Saturday, 8 June 2013

Erzberg Rodeo

By Mark

We made it into Eisenerz, Austria for the big race on Wednesday afternoon and luckily we had some decent weather to set up camp. While setting up we were approached by a guy asking about our bikes, he had recognised the registration plates. Turns out he was from Perth, Australia. Adrian as he was called was quite surprised by this and being a fellow biker we struck up a conversation and found ourselves hanging out with him for the next 4 days.

The Erzberg Enduro is held over 4 days inside a huge Iron Ore Mine which is shut down once a year and it is for this enduro only, now in it's 19th year. The first day of racing is the Rocket Race which puts man and machine up against a series of very steep slopes of the mine covered by rocks of all sizes and some seriously soft dirt. Fastest to the top wins. This was great to watch as there was carnage from the moment we had arrived, the ascents are so steep that if the riders do not have enough speed, they find themselves flipping their bikes trying to reach the top of each tier some hoping that if they just give it one more handful of throttle they can flip the bike on to the ledge above saving them from turning around and going to the bottom again. Some are successful but only to the detriment of the bike. Boy do these guys have spirit though, many of them struggling over and over with the enormity of the task at hand. They just kept having a crack at it with the support from the vocal crowd cheering them on time after time until they made it. We are talking 6 plus times for some riders to make it up just one section, meanwhile you have guys flying by at warp speed making it look all so easy. This was a good bench mark for what to expect for the coming days racing.

Sadly the weather did not hold out very long and before the end of the day's racing the heavens had opened up and the downpour started. It was cold and wet but we had been expecting it to turn bad anyway. At least we were not having to race in this weather and we all had joy in watching the riders deal with the bad conditions. By that evening we returned to camp to see our tents surrounded by a lake, formally a football ground! That wasn't pleasant but we did manage to stay dry for most of the night huddled inside in the freezing conditions, oh how nice a warm dry bed would have been. 

The following morning I was happy to hear the rain had stopped but the noise of pitta patter on top of the tent had changed to a strange sound that I have not heard before. Our worst fears had come true, the rain had now turned to snow and the ground around us was freezing and covered in snow. All around us people were packing up and leaving. Many tents and shelters had collapsed under the weight of the snow but some how our little summer tent was still holding up. Only thing was the inside of the tent which was now very wet, so was our mattresses and sleeping bags. It was "The Hell" as our friend Frank would put it and we had no options really as what to do or where to go. We already knew that every guest house within a 50km radius was booked out. Luckily the locals running the make shift campground at the local football club had an offer for us. We could use a tent they were using for people to eat in when the inside of the club was full; since the amount of people had dwindled due to the terrible weather they found they would probably not be needing it. So we set upon the task of moving out of our frozen lake to a tent right beside the club with even a heater inside which was much needed to dry out all our belongings. In total there were 4 tents within the tent. Franks, ours, Adrian's and another bike rider from Germany, Ollie. With the day passing by quickly we decided not to head up the mountain to watch the first heat for the prologue which sees 1800 competitors race against the clock up the iron ore mountain roads to make the top 500 for Sundays main race, the Hare Scramble. The conditions were atrocious and overnight there had been land slides on the race track and the track needed to be shortened also due to snow on the track. Visibility was poor as were the riding conditions so we thought it better to sort out our gear and dry everything for hopefully a warmer nights sleep. We also thought that a pair of gumboots would come in handy so we shopped for some gum boots and beer to get through the night. Early in the evening we headed down town to watch the Raid on Eisenerz which sees all competitors ride through town on their race bikes running amok doing burnouts and wheelies etc. It was such a great atmosphere to be amongst and it was here that I started to get this crazy idea that maybe, just maybe I should come back and be part of it all again. Next time though as a competitor.

The following day the conditions were better, well there was no rain. So we headed on up to the mine to check out the second heat of the prologue. On the start line there was a huge number of different bikes lined up to race against the clock. There was everything from Vespas  to KTM Adventure 990's. I think some people just came to race to say that they have had a go at Erzberg and this was where my mind was leading me. I just wanted to be part of all this craziness and action. After checking out the racing we walked around the mine to check out everyone else training for the following day's big race. It seemed to be that there were no rules and that anything goes. There were bikes cartwheeling here there and everywhere while riders dodged them to make their way up the steep mountain sides. One poor guy who failed on his way up returned down the hill to only lose control and end up with his bike in the bottom of the lake. I still have no idea if he was able to retrieve it. With the conditions starting to worsen we made a retreat back to camp to get warm and have a shower. From there we headed back up later to see the freestyle motocross but due to the conditions it had been put on earlier so we watched some freestyle jet ski action in the lake. It was pretty impressive but in no time we were a little bored with it and found ourselves heading back to the beer tent. Every night up around the riders camp is a party and we found ourselves getting a little carried away, especially me. The next morning I awoke late with no recollection of how I returned back to camp. Thanks Adrian for helping me home.

Feeling only slightly worse for wear we made a quick trip to the lake and the start line of the main race. It was insane. It had rained all night yet again and the start line was now an actual lake. We made it with only minutes to spare and the first 50 riders were off. Only 5% made it out trouble free, the rest stalling in the deep water and some even had problems with flooding their engines. Not only did they have this to deal with but then pick a line up a steep incline straight out of the lake to get onto the iron roads. It was carnage and I was loving it, rain and all. We were moved on by officials as we were in a dangerous area I suppose, but we were herded into a another viewing area that was no safer but was full of even more action with bikes crashing down steep descents then getting stuck and bogged into deep sludge pits. Only way out was by the help of the spectators. Adrian manned up and jumped in to help a few people out. Some riders come prepared with their own rope to get the help when needed - when allowed as there are only 6 points in the race where it is allowed to receive outside help or you will be disqualified. 

We wanted more action so we headed up the mountain side to the forest to see the top riders make their way down hillsides with slopes over 45 degrees, some shorter sections being near vertical! Being in this location you see only a handful of riders as only the top riders will finish. We saw only about 7 riders come through before heading to the finish to hopefully see some riders make it across the finish line. We were lucky and saw a couple come through to the finish. There was talk leading up to the main event that maybe this year because of the terrible weather conditions would see no riders finishing at all. But the riders proved the organisers wrong and out of 500 riders 14 people finished within the 4 hour time limit, sadly for one French rider he came in only around a minute late and was disqualified due to being outside the time. To me he is a winner, anyone who enters this race and is able to finish is a champion with plenty of heart and and a huge amount of riding skill.

After all the highs and lows of 5 days of crazy weather, crazy riding and good times I vow that one day I will return to this circus they call a race and hopefully next time as a competitor. I know I have no chance of making it to the finish line but to be there and giving it a go is what it is all about. Hats off to all of this years competitors.

The iron giant in all it's glory

A rider racing up the mountain in the Prologue

We arrived to good weather leading up to the race

But after 24 hours this is what we woke up to!

Frank was ecstatic about it

The poor bikes didn't enjoy it

Our tents within a tent

Luckily there was a heater so we could dry everything out

We also scored some car seats to chill out on 

One of the riders camps within the mine

One of the many out there bikes on the mountain

There were even guys there having a crack on their Vespas!

Or on road bikes fitted with knobbies

Then there was the carnage of practice

This poor guy rode straight into some sludge so I helped him out

And once they have gone up, they have to get back down

Flat out up the hill side was the only way to go

What's a motorbike race without a pink elephant?

More carnage

Stopping for a quick breather!

So close but yet so far

One guy even lost his bike into the lake below during hill climb practice,
and yes the riders have to go up all those tiers

All smiles even though the weather was horrible

Of course with the help of beer, cheers Adrian

Then started the fun of the raid on the town

This guy would have been freezing!

As I said before the race attracts all sorts

Then the burnouts started

And ended in quite a smoke show

Had to have at least one wheelie in there

This bike was actually signed on to race the prologue!

Then there was a condom on a Vespa

Enjoying the fun with even more beer, pointy fingers and traffic light colours!

The start of the main race on Sunday = Carnage

We were setup in a good place to see many spills into this sludge

This photo does not show how steep this hill really was

The poor owner of this bike could get no help to get his bike out
which meant the race was over for him!

One of the few who made it back down the mountain

Then only to tackle the steep descents of the forest

And what would a hard core race be without just a few more obstacles on the finish line

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