The Paddock superstar, who in 2018 became the first South African and youngest ever rider to win the world’s toughest hard enduro rallye, narrowly lost out on a place on the podium this time around, finishing fourth on his Sherco.
Most international races have been cancelled in 2020, the whole WESS series was cancelled, except one event. Everyone was sandbagging international race events, regulations and restrictions made them difficult to happen, in fact appearing “impossible”.
And then there was “madman” Martin Freinademetz and his crew, who are completely unfamiliar with the word “impossible”. Even though the original event date in July had to be moved to October, they made it happen and made history:
• The only WESS event in 2020
• The first Red Bull Romaniacs with snow
• The first woman to finish in the Gold class
• The first Red Bull Romaniacs without spectators, prologue or Gusterita finish
• Zero rescue missions or emergencies
For the participants, the challenges started with the race against constantly changing regulations, flight availability and international travel. Many resigned, stayed at home and hoped for better times.
But like the organizers, some of these racers are hard to keep away from the “honey pot”! They made the impossible happen and fought their way from all over the world to Romania. In return, they were treated with an extraordinary event.
Everything started with the triage, health monitoring one week in advance, individual inscription (on appointment, social distancing), online rider’s briefings and a lot of “Social Distance”. Then instead of the usual prologue, the pack of racers were unleashed onto an Offroad Time Trials Qualification which defined the starting order for Offroad Day 1 and “eased” the participants into race mode.
Offroad Day 1 led the race into the Olt valley, with spectacular “Golden fall” conditions, 100% grip and magic colors. The day was won by Graham Jarvis (GBR/Husqvarna), with Manuel Lettenbichler (DEU/KTM) already hot on his heels, a duel that would continue all the way throughout the event, at MotoCross speed until the last minute.
Offroad Day 2 was another example of perfect riding conditions and pleasant weather, but the track already claimed some victims, especially in the Gold class, where Taddy Balzusiak (POL/GasGas) had to throw in the towel and Billy Bolt (GBR/Husqvarna) lost precious time in a crash.
The big assault on the motivation of the riders, the test to separate the boys from the men, started on Offroad Day 3, when pouring, cold rain greeted the riders in the morning and the higher altitudes were even covered in light snow.
Even though the morning was a bit of a “shock & awe” moment, for both the riders and the organizers, who had to re-route the track to the “hard-rain-option”, things quickly developed for the better. The clouds parted briefly after the start and the race-day continued without major incidents.
The grand finale took place on Saturday in Sibiu, after the race had been led about 100 km all around Sibu and then finished on top of a building under construction in the center of the city.
Jarvis had started the last day with a 27-second lead over Lettenbichler – and the conditions were exactly to his taste, wet, slippery, deceptive – in which this veteran feels like a fish in water.
Unfortunately, he had a rather serious crash in the Cisnadioara area, where he lost precious time and, worse, the electric starter of his bike. That allowed “Letti” to catch up with him and never leave his side. The effortless riding style and the avoidance of grave mistakes secured Lettenbichler the overall victory.
The duel of the two for the first position on the podium was seconded by an equally fierce fight for the stage victory on the fourth day.
Bolt, Alfredo Gomez (ESP/Husqvarna) and Young – who had started the event by winning the time trial – spent most of the day together, convinced that they were too far behind to claim the title but fighting for third position on the podium.
Bolt rode his heart out and delivered some of the fastest times in most of the checkpoints, managing to win the fourth day with a gap of 45 seconds ahead of Gomez and 59 seconds ahead of Young.
While Bolt won the day, the fast pace secured Gomez the last step of the Gold class overall podium.
And that is not the only reason for the “Spanish connection” to celebrate a victory. Alfredo’s sister, Sandra Gomez (ESP/Husqvarna), battled her way through the four days and the heavy rains of Offroad Day 4, over the unthinkable difficulties of the Gold track – and managed to reach the finish That makes her the first woman in the history of the Red Bull Romaniacs to finish the Gold class.
In the Silver class, Peter Weiss (DNK), finished in first position after a constant performance throughout the four days and fierce battles with his main rival, Fabien Poirot (FRA), the Trial world champion. Eddie Findling (DEU), secured the Bronze title against Bernard Hugo (FRA).
Emanuel Gyenes (ROU) nailed the Iron class title after a similarly interesting duel throughout the race with Romain Courty (FRA). That leaves French competitors in second place in three of the 5 classes! Dan Mateescu (ROU) took the win of the newly established Atom class, with a gap of more than 20 minutes over his competition.
Results – 2020 Red Bull Romaniacs
1. Manuel Lettenbichler (GER), KTM, 20:27:11
2. Graham Jarvis (GBR), Husqvarna, 20:29:37 +2:26
3. Alfredo Gomez (ESP), Husqvarna, 20:41:20 +14:09
4. Wade Young (RSA), Sherco, 20:41:33 +14:22
5. Billy Bolt (GBR), Husqvarna, 20:58:29 +31:18
6. Mario Roman (ESP), Sherco, 22:11:39 +1:44:28
7. Michael Walkner (AUT), Husqvarna, 23:15:01 +2:47:50
8. Teodor Kabakchiev (BGR), KTM, 24:57:25 +4:30:14
9. Michele Bosi (ITA), KTM, 29:22:42 +8:55:31
10. Sonny Goggia (ITA), Beta, 30:04:05 +9:36:54