Pat Smage claimed a record-tying 10th U.S. National MotoTrials title by taking a pair of victories at the final two rounds of this year’s NATC/AMA US National MotoTrials Series near Donner Pass in northern California.
Fifth Title To Smage
On each of the two days Smage rode with the precision that carried him to a sweep of all 10 rounds of the 2018 series. On Saturday, the Sherco USA rider finished with a 10-point margin over runner-up Alex Niederer, while on Sunday he topped Daniel Blanc-Gonnet by 22 points.
Smage’s 10th title put him in a two-way tie for most US National MotoTrials titles with trials great and EnduroCross star Geoff Aaron. Aaron won his first title in 1994 and his last in 2006. Meanwhile, Smage started his run of championship titles in 2007, interrupted only in 2010 when Cody Webb won the title, and in 2016 when Spaniard Marc Freixa came to the US to compete.
As usual, the Donner event featured massive rock walls and thrilling gaps and ledges that the riders had to navigate. The Donner event, organized by Sacramento PITS Inc. was as close to perfect as it could be, with excellent parking, a fun loop, great sections and professional and courteous checkers, and of course, impressive scenery. The event was held just west of Donner Pass at an elevation of about 7000 feet.
Known for his technical skills, Smage was at his best in the challenging terrain and took the win on Saturday with a near-perfect performance, cleaning all 36 of the initial sections, plus both of the more difficult exhibition sections.
On Sunday, Smage took a point early in the first lap and then cleaned the remaining two laps. Amazingly, over the course of the two days, Smage took only one point out of 72 scored rides. What’s even more impressive is that he won all 10 rounds of this year’s series en route to his 10th title, which had only been done one time before, and that was by three-time champion Scott Head.
“It’s definitely unbelievable thinking about winning 10 titles,” said Smage. “When I first started riding, I looked up to Geoff Aaron and I just thought there would be no way I would ever be as good as him. He was an idol to me and even when I won my first title I never really thought I could reach 10. So now getting it done is really unbelievable.”
Smage admitted it’s been an incredible journey getting to 10 titles.
“Ten championships has been on my mind all year, so there was definitely some emotion coming into the weekend,” said Smage. “During the competition I just tried to block that out and concentrate on what was in front of me.
“I felt really good all day on Saturday and I rode well; there was one spot where I almost took a dab but I just held onto the bike and let it do the work and was able to get out with a clean. On Sunday, after the title was wrapped up, I just didn’t feel nearly as good as I did on Saturday and I don’t think my balance was as good. I was riding kind of shaky and I rushed the second section on the first lap and I took a point, but I was able to get it together and clean the rest of the day.”
Trading second and third place finishes over the two days were Gas Gas North America teammates Daniel Blanc-Gonnet and Alex Niederer. Blanc-Gonnet was third on Saturday and on Sunday, which was good enough to give the Oregon native second overall in the 2018 standings.
“I just needed to finish one of the two days to wrap up second in the final standings, but it was more psychological for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I earned that position so I wanted to get second this weekend,” said Blanc-Gonnet. “I was riding really tight on Saturday’s first lap and I made a few mistakes and that put me behind the eight ball, so I ended up third. On Sunday, I loosened up and rode to my potential, but I had one big mistake where I missed my rear brake and flipped upside down on a big rock. Other than that, I had a pretty good day and I was pleased to get second.”
Niederer, who finished second on Saturday and third on Sunday, turned in loop scores of 3-5-2 for the runner-up slot on Saturday. That was impressive since he had been off the bike for nine weeks due to an injury.
On Sunday, Niederer took a five in the second section of the day, which put him in a deep hole. On the final lap, Niederer had to make repairs to the bike on the trail after a crash in a section and finished the day five points behind Blanc-Gonnet.
“I was a little timid when I came in there, just because of all the time I was off the bike,” said Niederer. “On my second loop on Saturday, though, I felt a lot more comfortable on the bike. After the exhibition sections I was able to put the hammer down and finally felt good on the bike.
“On Sunday, I threw it all away when I took a five early on the first lap. Then on the last lap, I had a bolt break off and I had to make a repair. I was still able to finish with a third, which gave me third for the year.”
Sherco USA’s Sam Fastle turned in some impressive rides over the weekend, especially during Saturday’s exhibition, and finished up with fourth place on each day. The New Mexico rider was consistent all weekend, posting loop scores of 11-16-9 on Saturday and 9-12-13 on Sunday.
Beta USA’s Andreas Niederer rounded out the top five on each day. This year was Andreas’ first full year in the Pro class and the Florida rider made great strides over the course of the 2018 season. Andreas will be looking to move up the ranks in 2019.
In the Expert class, Josh Roper wrapped up the Expert class championship with a nail-biting victory on Sunday. The 16-year-old Sherco USA rider beat out title rival Alex Myer for the title after winning Sunday’s round over Micah Hertrich. Scorpa USA’s Myer won Saturday’s event by five points over Roper, setting up a sudden death head-to-head battle on Sunday, but Roper was able to seal the title with his victory over Hertrich on Sunday.
AMA MotoTrials Championship
Donner Pass, California
RESULTS: September 1-2, 2018
- Pat Smage (Shr) 0
- Alex Niederer (GG) 10
- Daniel Blanc-Gonnet (GG) 18
- Sam Fastle (Shr) 36
- Andreas Niederer (Bet) 65
- Pat Smage (Shr) 1
- Daniel Blanc-Gonnet (GG) 23
- Alex Niederer (GG) 28
- Sam Fastle (Shr) 34
- Andreas Niederer (Bet) 56
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