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Hard Enduro Interviews

Hard Enduro Interviews

May 30

  • News

On June 2, 2024, the realm of the world's toughest off-road races ignites with fervour as two titans of adrenaline-fueled competitions, Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Hardline, command the spotlight for a Super Sunday of two-wheel action.

These events, heralded as the pinnacle of their respective disciplines, Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking, draw in athletes from around the globe, each vying to conquer the unforgiving terrains and vertiginous challenges laid out before them.

Despite the distinct differences between Hard Enduro's uphill battles and Downhill Mountain Biking's gravity-defying descents, these disciplines share common ground in their relentless pursuit of pushing physical and mental limits, navigating strenuous landscapes, and embracing the exhilarating rush of competition.

The 80/20 Snapshot:

  • Red Bull Erzbergrodeo: A gruelling 40km quest through Austria's treacherous mountain passes.
  • Red Bull Hardline: A challenging course in Wales featuring monstrous jumps and hair-raising features.
  • Rob Warner discusses the demanding nature of Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking, pushing athletes to their physical and mental limits: "There's no doubt that Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking are about as tough as it gets on planet Earth."
  • Gee Atherton emphasises the importance of mental focus and quick decision-making amidst the relentless challenges of the races: "You have to throw yourself in 100% and you have to commit to it."
  • Manuel Lettenbichler highlights the essential technical skills and adaptability required for success in these rigorous sports: "You have to be flexible because so many things can happen in such a short amount of time."
  • Jonny Walker discusses the balancing act between pushing boundaries and prioritising safety: "I'm at an age now where I do pick being safe over taking a big risk."

Deep Dive:

- In the rugged heart of Austria's Styrian mining town of Eisenerz, Red Bull Erzbergrodeo unfolds amidst the formidable backdrop of a working iron-ore quarry. Here, Hard Enduro riders brave a 40km odyssey through treacherous mountain passes and vertiginous ascents, navigating a labyrinth of boulders and drops.

- Meanwhile, deep in the Dyfi Valley of Wales, Red Bull Hardline beckons with its own brand of fury. Crafted by the mind of MTB Downhill luminary Dan Atherton, this event unleashes riders onto a complex course made of a barrage of obstacles, combining monstrous freestyle jumps with hair-raising downhill features amidst the lush embrace of the Welsh countryside.

- Understanding the nature of these two events and the disciplines ruling them is key to grasping the physical and mental demands they require. To shed light on this, we turn to Rob Warner, a former Downhill ace with extensive first-hand Hard Enduro experience and knowledge.

Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking are considered some of the world’s toughest sports. Can you tell us what the reasons are behind such a reputation?

Rob Warner: There's no doubt that Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking are about as tough as it gets on planet Earth. As far as extreme sports go, they push the riders to the absolute edge of their physicality and mental resolve. They also push equipment to the very limit and they both do it in very different ways. Hard Enduro will push a rider over a long course, testing their endurance over hours and hours. It will grind the riders down, whereas a Downhill athlete is at their peak athletic capacity almost the moment they leave the gate, and try and sustain that whilst riding a bike for 2-3 minutes. It's all-in for that short space of time. Your heart rate is beyond the maximum. The minute you leave the start, you're trying to ride a bicycle all the way down; every hundredth of a second counts. Whereas in Hard Enduro, perhaps the minutes count more, as well as not getting stuck. Riders go over the most challenging terrains that motorcycles can tackle. They're out in the middle of nowhere all day on their own. They're very different sports, but they take the people who are daft enough to do them to the very limit.

As a downhiller who also practices Hard Enduro, what draws riders to the unique challenges of Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Hardline?

Rob Warner: When you get [as a participant] to events like Red Bull Hardline and Red Bull Erzbergrodeo, the goal is to finish. Getting a top-to-bottom of a Red Bull Hardline is a massive achievement. Only a handful of riders can do it. Riders who finish the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo within the time limit - some years you see two finishes, sometimes you see ten - it's a very elite club. The draw for many people is to get as close as they can to that finish line, even if they don't complete it. Red Bull Hardline and Red Bull Erzbergrodeo are as demanding as you can go in those events. You can't push a Downhill rider on his bike any harder than you can over the minutes of a Red Bull Hardline track. The same goes for a lap of the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo. You go there to test yourself against the limit of what's put in front of people. There's nothing harder than Red Bull Erzbergrodeo. So if you fancy a challenge, pick up one of those two events.

What is something about these sports that people outside of the core scene might not know?

Rob Warner: I'm lucky enough every year to go to Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and tackle a very small part of it. Last year I tackled an extreme section, but definitely one of the easier extreme sections. What shocked me was that I would never get through that section. I could have been there for 24 hours, for 48 hours. It doesn't matter how long, there's no way I would be able to get through that section. You might go there not expecting it to be as difficult as it is. It is insanely hard, and you watch the top guys in the world do it, and they make it look easy and, man, oh man, what they ride up! You just can't believe it. It’s mind-blowing what they ride up and down. Yeah, forget it. For most normal mortals, it ain't happening. If you hadn't ridden Red Bull Hardline, you wouldn't know how challenging the parts are between the features. When you watch it on television, you see the 80-foot gaps, the 60-foot gaps, and the road gap, and think, “Yeah, they're terrifying. They're incredibly difficult.” They are, but they're not as difficult as the sections the riders have to ride between them. That's why Red Bull Hardline stands above everything else. It's got features, as well as both technical and natural riding that will take the world's best well beyond that limit. And that's what we see at Red Bull Hardline every year.

- Gee Atherton, a two-time Downhill World Champion with numerous World Cup victories under his belt, not only played a pivotal role in designing the original Red Bull Hardline course alongside his brother Dan but is also slated to provide commentary at this year's Red Bull Hardline event. With his expertise and insights, coupled with the revamped track designed to offer riders an unparalleled experience, this edition promises to be an exhilarating showcase of great mountain biking prowess.

How was building the new Red Bull Hardline track?

Gee Atherton: The new builds got really well. It's very hard with Red Bull Hardline because every year you think, ‘Right, this is as hard as we can make it’, and then everyone does it and you think you have to step up again. So, sometimes that does get hard, but this year with the new track, we've got a fresh canvas, so to speak, a whole top section of a mountain with nothing on it, and we've just cut in such a gnarly, rough, difficult track. I think everyone's going to love it.

In intense competitions such as Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Hardline, how do riders maintain mental focus and physical steadiness amidst the adrenaline rush and unpredictable conditions?

Gee Atherton: With Red Bull Hardline especially - and I think there's probably a similarity here with Red Bull Erzbergrodeo - the difficult thing is processing that information and being able to process it immediately. At Red Bull Hardline there is just obstacle after obstacle, there's no let-up between them. You hit one, and before you've even landed, you have to start planning the approach speed of the next one. So it's a huge amount of information that needs to be processed very quickly. And I imagine Red Bull Erzbergrodeo is very similar, both with a very physical element as well - having a focus, having to be 100% concentrated whilst you can barely breathe, you've got arm pump, your legs are aching, there's mud on your goggles. You're as tired as you've ever been, and you still have to be 100% focused. But you've got no choice. Once you've dropped into Red Bull Hardline, same with Red Bull Erzbergrodeo, you have to do it. You have to throw yourself in 100% and you have to commit to it.

When you are approaching these descends, what is going through your mind? What are you thinking about when you're about to hit an obstacle or a jump? How do you get yourself in the zone for that?

Gee Atherton: You have to look at previous things you've done - times where you've been in a similar situation, on a similar obstacle, and the way you've approached that. Over time you learn small tricks, like how to keep yourself calm, how to relax, and how to focus. You also learn how to judge these things, how to gauge and approach speed, how to do a roll-in and say, ‘That speed is right.. or not.' You just have to call on this vast wealth of experience you've got. And that's what makes a good Red Bull Hardline rider. And like with Red Bull Erzbergrodeo, you have to look back at all these years you've done before or at other similar events. You couldn’t just turn up to one of these events and hope it goes well. You have to have such a broad skill base, and a broad time base, as it will test you in every way. And Red Bull Hardline is a good example of that, in testing you. You have to be good at jumping, at drops, the technical awkward downhill stuff, and judging speed on big features. There's just so much to it. The only way to do it is to come up with things that have worked in the past and then try and replicate them.

- Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Manuel Lettenbichler boasts numerous victories in Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and clinched the FIM World Hard Enduro Championship title last year. Recognised for his endurance and unwavering perseverance, Lettenbichler delves into the secrets behind his achievements in these taxing competitions.

What technical skills does one need to compete in these races? And what other qualities do you believe are essential for success in these tough sports?

Manuel Lettenbichler: Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking are the same - at the end, it's super important if you go into those races, that you have a really good line choice and you can read the terrain. This is a big thing in Hard Enduro, but it's also such a big thing in Downhill. As for myself, I learned so much through Downhill riding that I could bring into my sport, like how to keep the momentum, keep the pace up, read the terrain properly, maybe open up corners and stuff like that. If you want to be successful in these tough sports, you have to be flexible because so many things can happen in such a short amount of time. Even if you get offline and end up in the completely wrong way, you have to try to get back on, maybe find another solution straight away, and find another line you are pretty happy with.

How do riders calculate risk and approach quick decision-making during high-speed descents or navigating obstacles?

Manuel Lettenbichler: We know what we're doing, even when we're getting to the limit; and we know how to calculate the risk and make last-minute or even last-second decisions. Like, when we're going uphill and it's super sketchy, or when we go downhill with a massive jump. But you always have to visualise [the action] beforehand, know if it's possible or not, and with time and experience, you get a better feel of what you can do and what you can't do.

- British Hard Enduro rider Jonny Walker attempted to conquer the Red Bull Hardline course on a motorcycle to surpass Downhill world champion Jackson Goldstone's 2022 record for the fastest time. His decision to switch gears and ride downhill instead of uphill, driven by his desire to challenge himself in new ways, showcases the convergence between the two seemingly disparate worlds of Hard Enduro and Downhill Mountain Biking.

What's the best way to prepare for a daunting race like Red Bull Erzbergrodeo?

Jonny Walker: We put so much work into what we're getting ourselves in for. What's important is just staying calm down at the start. I have to go down to the start an hour early. So that really makes it difficult. But once the race gets going, it’s just like any other race.

How do you balance the thrill of pushing boundaries with the need to stay safe and avoid injury in challenging environments?

Jonny Walker: For me, it's quite easy because I've had a lot of injuries, so I'm at an age now where I do pick being safe over taking a big risk. When I was younger, I'd take a lot of risks. But now I always think, ‘I've had too many injuries and missed too many big races. I won't take the risk’, and I'll always take it easy and hope for the best.

- In the crucible of competition, where earth and sky converge, Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Hardline showcase the indomitable spirit of human pursuit. Here, amidst the roar of engines and the thunder of wheels, boundaries fade, and legends are born.

Watch the world's hardest sports on two wheels live on June 2nd on Red Bull TV. Hard Enduro's prime event Red Bull Erzbergrodeo kicks off at 12:30 PM CEST, followed by the toughest Downhill Mountain Bike race on the planet, Red Bull Hardline, at 15:30 PM CEST.

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