Infamous across sport, legendary in bike sport, iconic among offroad racing, the Erzbergrodeo is epic madness on an Austrian mountain. But what is it like to ride? How hard is it and what does it take to conquer the mighty Iron Giant?
Some spectacles in motorcycle racing have to be seen to be believed. Just how mad the Isle Of Man TT is like is one example. We know this but until you actually go and lean over a Manx wall and feel a superbike blow you off your feet it’s impossible to appreciate how crazy it really is.
The Erzbergrodeo is one of those races. From the moment you catch sight of the Iron Giant it blows you away. To see it for real as a rider and know you have to take on that savage mountain on the edge of Eisenerz, Austria is as inspiring as it is daunting.
It’s hard not to think of Erzberg as the biggest Hard Enduro in the world. The media coverage is big, social media output from anyone at the event is huge and nothing quite matches it as a spectacle. The world’s best Extreme Enduro riders clearly want the win Erzberg more than any too. With everybody who’s anybody competing in 2017, Alfredo Gomez’s victory was a sweet one. Understandably rider numbers are huge: 1500 take part in the Iron Road prolog whittled down to 500 by Sunday’s main race. For most of the 1500 it is the biggest race they will take on.
In the main paddock factory race awnings face up to beer tents and food joints, in 2017 it was a real party atmosphere as sunshine and DJs brought the event alive. If you’re brave enough to enter the beer tent after dark typical Austrian fun and games take over like table surfing on beer-soaked tables – shirts are optional.
The Raid on Eisenerz, is as bonkers as Erzberg gets. The ride through the town by all competitors is billed as a ‘thankyou’ present to the town’s residents. It’s an invasion of blue smoke, fancy dress and burnouts with many riders going the extra mile with costumes.
For competitors, the Friday and Saturdays are dominated by two runs up the Iron Road Prolog. Rally bikes, adventure bikes, sidecars and scooters all tackle the flat-out blast to the top of the quarry to set a time. 500 from 1500 give it everything to make the cut for the main race, snaking through bulldozed rock pile chicanes and wide quarry tracks alongside the rock faces and huge drops. It is loose, rocky and sketchy all the way. The higher you climb, the longer and faster the straights get until you’re riding the fastest you will every ride a dirt bike: top gear, throttle pinned and eyes watering.
After three or four days of checking, prepping, prologues and partying the true madness arrives when 500 riders make their way to the belly of the Iron Giant in lines of 50 for the main event. At midday all hell breaks loose for four hours. Everyone is riding their own race, many are caught in each other’s race until, eventually, 25 riders make it through the last checkpoint and become the select few 2017 Ezbergrodeo finishers. For the other 475 it’s a question of how many of the 25 checkpoints they can get through before time is up.
Some of the biggest climbs like ‘Three Kings’ and the uphill rocky madness of ‘Machine’ are brutal but the woods are where the event really sorts riders out. Savage climbs in the trees are technically difficult and suck the life out of your body. At times you get little respite before the next big obstacle and long queues build up as the majority of the field floods in to the woods.
There’s a respect and comradery among the mad masses though: when the guy in front is hanging off his bike, breathless, sweat pouring off his chin bar, he might be holding the queue up but as the hours tick past everyone knows how he feels, know why his shoulders have dropped and why just for a minute he has no choice but to stop.
The ‘finish’ comes as a blessed relief. No flags, no finishing line just rest at last. With just short of four hours notched up I’m waved on from check point 15 and drop out on to the track that leads to the top of a mighty descent in sight of the infamous Carl’s Dinner. There’s a small gaggle of riders peering over the edge, in three languages they agree time’s up.
The brutal truth in Erzberg is that to earn sight of the chequered flag you’ve got to be a fitter and stronger rider. Hard Enduro is hard but the Erzberg is something else. Until next time Iron Giant.