Cycle News Archives
This Cycle News Archives edition is reprinted from issue #38, September 29, 2004. CN has hundreds of past Archives columns in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. To prevent that from happening, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
Finding ISDE Gold
By Scott Rousseau
Three weeks before Seattle-area grunge rock band Nirvana burst into the consciousness of rock music fans everywhere, their hard-driving dirges of discontent sinking the good ship “Hair Metal” with a single plaid torpedo, four young Americans rocked and rolled their way to the top of the charts in the Olympics of off-road motorcycling, the International Six Day Enduro, held in September 1991.
In fact, the U.S. Junior World Trophy team’s victory at the 66th running of the ISDE, in Povazska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia—try saying that fast 10 times—was not unlike the miracle on ice that took place when the U.S. hockey team took down the Russians for the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. Only this time, there was no home-court advantage, something that the previous Silver Vase-winning (later replaced by the Junior World Trophy) team of Malcolm Smith, Ron Bohn, Ed Schmidt and Dick Burleson had enjoyed, environmentally speaking, in Massachusetts during the 1973 ISDE. This time, the young Junior World team of Steve Hatch, David Rhodes, Chris Smith and Jimmy Lewis (Junior World Trophy team riders must be under 23 years of age to be eligible) were strangers in a strange land. No surprises, then, when host country Czechoslovakia stood atop the Junior World standings at the end of day one, with 142.45 points, followed closely by France, on 154.98. The United States was third, however, with 218.77.
Any hopes that the Americans had for victory were nearly derailed on day two, by a chain. Smith’s KTM 250 EXC pitched its chain during the grass-track special test, bending the chain guide in the process.
“I couldn’t bend the guide back and get the chain on, so I had to unbolt the guide and take it off,” Smith told Cycle News race reporter Kit Palmer back then. “It took me about five minutes to finally get the chain on the sprockets.”
Smith’s troubles dropped the team to eighth for the day and allowed Sweden and Spain to pass them in the overall standings. There was a long way to go yet, but already the situation was looking grim for America.
Day three brought a complete reversal of fortune, however, as the French, Swedish and Spanish teams all lost at least one rider while the Czechs were not as rock solid as they had been during the first two days. Lewis, Smith, Rhodes and Hatch continued to ride well in the crucial special tests, moving them back to within striking distance of the Czechs. On points, the United States trailed, 1690.47 to the Czechs’ lower 1004.53.
By day four, most of Team USA’s resources were devoted to the Junior World team, as the World Trophy team had already dropped well out of the hunt. And, once again, fortune smiled on the Juniors, as Czech rider Jaroslav Beran crashed his GasGas 80 in the day’s grass-track special test and suffered a broken collarbone. The Czech team’s loss effectively knocked them out of contention and vaulted the Americans into the lead, with Holland way back in second.
An uneventful day five, in which the Americans protected their lead by taking it easy on their equipment, led to a rather fateful day six. A short 25-mile trail section connected the riders to the final MX special test. However, once they arrived on the scene, the riders complained that the track had not been properly watered, creating a severe visibility hazard due to the dust. Lame attempts were made to water the track, but ultimately it was determined that while the special test would be run, it would not be timed. The decision effectively ended the event right there, meaning that the American team of Lewis, Rhodes, Hatch and Smith had pulled off the dream as ISDE winners, with Hatch also coming through as top American.
“That was a life-changing event,” Hatch says now, reflecting on the event. “It was a real Cinderella story. It was my second Six Days, so I still didn’t really know what I was doing, but I felt like I had been there before. I don’t think any of the four of us thought we could win it, but we thought we could be top-three because we had done that before. Then, after day four, when we were in the lead, I think that the next two days were the scariest for us, trying to maintain the lead and go fast. But after the final moto and after we won, going down to the closing ceremonies and hearing our national anthem played, that’s when it really sunk in for me—‘Holy cow, we won for the United States of America,’ which was really cool.”
“You know, it’s funny, but we were just talking about this other day,” Hatch said. “I was watching the Olympics, and my son was asking me why, because he thought it was kind of silly. I had to tell him my story and tell him how these people work their whole lives just to get that one chance for 30 seconds, or like us, for six days, to win a gold medal. I know that dream. To achieve that is something that nobody can ever take away from you. It really boosted my career and shaped my character as an individual as well.”CN