Courtesy Terry Stevenson, Andy McGechan, Geoff Osborne
is the greatest show on turf and it’s in New Zealand for the first
time! Sunday’s Opening Ceremony formally kicked off the 2006
International Six Days Enduro in Taupo, New Zealand, and it is just
hours away from blast-off with 600 riders from 31 countries nervously
making final preparations.
At 7am Tuesday, the first group of riders will leave the starting pen
at the Taupo Motorsport Park and head off into the Kinleith Forest,
just north of town. Several of the special stages of Days One to Five
are within 50m of State Highway 1. Day Six is a special motocross test
held at Taupo’s Digger McEwen Park.
Perhaps favourite for the Trophy Team honours, where riders represent
their countries in teams of six, is last year’s ISDE champion – Italy.
The Italians are again strong this year, but they’ll again likely have
Finland and Sweden for company in the chase for Trophy Team honours.
Finland, in particular, is a standout team with such “name” riders as
defending World Enduro champion Samuli Aro and legends Juha Salminen,
Mika Ahola and Marko Tarkkala.
France, Spain and Australia are also strong contenders.
Though they’ll ride under team banners, either for their country or for
club teams, the riders will also be hunting for individual honours. Ten
are former or reigning world champions, and two of them are New
Zealanders – Tauranga’s Stefan Merriman and New Plymouth’s Shayne King.
Although originally from the Bay of Plenty, Merriman has raced under an
Australian licence for a number of years and he will again be a part of
Australia’s representative Trophy Team.
Merriman, a four-time former World Enduro champion, and Finnish pair
Aro and Salminen (Finland) are perhaps the three riders favoured to
take individual honours.
Former World Enduro champion Salminen has arrived from the United
States where he has just completed his second consecutive season of
winning the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series. “I didn’t race
the ISDE last year. I’ve been two years in the US and last year we had
a race over there at the same time, so I wasn’t in Slovakia. I don’t
know what happened there. But, we are here and we have a strong team
and we do what we can, so let’s see who wins. At least we try to do our
best, and our best should be enough. We know there are top teams,
France, Italy and New Zealand is fast too, and Australia has a good
team” he explained.
And his secret to lasting six days?
“Well you can’t win the six days the first day or second day, but you
can lose it. So just start slowly and have a look how it is and, when
it’s time to go fast, go fast.”
The New Zealand contingent has plenty of sparkle too. King was 500cc
Motocross World champion in 1996 and that’s his specialty branch of the
sport, but he turned his hand to enduro racing at the opening round of
the New Zealand championships this year … and ran away with the win.
He’s joined in New Zealand’s six-rider No.1 squad, the Trophy Team, by
his elder brother Darryll, a former two-time World Motocross
vice-champion (1997 and 1998), three-time Australian motocross champion
and current New Zealand 250cc and 500cc motocross champion.
Also comprising the Trophy Team to represent New Zealand are
cross-country ace Lachie Columb (Queenstown) and enduro guns Cameron
Negus (Rotorua), Chris Birch (Waimauku) and Paul Whibley (Pahiatua).
To win a gold medal, a rider had to finish within 10 percent of the
winner’s time in their class (so, if the winner clocks 5000 seconds, a
rider can have no more than 5500 seconds at the end of the event). To
win a silver medal, riders must be within 50 percent of the winner of
their class and, to win a bronze, all a rider has to do is finish.
Early Tuesday morning, the riders will find out if they have what it takes to become the 2006 ISDE champion.
Schedule of the 2006 ISDE
9 – 11 November – All 620 motorcycles impounded in Parc Ferme at Taupo’s Motorsport Park.
12 November – Opening Ceremony, 5.00pm. Olympic-style with riders
representing 31 countries parading in uniform through downtown Taupo.
The 2006 ISDE runs from Tuesday, November 14 until Sunday, November 19.
14 – 18 November – Days One to Five, Special stages held in and around
Kinleith Forest, off State Highway 1. Final test held beside Taupo
Motorsport Park at the end of each days riding.
Parc Ferme open to public each day.
19 November – Day Six, Motocross Special Stage at Digger McEwen Park, Taupo.
19 November – Awards ceremony and dinner, Taupo Events Centre, from 6.30pm.