Story and photos by Mark Kariya
All of the pre-race preparation for the 92nd International Six Days Enduro takes place in a compressed time frame between flying to the event (held this year in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France), preparing bikes, walking each special test then going through the onsite registration, technical inspection, bike impound and, finally, the opening ceremonies⏤all in less than a week.
For the first time in its 92-year history, the parade of nations in the ISDE’s opening ceremonies saw the American team carry the FIM World Trophy as the defending champions.
But the 31-rider U.S. ISDE team sailed through without drama and now is looking confidently at the race, which starts Monday morning. Especially confident are the four men on the U.S. Trophy team, the defending champion for the first time in the history of Six Days in the all-important FIM World Trophy division.
Thad Duvall, Taylor Robert (the fastest overall individual last year in Spain) and Kailub Russell are joined by Ryan Sipes, who missed last year when another rider hit him as they were warming up for a GNCC the day before Sipes was supposed to get on the plane to Spain. Sipes, of course, had been looking forward to the 2016 race, since he’d earned top overall individual honors in Slovakia in 2015, the first time an American had claimed that distinction.
Many eyes will be on the U.S. Team as defending champs in the FIM World Trophy division, especially on Taylor Robert, last year’s fastest overall individual. Here, he makes sure his bike is dialed in before it has to go into impound.
“I think everybody on the team wants to win the overall [individual title] for themselves, which is good!” Robert said. “If all four of us are in the top five, that’s even better for the team. If everybody here thinks they have a shot at the overall, I think that’s really good because in years past, I don’t know if that’s ever been the case.
“I think that just adds to the value of our team.”
After walking alongside AMA Off-road Racing Manager Erek Kudla, who carried the prestigious FIM World Trophy at the head of the U.S. ISDE team in the opening ceremonies, Sipes had this to say, “They’re carrying the [World] Trophy around, and it’s got U.S.A. on it, but it doesn’t have my name. Don’t get me wrong; I’m so proud of them, but I feel like my name should be on there, so I want to do really well this year and get [the World Trophy] back, and put my name on it.”
Layne Michael—who ended up being a last-minute replacement for Sipes in Spain—has been moved to the U.S. Junior World Trophy team, joining Grant Baylor and Josh Toth, giving that trio a heavy dose of experience and speed.
The most time-consuming⏤and physically draining⏤chore during the week before the race is walking each of the special tests. Though most look like they’ll be fast, flowing courses on grassy hillsides, walking them in hot (approaching 100 degrees), humid conditions isn’t fun, and there are 10 tests to walk! U.S. World Trophy team rider Thad Duvall leads the way here on one of the first day’s tests.
Asked how confident he was, Sipes replied, “Out of 10? I’d give it a nine and a half. I feel good, and I think our team is really good. I’m just looking forward to getting started and I think we’ve got a good shot. If we all ride like we know how, we’ve got a good shot.”
Along with the veterans on the team, new faces will make their first ISDE start Monday morning.
U.S. Women’s World Trophy team member Becca Sheets—who’s teaming with Kacy Martinez-Coy and Brandy Richards—is one of those new faces.
Anything that I’ve been expecting is everything that’s been told to me so far, so nothing unexpected yet," she said. “It’s really cool. I’ve never been overseas before—my first time out of the country, and France is pretty awesome.
I like the town that we’re in. It’s pretty cool to see the [old] stone buildings and stuff.”
But, like everyone else, Sheets likely believes the coolest thing would be seeing her team on the podium when racing concludes Saturday afternoon.