Manuel Lettenbichler Interview

German rider talks about extreme racing and winning the Tennessee Knockout.

Manuel Lettenbichler came into the Tennessee Knockout (TKO) on a roll, having just won Romaniacs.
Manuel Lettenbichler came into the Tennessee Knockout (TKO) on a roll, having just won Romaniacs.Shan Moore

Extreme off-road racing and hard enduros have exploded in popularity during the last two years and one of the athletes at the forefront of the movement is Manuel Lettenbichler. The German off-road ace most recently stood atop the podium at the Red Bull Romaniacs Hard Enduro Rally in Sibiu, Romania, and at the Kenda Tennessee Knockout (TKO) in Sequatchie, Tennessee. We spoke to the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider at the TKO about his recent wins and the extreme racing movement.

How do you feel now that you have won two of the most prestigious extreme off-road events?

It’s just amazing. I was always so close to winning a race, and to win Romaniacs means so much. Of course, the TKO is a big event, so it’s just awesome. It’s really good.

What is your strategy for an extreme race?

I try to ride as good as possible and just have a good race, and my own race. At Romaniacs, everybody was really on their A game. I just tried to ride my own race and on day three, I got a really good run and won that day; then I had to start first, [which was] not as good [of a] strategy, but it was all right. At the TKO, I got out in the lead and tried to not make a mistake and just got into a comfortable rhythm.

After posting the fastest time in the Hot Lap and Knockout Race 1, Lettenbichler led the final from start to finish to win the TKO.
After posting the fastest time in the Hot Lap and Knockout Race 1, Lettenbichler led the final from start to finish to win the TKO.Shan Moore

So when you get out front, do you tend to ride more conservatively?

Yeah. Sometimes it’s better to start second or third because it’s easier to catch the other guys and stay with them, and you know what’s going on.

Tell us about the man-made, wooden obstacles at some of the events. Do you like that part of it?

The Prologue this year at Romaniacs was actually easier than last year’s. They didn’t make so many strange things, but I think it’s really cool. It’s really nice for the fans and for TV. It looks pretty sick. For the fans it’s always nice. It’s in the middle of the city, and it’s just something special before the actual event starts.

Is extreme racing the only type of racing you do?

Yes, like the new World Enduro Super Series (WESS); it’s also about cross-country and world enduro, but I’m coming from extreme. So for me the most important thing is to ride the WESS series.

How does a person train for extreme racing?

It’s completely different because every race is different in extreme, and especially in the WESS now with the fast races. You have to always train for the event. For Romaniacs, I just try to ride as much as possible before the event, have some long days on the bike, and always ride new stuff. It’s really hard to find a place like Tennessee, especially in Europe. I would say the most important thing is just doing different things and having fun.

Do you exercise off the bike too?

Yes. I will do a lot of mountain biking because I enjoy it a lot, and a little bit of a gym session, but in the summer I’m riding so much that I try to skip a little bit more of the gym because I don’t want to get bigger with the weights. I just want to [have] more cardio; it’s important. That’s pretty much it.

The German off-road ace is one of the more flamboyant riders on the extreme circuit.
The German off-road ace is one of the more flamboyant riders on the extreme circuit.Shan Moore

There are so many different races and they all have different formats. Is there one that you like the format better, or maybe where you do better?

Yes, probably. I really like races that don’t have multiple laps—just one course and then it’s done. [That way] you don’t ride the same things four or five times. It’s nice just to go out there, ride a good race, finish it, and be finished for the day. Erzberg is like that, and so is Romaniacs. I would say Romaniacs is very hard, but I really enjoy it.

What about the races that require navigation?

It’s really cool because you have to ride really clever and it’s just something different. We don’t do it very often, but at some races we have to race with navigation. I think it’s really cool.

That seems like it's something that if you mess up, you're just totally out of it, right?

Yes. It’s bad if you mess up, of course. It can cost you so much time. Two years ago I went the wrong way at Romaniacs one day and I lost like 20 minutes right away. [You’re] just going so fast and you have to be really precise on the navigation as well.

The TKO is one of the biggest extreme races in the world, and for sure the largest hard enduro in the United States. As for spectators, how does it compare to the events in Europe?

It’s a little bit different; every race is a little bit different. It’s hard to say with the fans, but it’s always really nice to come over there and just have a good time in the US. People are just so motivated [in the US]; they like to see European guys [race here]. It’s just always really cool to come here and race in front of the US fans.