to expect. Mostly I think we just need to work on our sprinting—getting more consistent, being able to sprint fast, and still be able to not make mistakes. I think that’s where they really get us. Other than that I think we’ll do pretty good!
With that being said, do you personally intend to go back in 2018 to try again, and if so, what improvements are you going to try to make in order to bring home that Women's world trophy?
KM: Naww, I think I’m one and done. But you never know, I could change my mind once the time comes to make that decision next year! Honestly though, I haven't given it much thought; just still happy to be home from France! (laughs)
BS: I think that I would like to try again. I really think we can win. But I’m not 100 percent sure [that I will go back]. It was definitely really cool, but it will just have to depend on what I’ve got going on here in the States at the time. The ISDE is a really big commitment, and my main focus will still remain toward GNCC.
BR: Of course! I want to keep going back at least until I win it—by that I mean probably both until the team wins the trophy and I win the overall.
And who would you like to thank for helping you out at the ISDE this year?
KM: I’d like to thank my parents for getting me to where I am at today! I’d like to thank the FMF/KTM Factory Racing Team, and all of the guys over at the AMA who are a part of the ISDE efforts. Also, I would like to thank all of my sponsors for their awesome products that helped me get through Six Days—Troy Lee Designs, Bell Helmets, Leatt, Oakley goggles, and Alpinestars. Thank you!
BS: Antti Kallonen, KTM, the AMA, Fly, Maxxis, Seat Concepts, JDP Suspension, Pro Circuit, ODI, Hinson, Maxxima Racing Oils. I want to thank Tyler, Johnny G, and Brittney for being great support people, as well as Chuck, Super Dave, and all of the volunteers. I want to thank Kacy’s husband Travis for being our team chase rider and van driver. And of course, Kacy and Brandy for being such great teammates. Thanks guys!
BR: I want to thank the AMA and KTM most of all for giving me this opportunity to be able to go and do it. I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. Fly Racing and Bell Helmets, both of them are a huge help. Sidi boots, Oakley goggles, and everyone else who helps me out.