We conclude our four-part in-depth feature on Blake Gutzeit’s Junior SuperEnduro World Championship triumph and his road to becoming South Africa’s first superenduro world champion.
Quintin van Jaarsveld
Gutzeit had long wanted to enter the superenduro fray, an interest he reveals was sparked by Polish phemon, Taddy Blazusiak.
“I’ve been watching Taddy do this crazy, short-sprint racing for years. I’ve always looked up to him and always wanted to try something like it,” he said.
He got the break he was looking for in 2015. “Adam Kubarski helped me to get to my very first superenduro in Riesa, which Holger Dettmann built.
“Hulger was helping Wade [Young] at the time and I caught a ride with them to a few GPs. Adam was the first to bring me out to Europe and believe in me. I’m so thankful till this day and he’s become one of my great, close friends.”
He finished seventh in that maiden SuperEnduro World Championship junior class race in Germany. “I knew nothing about time practice, free practice and things like that, but it was a cool, fun, crazy night.”
His baptism of fire sparked a love for superenduro and put the wheels in motion for his ultimate triumph two years later. “I prefer superenduro to hard enduro because I enjoy the short-spring racing where you have to be on your game for short amounts of time and make sure you hit all your lines. It’s super exciting.”
He hit the ground running in his rookie campaign and was on course for a place on the overall podium before those dreams were dashed by the aforementioned torn ACL in the championship finale. As a result, he had to settle for fourth place.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, Gutzeit saying it was a valuable learning curve. “Those races taught me what to do and not to do. This year, I was the one who didn’t make any costly mistakes and managed to stay out of bad situations.”
The experience he gained showed as the 2016/17 championship rolled around. Despite being flattened by another rider landing on top of him in the opening race in Poland, Gutzeit won the third and final race to claim a runner-up result, Chile’s Benjamín Herrera taking the win.
A sold-out SachsenArena in Riesa witnessed history as Gutzeit secured his maiden superenduro win. Starting off with a strong victory in race one, he worked his way from a long way back to finish second in heat two and capped things off with a win in heat three.
He continued his winning ways in Bilbao, where a 2-1-2 scorecard earned him a second straight win and a 27-point lead over second-placed Herrera at the top of the championship standings.
Three days before the finale, however, things took a drastic turn, with Gutzeit learning his lead had been cut to just seven due to X-4 rules being in effect, which meant the four worst results of each rider fell away.
“It completely caught me by surprise. I didn’t agree with it, but it was in fact in the rule book and I had to adapt to it. It changed my whole game plan and meant I had to focus so much harder.”
He concedes it was a difficult development to deal with heading into the biggest race of his life. “I couldn’t sleep the three nights before the race. I was just thinking about it so much…maybe too much. The nights were like 15°C and my palms and feet were sweating all night.”
Mental toughness is a key ingredient for success at the highest level, where riders are evenly matched in terms of physical prowess and conditioning. A sharp, unshaken mind is thus often the difference maker, and Gutzeit proved he possessed this all-important quality in the make-or-break championship finale in Albi.
“You can be as fit and strong as you want, but if your head’s not right and it’s not in the game, it means nothing. I drew confidence from my form throughout the championship and on race night, I was relaxed.
“When I get too serious, I think too much and race too hard, so I stayed chilled and as soon the gate dropped, I was in full race mode and fully focused on the task at hand and nothing else.
“Physically, I was at my peak. It was the best race week prep I’d ever had. My diet and training were spot on; I didn’t over train, so I went into the night at the top of my game and felt strong in every heat. When the time came, I delivered in the first race, which was really important to set the standard for the night.”
Deliver he did, his heat-one win propelling him ever closer to glory. The ensuing heats didn’t go according to plan, however, as he placed eighth and sixth, leading to a nervous wait which would climax in the purest of ecstasy.
“I had a great battle with [fellow South African rider]Travis [Teasdale] and I think I wrapped up the championship with that win in the first final, but I wasn’t sure. We weren’t focusing on points, we were focusing on doing what I do best and that’s riding.
“I messed the final two heats up, so I wasn’t 100% sure if I got it and we were all a bit nervous, but when I got that number one plate, it was the sweetest feeling in the world.”
The evening of March 18, 2017 will forever belong to Gutzeit, who reached the pinnacle of the sport he’d dedicated his entire life to. A world champion at 22…not bad for a small town kid. He’s proud of his Port Shepstone roots, he said, adding it groomed him for greatness.
“I’m super proud to be from the South Coast. Growing up, we had great riders like Jade and Marc Torlage and wanted to be like them, which drove all of us to constantly get better.
“The South Coast Cadets Harescramble Series was a good foundation for us and we have great riding and passionate people like Greg Orsmond and Denzil Torlage who contribute to the riders and the sport in general.”
Photos by Future7Media