Ryan Sipes Made History At ISDE 2015

Won For All

Although this year’s 90th edition of the International Six Days Enduro ended in controversy—the final team standings may ultimately be decided by lawyers—there’s one thing that is not in dispute: Ryan Sipes rode the race of his life. From his win in the opening test of day one to his domination of the E2-class final motocross test, after more than 800 miles of transfers and racing, Sipes accomplished something in Slovakia that no US rider has been able to do before him: He is the first American to claim the overall individual victory at the prestigious event. In a year where weather wetted the course at night and greased it up in the afternoon, making the grass tracks and thick woods that much more difficult, Sipes turned in a dominating run on day four to establish himself as the “man to beat,” finishing the day 44 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Australia’s Daniel Milner. Riding smoothly and focusing on hitting his lines, Sipes won four of the six tests and beat Milner in each and every one of them. The Husqvarna speedster played it safe on day five to retain a 35-second cushion then, on day six, did what he grew up doing to take the overall with a moto win in the final motocross segment. Four years under the direction of team manager Antti Kallonen has been a big part of Team USA’s rise in the ISDE rankings, and had it not been for a few unfortunate injuries and a couple of DNFs, both the World Trophy and Junior World Trophy teams would likely have stood on top of both podiums after Saturday’s final event.

Day four Ryan Sipes ISDE Slovakia
Day four was the turning point for Sipes. Here he races through a hillside grass track in Gelnica, Slovakia, on that day.Dirt Rider

Day One

This year’s US world Trophy team was made up of Kailub Russell, Taylor Robert, Ryan Sipes, Thad Duvall, Mike Brown, and Gary Sutherlin. The team came into the event with high expectations for Russell after his Top American finish last year in Argentina, but he started the 2015 event slightly off the pace in the first two tests (down 13.9 seconds in the first test and 6.07 in the second). He was visibly frustrated at the service areas along the trail, but being a little off the lead time was understandable since he was on the first minute and therefore one of the first three riders through the muddy tests. The evening rain had soaked the ground, and the tests were in better condition for riders back a few rows, especially with the eco tires all ISDE competitors are required to use.

Rule: World Trophy teams must have at least one rider in each of the classes, E1 (250F), E2 (450), and E3 (+475cc). Junior World Trophy only needs riders in two classes.

The first surprise of the event was Sipes, who won the first two tests and had many European teams and spectators asking, “Who is this Ryan Sipes?” since the US supercross/motocross racer had yet to make a splash in the world off-road scene. But the humble Kentucky native was making a big impression now.

Meanwhile, Kailub directed his frustration into test speed, and as the conditions dried out throughout the day, he posted two test wins and finished the day in not only the E1 class lead but also the overall lead. Less than two seconds behind, Sipes led the E2 class and held second in the event’s overall. More importantly, in team competition, the US held the overall lead.

Rule: Teams start in order of their previous year’s finish, with the riders spread over several start minutes. Each minute holds three riders, leaving approximately 20 seconds apart. On day two, and subsequent days, each rider starts according to his previous day’s finish.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

The US Junior World Trophy team of Steward Baylor, Grant Baylor, Nick Davis, and Lane Michael had a big setback in the first test of the day when Lane Michael hit a large branch that was knocked into the trail by another rider. Lane went down and injured his wrist; he was out. The Junior team was still in it, but they lost their advantage of having a throw-out score.

Rule: All three Trophy teams—World (six riders), Junior World (four riders), and Women’s (three riders)—drop their slowest rider’s score each day.

The three-rider Women’s Trophy team of Rachel Gutish, Jamie Wells, and Mandi Mastin had a rough fi rst day and lost points on the trail when all of the girls got stuck at one point on a hill in a transfer section. Many Trophy and Club riders said the Slovakian course’s transfer sections were challenging, and many riders were essentially racing the transfers just to meet their minute at each Time Check.

Rule: If a rider is late to a Time Check, that rider assumes that new minute for the day. For example, if a rider on minute one is two minutes late to a Time Check, he will be on minute three for the rest of the day. There’s no time that can be made up during the next transfer section and no time penalty going into the next test. This curbs excessive speeds on the transfers.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

In the final test of day one it looked like the Junior team was out when Steward Baylor lost the front end and landed hard on his right shoulder, but he still managed to get the bike back to the paddock. He knew he was severely injured but wasn’t ready to give up, and he knew he’d want fresh tires for day two if he was able to help keep the team in contention. Steward heroically changed both tires, without assistance. Keep in mind, both front and rear wheels were equipped with mousses, making a tire change much tougher physically. He completed the changes mostly with only his left hand because his right shoulder was at 50 percent strength and in severe pain. He got the tires changed, the bike checked out, rode it to impound at the parc fermé, and then went to the hospital. There he was diagnosed with a third-degree AC separation of his right shoulder. It looked like the ISDE would be over for the Junior team.

Rule: Riders are allowed a work period before and after the event (10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes after the race). Then the bikes are impounded overnight. Mechanics can’t help with maintenance, except to hand over tools and to do tasks that could cause a spill—gas, oil, brake fluid, coolant, and tire air if running tubes.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

Day Two

At most of the recent ISDEs, the first and second day’s trail and test loops have been identical, and that was also the case in Slovakia. That meant the riders would be familiar with the tests, but the transfer sections would be beat up. This year those transfer loops were one loop done twice with the same three tests (each test done twice per day). But for the 2015 event, those Slovakian transfer sections were not only ridden on day one and two but ridden backward on day three and also used a lot on days four and five (four and five were also identical-loop days).

Russell and Sipes started on the first row, and the US Trophy Team sat in first place overall. The weather kept to its current pattern, so the day once again began with the trails wet and slick before drying around noon. Sipes was second on the day behind Milner and moved into the overall individual lead, but the Australian World Trophy team passed the US squad to lead the team results by just 8.24 seconds (that’s less than nine seconds between the combined scores of five riders from two days!).

Unfortunately, Russell had put his foot down at one point and hurt his right knee badly. “I was going down a hill, and I started to wash out, and I stuck my leg out,” Russell said. “I was going really fast, and I stuck it in a braking bump and twisted my knee. It was actually just like a spike of pain for 30 seconds or so.” He rode through the pain and finished the day in third overall and still first in the E1 class.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

But the most dramatic news was happening on the Junior team. Steward Baylor competed with the outer end of his collarbone popping out so frequently that he said he got used to it and still placed 43rd on the day (out of 141 riders) and helped keep the Junior team in the podium hunt in fourth.

“I was really struggling, making a lot of mistakes,” Steward said. “My shoulder was weak. On a lot of downhills I really struggled with being able to hold my body weight back. The uphills were just as bad, just holding my body on the bike. I was able to put together a pretty good time. I saw I was like 52nd overall after the first test, and I was like, ‘Wow, if I rode that bad and still did this good, I think I can piece this day together and we can salvage some minutes.’”

Once off the bike and back at the paddock for bike maintenance, there was an audible, “Pop!” from Steward’s shoulder as he lifted the wheel onto the Rabaconda tire changer. He didn’t slow and changed the tire effectively one-handed.

Steward’s younger brother, Grant, who rode incredibly well all week, was the top US Junior rider and was 11th overall on the day.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

Day Three

Russell woke up sore and with a right knee that he could barely bend. In order to ride he got medical attention, including having 15cc of fluid drained from his knee by team doctor James McGee, who was also taping Steward’s shoulder and tending to club riders’ injuries. Once again on the lead minute, Russell and Sipes would be facing tests that would be more slippery for them than for most of their competitors.

Rule: Riders can receive injections and medicine for pain as long as they are not performance enhancing (which includes Sudafed).

Russell won the first test of the day, but in the second his knee gave out when he went through a G-out. His foot came off the peg, and when he tried to pull it back on he said it felt like he had instant muscle atrophy and the pain caused him to collapse on the handlebar. He finished the test but then dropped some trail points at the next Time Check while getting checked out by Doc McGee. His plan to finish out the day ended with a nasty crash on a downhill; he went sliding and his bike went cartwheeling, crushing the subframe and bending the muffler. Russell was out for the event.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Once Russell was lost to his knee injury, Thad Duvall and Taylor Robert stepped it up to fill the gap. Here, Duvall charges down one of the gnarly hills.Dirt Rider

With Russell out, the US team lost what it expected to be its top rider. But Sipes was still consistently posting excellent test times, with three test wins. It was shaping up to be a battle between Ryan Sipes and Australian Daniel Milner to win the individual honors for the event.

Fortunately, two other US World Trophy riders also had great days. Taylor Robert, who struggled on day two, picked up the pace and finished third on the day, and Thad Duvall ramped up his speed and finished the day in eighth overall and sixth in E2.

But Taylor had missed a “punch check”—a secret check along the route where riders get their card punched. Taylor explained that he and seven other top riders (including three riders on the French World Trophy team, two riders on the Spanish World Trophy team, a rider on the Italian World Trophy team, and David Knight on Great Britain’s World Trophy team) were riding together on a transfer section when they realized they’d all missed a course marker. The group had taken the burned-in trail from the previous days rather than following the new route’s markings. The penalty came swiftly and harshly—all eight riders were disqualified. The US World Trophy team appeared to be out of the running.

Rule: Secret punch checks are set up along the transfer sections to make sure no one is cutting the course.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Mechanics cannot touch the bikes at all during the week, even to turn the handlebar when refueling. The only exceptions are that the mechanic can refuel the bike and assist with changing the oil, brake fluid, and coolant—all of which are considered environmental issues. Mechanics can also hand riders parts and tools and offer encouragement, but that's as far as it goes. Here, Dave Chamberlin hands Mike Brown a new air filter.Dirt Rider

And to make scoring even trickier, both Mike Brown and Grant Baylor stopped to help an injured rider during a test. The rider was on the ground screaming and struggling just to wave for others to stop; the injury turned out to be a broken hip, but at the time it seemed like an even worse injury. Brown and Baylor and other riders stopped to help, and the FIM eventually threw the test out for the World Trophy and World Junior divisions since there was no way to realistically adjust the time for the riders who stopped to help.

Rule: If a rider stops to help an injured rider on a transfer section, there is an FIM rule that accounts for the extra time; however, there is no such rule for the special test sections.

That night protests were made on the FIM’s disqualification of the eight riders. Those protests were denied, so the teams then appealed that denial. Word came back that the riders would be allowed to ride under appeal while the protests were sorted out. Their scores were not included in the team results, so the US World Trophy team sat in 20th out of 23 teams and at that point out of contention since they only had four scored riders.

Rule: Each night after the event the FIM holds a jury meeting for delegates from each team so they can lodge protests if needed. Each day’s results are not official until after the jury meets.

Day Four

Day four was where the US World Trophy team’s chances truly ended, when Duvall had a mechanical issue on the first transfer section. He traced the problem back to what he thought was a failed stator. As he worked trailside, other riders rode past and into the first service area, which was only a mile away. Thad didn’t know how close he was or that the trail was mostly downhill all the way to a replacement stator.

Rule: On the trail, a rider may only replace parts he carries with him.

At the service area (a mobile pit), the US support crew got word of Thad’s situation and position. They had two choices: Wait and let him “hour” out or get word to him how close he was to the service area. Team volunteer Justin Sheppard was up for the task and sprinted on foot the mile up the trail and got word to Thad, who pushed and coasted his bike and made it into the service area.

Rule: A rider may push or coast his bike along the trail and can even push the bike backward on the trail, but a rider cannot ride backward on the trail.

Thad reached the pit and frantically swapped his bike’s stator. He made it to the Time Check 24 minutes down. That meant 24 minutes added to the US Trophy Team’s score, a massive setback.

Rule: There is a service area before every Time Check, but riders need to arrive ahead of their minute to get any service time. At the service area, riders are able to get gas and oil and spare parts, but the helpers can’t touch the bikes. The bike must be put over hazmat pads to catch any spilled oil or fuel.

Worse yet, the bike problem returned about 4 miles down the next transfer section, and Thad’s bike quit again—this time far from spare parts. Thad didn’t make it to the next check, which put the US team out for sure in the World Trophy division regardless of what happened with the FIM ruling on Taylor Robert and the other seven DQ’d riders.

Rule: Once a World Trophy or Junior World Trophy rider is 30 minutes late he officially “hours out” and receives a DNF for the event. Once a Trophy rider DNFs he can’t restart the event.

While things fell apart for the US World Trophy team’s chances, Sipes absolutely dominated individually. He won four of the six tests on day four and beat Milner, his main rival for the overall, in each test. Sipes picked up 32 seconds, and when added to his previous lead, he had a 44-second lead at the finish of day four. If he could hold on through day five, everyone knew Sipes had the skills to finish well on the final day—a motocross test. Sipes checked his bike into impound for the night and tried not to talk about possibly winning the overall. He had one more trail day to think about. He knew the tests (days four and five shared the same transfers and tests) and just had to determine how much to push and how much to play it safe.

He realistically didn’t need much of an advantage going into the final day, but he also didn’t want to give up his strong lead on day five. It was new territory for a kid who was raised on motocross. He went to sleep that night knowing he wasn’t “lucking into” the lead; he was, in fact, the fastest rider.

Rule: Team and individual standings are based on cumulative scores from each day. However, even if a team is out of the running, its individuals can still continue and compete for individual honors.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Veteran Mike Brown was voted team captain of the US World Trophy team. The factory Husqvarna rider rode a 500 this year and mentioned that it was harder than a 350 to maneuver in the really tight and slick stuff, which there was plenty of in Slovakia.Dirt Rider

Team Manager Kallonen had to switch the strategy from team finish to individual finish in the team meeting that night; and since Robert finished the day in second, he and Sipes would ride together. A rider can help a rider, so Robert, twice the Top American at the ISDE, would play chase rider to Sipes, who was riding only his second ISDE (his first on the Trophy team).

Rule: A rider can only get outside assistance from another rider and then only in the form of exchanging tools in the pre-finish area (where riders can do things such as tighten spokes and prep their wheels for removal).

Emotions were all over the map for the US squad. The World Trophy team was out, but Sipes was leading the event and pulling away. Meanwhile the Junior team, defending champions in their division, had looked like they were long out on day one but moved up to third on day three and held the position through day four.

Day Five

The racing on day five was uneventful for Sipes, which was just what he was hoping for. He kept an eye on Milner’s times and pushed his pace just enough to stay in the lead but not push over the edge. Another night of rain and dew had the course once again very slippery, and the tests, especially on the first loop, were slick and treacherous. In fact, pre-riders determined that test two was is such bad condition that they had the riders ride the test but threw out the scores, so day five would only have five tests that counted toward the scores.

Rule: Pre-riders ride the course before the fi rst rider to check the markings and sweep after the last rider to help anyone who has broken down or is injured.

While Sipes had a drama-free day, chaos struck elsewhere. The US Junior team dropped out of contention when Nick Davis DNF’d the first test. We were told later by the team that the problem was some small rocks that were sucked into his two-stroke’s reed cage. The team believes the rocks fell into the intake during a filter change, stayed in place during the moderate speeds of the transfer section, but then got sucked into the reeds when Davis went wide open in the first test. To make the news tougher for the young team, Grant Baylor had another great day, finishing fourth overall on test three and fifth overall (and top-placing Junior World Trophy rider) on test six.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

News came out that day that the FIM had declared a “stay of execution” on the disqualification penalty of the “Gang of 8,” who were riding under appeal—their scores would now count during the event, but the riders would still be considered to be riding on a provisional basis, and therefore their scores would be subject to review and reinstatement of the disqualification penalty down the road. This moved the French team from out of the team competition into first place and the Spanish team from out of the running into third. Team Australia was of course not happy to be bumped down to second place, and one FIM delegate resigned his position and two more almost resigned theirs in protest of the decision.

And while the penalties and the World Team results would have to be decided in FIM meetings, Sipes’ fate was in his own hands—he hoped. The Husky rider lost 9.23 seconds to Milner on day five, beating him in three of the tests. Ultimately, he would carry a 35.1-second lead on Milner and more than a two-minute lead on the third-placing rider, Frenchman Loic Larrieu, into the final day. Sipes went to sleep that night rightly confident in his motocross skills but nervous that his bike—which had just gone more than 800 miles in five days with minimal maintenance—was sitting outside in what he hoped was a secure impound area.

Rule: After five days of special tests, the sixth day is reserved for a motocross test, though back in the day when the event was called the Inter national Six Day Trial, the final day featured a race on asphalt with a sound test.

Day Six

When the sun rose on day six, no American had yet won the ISDE. There had been great years, most recently with Kurt Caselli winning the E3 class in 2011. But now a SX-winner-turned-off -road-racer was sitting in good position heading into the finale and had only six laps between himself and the history books. The final day’s start order out of the parc fermé was reversed, with the club riders pulling their bikes from impound first and the Trophy riders last. From there it was a 20-kilometer highway ride south out of Kosice (the racers were given dual-sport access on each day) to Kechnec, just north of the border of Hungary.

The classes were separated by engine division and divided into two groups for each class, a sort of A moto and B moto; each racer would ride only one moto. Sipes only had to stay within 35 seconds of Milner and within two minutes and 14 seconds of Larrieu. Both were in Sipes’ moto, and short of a terrible ride or a DNF, the title would be his.

Rule: A rider’s moto time is added to his trail time for the week; his moto finish position doesn’t factor into the overall results.

Sipes lined up on the motocross gate with a bike that had the abuse of five days of off-road racing on it, the suspension soft and set for off-road instead of motocross, and with his 350cc engine giving up 100cc to many of his competitors.

Rule: Many major components on the bike are marked and can’t be changed.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

The gate dropped and Ryan got a bad jump. He kept his composure, though, and braked early going into the first corner, cutting under the pack. He charged for the second corner in second place, and when he hit an unseen bump his left hand came off the bar. Sipes recovered instantly, the rider in the lead overshot the turn, and Ryan tucked inside and pulled into the lead. From there he sprinted for two laps then managed a comfortable lead. He crossed the line the unofficial but obvious winner of the event. He said right after his moto, “I just feel like I could jump 20 feet in the air, like a weight’s off my shoulders now.”

Milner came over and congratulated Sipes and gave him a handshake, and then Sipes was left to let it sink in while journalists and fans moved in for quotes, photos, and autographs.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Sipes (24) and Grant Baylor (26) off the line in the final motocross test. Baylor had an amazing week as a member of the US Junior Trophy team and actually finished fifth overall on day five, just behind David Knight.Dirt Rider

After The Medals
This year's event was a roller-coaster ride for the American squads, and in the end, both the US World Trophy team and the US Junior Trophy team failed to finish the event due to injuries and mechanicals, which was a huge disappointment considering the talent we brought to Slovakia. However, Sipes' achievement proves that the US has finally arrived on the ISDE scene and now has the ability to take home the gold.

The best any American World Trophy team has finished in ISDE history is second overall: once in 1982 and then again in Italy in 2013. Mark Hyde was a member of the ’82 team, along with Ed Lojak, Terry Cunningham, Scot Harden, Mike Melton, and Wally Wilson; and he was in Slovakia this year, helping the US squad, where he witnessed firsthand Sipes’ winning performance.

“We’ve had some chances to win in the past,” Hyde said. “But now we’re getting a deeper talent pool, so instead of having one, two, or three good guys on the trophy team and having to rely on luck, now we’re four, five, six guys deep. The talent that we’re attracting now, plus the new effort that’s been put into effect by Antti, has definitely elevated our game. So I think in the last four years it’s gotten better, both from an organization standpoint and from a talent standpoint. With Ryan winning, that’s just one more building block to win the ultimate prize, and that’s winning the Trophy Team award. Now, no longer do we need to get lucky or need things to go our way. Now we know we can just go out there with our guys, line up, and compete with anybody.”

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.Dirt Rider

The Americans:

Injuries and mechanical problems plagued the three US Trophy teams, with the World Team being credited with 22nd overall after Kailub Russell and ad Duvall both dropped out.

The Junior team was 13th overall, with Nick Davis and Lane Michael out of the running, and the Women’s team struggled with the transfer sections and finished fifth in their division.

Individually, Ryan Sipes was first overall and first in the E2 division. Also in the E2 class, Taylor Robert was fourth, Grant Baylor was eighth and the top Junior, Gary Sutherlin was 17th, while Steward Baylor was 23rd. All these riders finished with a gold medal. In the E3 class, for big bores, Mike Brown finished ninth, earning a gold medal.

In the Club divisions, the top-finishing American team was GoFasters.com in fourth overall, consisting of Reid Brown, Nathan Ferderer, and Brian Garrahan, all with gold-medal finishes.

Ryan Sipes wins 90th ISDE.
Journalists and fans moved in to grab quotes, autographs, and photos after Sipes finished the race.Dirt Rider