Blake Gutzeit (Fox/CTI/Rock Oil) was the standout South African rider in the Red Bull Romaniacs prologue in Sibiu, Romania on Tuesday.
The Oslo Beach ace used his technical prowess to seal an eighth-place finish, with Paddock star Wade Young (Brother Leader Tread KTM) not far behind in 10th position.
Fellow South Africans Brett Swanepoel, Scott Bouverie, Travis Teasdale and Dwayne Kleynhans made solid starts to the race, placing 14th, 15th, 18th and 22nd respectively.
While the weather gods are promising to deliver mild sunny weather for the 2015 Red Bull Romaniacs race days, the morning did start with rain showers which stopped for the actual qualifiers, but not before leaving some puddles in the metal skips to add to the difficulty.
The wet, slippery track caused a hint of terror among some of the Bronze riders who were the first to hit the course. Some of the riders realised, not without puzzlement, the “lack of flow” in the course – and it`s gnarliness. This was an objective for prologue builder Andy Fazekas, who had presented a much more fluid track in 2014.
“We went to every extreme to break the flow, eliminating most of the lines that would allow building up speed and throwing in a whole new basket of tricks facing the riders. Without creating “harmful” sections we have succeeded in replicating some of the pain awaiting the riders out there in the surrounding mountains in the days to come,” said Fazekas.
Jonny Walker dominated the whole race, completely unchallenged, while Alfredo Gomez kept following behind him, with slightly increasing gaps each lap. Behind them, riding more or less unchallenged by the rest of the field, followed Graham Jarvis and Paul Bolton. Both engaged in a few brawls, duelling each other for the third place on the podium, which in the end went to Jarvis. Bolton had won the prologue in 2013 and 2014.
Fifth and sixth went to Andreas Lettenbichler and Chris Birch, who each had a nasty wipeout throwing them back. The biggest surprise of the Gold Class prologue today was Manuel Lettenbichler (D) and Jonathan Richardson (UK). Richardson came second in the time trial qualifications, before Letti, Jarvis and Bolton. He managed to finish ninth in the finals.
Letti Junior rode like he was on fire in the finals, the whole time on his father’s heels. It even looked like he would be able to pass him with a bit of luck. It was only at the end that Birch managed to pass him, pushing Letti Junior into seventh place.
The absolute star of the day and crowd pleaser was Sandra Gomez, who rode a fantastic race, getting faster and faster each lap. She finished third in the Bronze class – and the first woman ever on an Red Bull Romaniacs prologue podium.
The best result of a Romanian rider was the one of Emanuel Gyenes, who finished second in the Silver Class.
Prologue winner Walker said: “The Red Bull Romaniacs was one of my biggest wins in 2014 and I am happy to have nailed the prologue of this year`s event. The track was much better this year than in previous years, there wasn’t as much queuing. After I had done all the hard work in the first two laps, I found my flow and could cruise through the rest. I love it here, Sibiu is an awesome place, I would come here on holiday!”
The riders were unanimous in that it was the best prologue of recent years. Jarvis said: “A little more technical than in previous years, a bit slower and more physical, very difficult to flow on that stuff!”
Despite the tough challenge, the riders loved the prologue, which consisted of hundreds of tons of giant rocks, steel and wood brought in to create the different sections. Riders had to negotiate large metal skips, concrete barriers and railway lines. There were also almost vertical spiral wall rides, and as a special feature this year an Arena Platos chairlift with a real life snow cannon spraying mist at them.
Following the prologue results the riders were allowed to choose their starting order for the first off-road day. It will be Jarvis first, followed by Gomez and Walker.
Martin Freinademetz said: “We are happy that we had such a smooth kick-off without serious accidents – despite the slippery conditions in the morning. The weather co-operated nicely in the end, pleasing both riders and the 10.000 spectators.
“We featured a large video wall this year, displaying the results in real time – and also introduced our Red Bull Romaniacs App, which helped fans, friends and families follow their favourite rider.”