2006 Maxxis World Dirtbike Enduro Championships - Dirt Rider Magazine

David Knight

To be a fish out of water in your own pond is a strange scenario indeed. But when the Maxxis World Enduro Championships came to North America, that's exactly what the majority of North Americans were. Sure, we were on our "home" turf without having to cross neither puddle nor pond to race against the Europeans. And as exciting as this was for a hopeful enduro fan, the Europeans reminded us that location isn't necessarily a source of advantage.Up until now, if North Americans wanted to race against the best off-road competitors in the world, they were forced to race through a series of hassles. They had to crate up their bikes, box up the gear and tools and ship it all to some far-off destination once a year for the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE). Once there, whether it were in Brazil, Slovakia or somewhere in between, North Americans were faced with the culture shock of unfamiliar food, the dreariness of jet lag and the challenge of terrain unbeknownst to their riding eyes. Of course, that's if their bikes even got to the country they're supposed to be riding in. But all of this finally changed. This year the Europeans were coming to us, and they were bringing the WEC, their revamped and resurrected off-road series, with them. Not only that, but it was finally their turn to crate up the bikes, cross the big blue mass of sea and set up the pits in a strange land and deal with all the inconveniences of not being home.In theory, all this home-turf mumbo-jumbo should have leveled the playing field and put us Americans (North, that is) in the hunt for some podiums. But in reality, the Europeans have their form of racing dialed, they are totally accustomed to traveling and their on-bike talents are in a league of their own. Also, whether it was due to injury, disinterest or conflicting schedules, some of our top-level talent bowed out of competition and left the diversity of the field rather diluted. In other words: In the world of World Enduro we have a lot of catching up to do. Is this not making sense? Don't have a clue what the Maxxis World Enduro Championship is or how it's run? Well, we thought of that. Check out an insider's explanation on page 87, courtesy of our funny-talking English friend, Jonty Edmunds.When the Maxxis WEC landed in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada, the world was watching. This, the fifth round of the WEC series, marked the first of firsts. It was the first time a WEC round had been held in Canada as well as the first time in North America and a very real test-run of what races could and would be included into future WEC seasons. Canadian off-road, the hosting promoters, volunteers and the community of Parry Sound pulled off a stellar event. Marshals littered the course (as a photographer covering the special tests, I could hardly frame a shot without stepping on one of them). And the security, organization and professionalism in the air made it hard to believe that this was actually a first-time effort. Parry Sound had the showmanship of an Anaheim supercross, the comfort of the most local of motocross races and a course fit for a king. It was so impressive that E3 class champion David Knight matter-of-factly boasted it as one of the best WEC events of the year. That's saying a lot for a first effort.Undoubtedly, the Canadian course had a lot to do with the excellent reviews by riders and teams. The special-test sections were spectacular. First was an enduro test that reeked of challenging terrain. Technical trails mixed with a consistent sprinkle of potato-sized boulders made for a loop that had top Americans Kurt Caselli and Nathan Kanney scratching their heads at the end of the event. Both riders admitted to struggling through the test, as did many others. The thing was this: With the rocks, you couldn't really get up to speed and get in your flow. If you tried to push it, the terrain would smack you upside the head and potentially put you down.Next was a motocross test that made a bikeless brother like myself want to go riding worse than the scent of premix. Man, was it cool. I could have sat there all day, and I almost did. Instead, though, I commuted like an investment banker on Wall Street, back and forth from the motocross test to the extreme test, a rental car and a driver with an English accent as my subway system. Speaking of extreme tests...The extreme test in Parry Sound was the most picturesque form of torture an enduro racer has ever undergone. In fact, it was so pretty to look at that it almost made the bulbous mounds of angular boulders look like a pleasant riding surface. It was short, under two minutes if you're David Knight (just over two for American ber-mortals Caselli and Kanney), but required direct attention to avoid crushing one's self upon said rocks and/or drowning in the clear waters of the Georgian Bay. It was awesome to watch, and the public beach setting made for a superb spectator hangout. I was fortunate enough to see the motocross and extreme tests every lap. Every time I arrived at the extreme, it made all the "wish-I-were-riding" feelings I suffered at the motocross test go away...until I returned to the motocross test, that is.

Simone Albergoni

Merely a week later, the whole WEC show moved south to picturesque Hancock, New York, in the good ol' U-S-of-A. In the months leading up to the U.S. round, Hancock and its neighboring communities were in a fistfight with Mother Nature. She threw buckets of torrential showers upon the region in such force that rivers and streams were stressed over their banks and homes and lives were washed away in tremendous floods. The drive to the special tests to scout for photo locations took me past churches with foundations completely blown through, homes teetering on the edges of what used to be a property line and rubble and debris piled high with bridge carcasses. The local promoters of the event somehow still managed to pull off the race. The fact that roads had to be rebuilt, bridges had to be repaired and more man-hours were likely logged in bulldozers than in ribboning the course says something about the strong dedication of Drew Smith and his league of volunteers.The course was still electrifying. This was due mainly to us Americans being a rather loud bunch-especially New Yorkers! Considering that there were more spectators and they were louder, it made for an off-road race atmosphere like no other. Speaking of atmosphere...Fresh off the damaging floods, the last thing Hancock, New York, needed was more rain. The Red Cross and FEMA were still occupying many of the rooms in my hotel when the weatherman announced yet another flash-flood warnings. And, boy, did it rain. It got to the point of being ridiculous. Poodle-sized raindrops came crashing down as the riders made their second lap through the course. I was staged in the extreme test: a loop of good tight stuff with a quick spin through a rock quarry featuring a killer, rock-ledge drop-off and short, intense and technical climbs. Rocks were everywhere, and surprisingly, when the rain came slashing down, most of the riders were barely influenced-some even claimed the rocks became more grippy in the wet. It was clear to see that many of the regulars on the WEC tour came from trials backgrounds. Their technique on the rocks and when attacking the short-run hills was fluid, efficient and highly effective. It was like Jeremy McGrath grabbing holeshots or Mike Metzger backflipping-they made it look so easy and fast.During both of these events, I became quickly aware and then reminded again why Europeans rule the traditionally hard enduro events such as the ISDE, Erzberg and the Romaniacs and have a good foot in the door to dominating new events such as Last Man Standing and Endurocross. It's because they ride so damn good. Seriously, this sounds simple, and I suppose it is. But watch a world round like this, and you'll notice riders getting traction in the most slippery of grass, carrying speed over the most unstable terrain and pushing their bodies through day after day of intense time trials.Starting in the E1 class, the most impressive riders over the two weekends were undoubtedly Poland's Bartosz Oblucki and his high-strung Husqvarna 125, Spain's Ivan Cervantes on the Farioli factory KTM 250F and Italian Simone Albergoni on his Honda 250F. Oblucki is the James Stewart of off-road, wringing the snot out of his 125 two-stroke and going faster than a lot of the four-strokes in his class. With three podium finishes out of the four North American days, including a victory on day one in New York, the friendly and fast Husky rider was a favorite to watch. Cervantes has a little something different; it's called momentum, and he pushes the bike forward more and has the most aggressive style out of anyone in the WEC. You can hear his KTM bouncing off the rev ceiling for miles. Cervantes finished no worse than second place during the entire two-week stint. Albergoni has incredible speed as well. Many of his test times were the best in the class at each event; he only fell off pace in a couple tests. He, too, grabbed a victory and never was off the podium over the two events.Samuli Aro, a Farioli factory KTM rider from Finland, nearly swept the top podium spot for the four days of racing in the E2 class, falling to second position only at the final round in New York. The large KTM rider has the smooth, slick riding style of a veteran off-roader but still goes about a million miles an hour all the time. It just doesn't look like he's trying. Mika Ahola, another Finnish rider, broke out of a four-season victory slump and took the overall in the E2 class during the last day of competition in New York on his HM Honda. Also in the podium mix was French Yamaha pilot Jonny Aubert.

Wally Palmer

The E3 class is the top-billing, big-dog, main-event class in World Enduro. And the king of the class is David Knight. You've heard of him already mostly because he's won everything he's entered for about a year now. He's the current Erzberg, Last Man Standing, Endurocross, ISDE and WEC champion. He's tortured the competition in the World Championship this year by winning more than 80 percent of all special tests and, up to this point, going undefeated in overall victories. Get used to hearing his name-you're bound to hear a lot more of it since he'll be Stateside next year contesting the entire GNCC series and looking to continue winning everything he enters. He's The Man in off-road. And The Man didn't take any time off from kicking butt when he traveled to the Americas. Knighter calls attention to himself when he rides because he looks like he's going to break something. He's big, aggressive and intimidating. He's also the largest Dukes of Hazzard fan in all of the United Kingdom. It's all he talks about off the track, and his helmet's paint job is just the beginning of his obsession with Hazzard (he has a basset hound and is seriously shopping for a real General Lee clone). Many talented riders try and stop Knight's dominance at every round of the WEC. Getting closest is French Gas Gas rider Sbastien Guillaume and KTM teammate Marko Tarkkala from Finland.The future of World Enduro is held in the hands of the EJ or Junior class. This class, limited to riders 23 years old and younger, is the training grounds for the next World champions. Top-position dominance was split equally between Joakim Ljunggren, a Husaberg factory rider from Sweden, and Marc Bourgeois, a fast young Frenchman on another screaming Husky two-stroke. Australian TM racer Jacob Stapleton nailed down third place overall on each of the four days to take home the consistency award for the North American series.But what about the familiar names to us Americans? Well, top finishers on the American front went to California's Caselli, who cracked the top 10 in the E2 class in three out of the four events and represented the U.S. strongly despite being back only three races since his season-shortening knee injury. Caselli has raced the last few rounds of the WEC, no doubt in an effort to get back up to speed for Team USA's assault on the ISDE's Junior-class championship run. The next-strongest American was undoubtedly true Yamaha privateer Kanney. Kanney walked into the WEC rounds full of hope and determination to produce some impressive results. His efforts saw him as high as ninth overall and never out of the top 12 in the E2 class. More impressive was the heads he turned. As of press time, the New York native had an offer on the table from Husqvarna to race all the WEC rounds in '07 and a few phone calls from other manufacturers as well. Kanney wants to race the WEC next year. Other speedy Americans on hand were nice guys Dylan "Double-D" Debel, Wallace Palmer and, on the last day, a very impressive KTM-mounted Russell Bobbitt, who cracked the top five in the EJ class for fourth on the day-the best finish of any North American over the four days. Other Americans dotted the results, and their place on the course could be easily identified by the screams coming out of the trees. It was a good showing, but next time, let's get the whole American off-road community to show up and fight, eh?Firsts come in a lot of forms. First kisses, first loves, first...well, you get the point. Rarely, however, do firsts go off without a hitch. Inexperience has no friends, and no matter how scrupulously you prepare, the occasional misguided smooch to the nose or love-gone-postal can reach up and bite you in the rear. Thankfully, North America got through its first stint with the WEC with little angst. It's a good show with a ton of potential in the U.S. (whether we adopt the format or host more of their rounds). Either way, we're all hoping this first North American sighting of the WEC isn't the last.Want more? Check out www.abc-wec.org for more WEC info.

Bartosz Oblucki
The Canadian KTM contingent (say that five times fast!).
Alessandro Belometti
Bartosz Oblucki
Samuli Aro
Cristobol Guerrero
Nathan Kanney turned enough heads at the two North American WEC rounds to spark talk with Husky about potentially riding the entire WEC series in 2007.
David Knight
Kurt Caselli
Fabrizio Dini
Glenn Kearney
Bartosz Oblucki
The Canadian KTM contingent (say that five times fast!).
Alessandro Belometti
Bartosz Oblucki
Samuli Aro
Cristobol Guerrero
Ivan Cervantes
Fabrizio Dini
Jonty Edmunds
Nathan Kanney turned enough heads at the two North American WEC rounds to spark talk with Husky about potentially riding the entire WEC series in 2007.
David Knight
Kurt Caselli
Fabrizio Dini
Glenn Kearney
Bartosz Oblucki
The Canadian KTM contingent (say that five times fast!).
Alessandro Belometti
Bartosz Oblucki
Samuli Aro
Cristobol Guerrero