British trials ace Dougie Lampkin reinforced his status as an all-around motorcycling legend as the veteran trials rider stole a late and heroic victory at the famous Hell’s Gate Extreme enduro held in Italy.
Lampkin overcame a painful and restrictive ankle injury, sustained at the previous weekend’s FIM Indoor Enduro World Cup event in Barcelona, Spain to defeat fellow British rider Graham Jarvis in the closing metres of this ultra tough competition in Italy.
Confirming the sheer severity of this almost perverse test of man and machine, Lampkin and Jarvis were the sole two finishers from the riders who started the day-long battle, deep in the Italian hills.
“It was definitely a toughy,” said New Zealand’s Chris Birch afterwards. He was one of two Kiwis racing the event and Birch, world renowned for his fighting ability and sheer determination at such extreme events, qualified eighth overall and then was credited with a remarkable fourth overall, despite withdrawing near the end.
The other Kiwi, national enduro champion Rory Mead, did not qualify for the main race and pre-race favourite Taddy Blazusiak didn’t last the distance … that’s how tough it was!
Meanwhile, Lampkin’s passage to victory was anything but easy and was a true story of pure grit and determination on the behalf of the ex multi FIM Trial World champion.
It was unclear if Lampkin would even start the race after he suffered ligament damage to his left ankle and attended hospital last Sunday evening, but having made it on to the famous Hell’s Gate podium 12 month’s ago at his first attempt Lampkin was adamant that he would return to fight for the win on this occasion.
Conditions were typically tough for this annual early season gathering, with heavy rain in the days before the event leaving the ground soaked and slippery in places, whilst parts of the course still remained frozen solid following the recent bout of severe winter weather. Undeterred by these factors, the thirty-three year gritty Yorkshireman used every inch of his great off road experience to keep in contention throughout the day despite obviously being in considerable pain and being hampered by his injured ankle.
Lampkin qualified for the afternoon’s main event in fourth place behind event favourite Blazusiak, Jarvis and Andreas Lettenbichler after three gruelling opening laps. Lampkin should have placed higher at this stage of the proceedings, but a crash in the last special test saw him lose valuable time as the trials legend struggled to retrieve his bike from the rugged landscape following a potential event ending crash.
Battered and bruised even at this point in the day Lampkin was not confident that he was in good enough physical shape to survive the toughest part of the competition where riders are eliminated lap by lap if they fail to stay in touch with the leaders.
Blazusiak was an early casualty soon after the mid afternoon start, with the recently crowned FIM Indoor Enduro Cup champion and twice winner of this event retiring as a result of his fall.
With the Polish rider out of the running it looked like Jarvis had the win within his grasp as he held an eight minute lead over Lampkin in what was now a straight head to head battle, with these being the last two riders standing. Lampkin dug deep, knowing that anything can happen in this unique event, and made one last effort to close in on his countryman as they came in sight of the final climb known locally as Hell’s Peak.
Lampkin passed Jarvis on the early part of the hill before pushing his way to the summit where a screaming Italian crowd played their traditional part in dragging the eventual winner to the top. The relief and jubilation was clear to see as Lampkin realised the sheer scale of his achievement.
Totally exhausted Lampkin said: “I really can’t believe that I have won, as the odds were certainly against me. Earlier in the week I was not sure if I was going to be able to ride, but I decided to come and see how it went. But even after qualifying this morning I was still not convinced that I was going to be able to make it to the finish.
“Although I pushed hard on the last lap I never really expected to catch Graham, but when I saw him stopped on the last hill I knew it was my moment. Reaching the top was a special feeling and ranks right up their amongst the other things I have won in my career. What makes the victory even better is winning in Italy for Beta, as they are so passionate about this event, so I am really pleased for them too.
“My ankle has swollen to the size of my thigh, but hopefully I can be somewhere near fit for the Tough One back in the UK later this month, as this is another event I would love to win,” Lampkin concluded.
Blazusiak said: “Obviously not finishing Hell’s Gate this year isn’t what I was hoping for but it can happen. I’ve had a really great run of results recently so although it’s disappointing it’s not the end of the world.
“The morning race went perfectly for me. I didn’t want to push any harder than I needed to, and I had a really good lead after the first special test so I just tried not to make any mistakes and saved my energy on the last two tests.
“The main event started really well. I got a great start and opened up a good lead. I couldn’t hear any riders behind be so I knew that I was alone out front. That’s when I hit some ice on one of the highest sections of the track and crashed really hard. It happened really fast as the first thing I knew was that I was on the ground.
“I did some damage to my bike, lost my front brake, and was really dizzy. I tried to continue but I crashed a few more times and couldn’t keep my balance properly. I realised it wasn’t really safe to continue so I pulled out. Like I said it’s really disappointing but I guess it can happen. The main thing is that I didn’t injure myself so I’ll get myself ready for my next event – the Tough one in the UK in a few weeks.”
BMW Motorrad Motorsport enduro hard man Lettenbichler said: “The morning qualifying race went well for me. You always know coming to an event like Hell’s Gate that it will be difficult, so there is no point in using more energy than you need to during the morning. I had some good special tests, I found some good lines, and the race went well.
“Finishing third behind Blazusiak and Jarvis was a great start to the event. But the morning race doesn’t mean much once the main Hell’s Gate race starts. Unfortunately the main race was too tough. Most of the riders I have spoken to said it was too hard.
“Having just two finishers isn’t a good thing. But anyway, I had a good start and was looking forward to a good race. But there were sections where you couldn’t ride your bike and had to wait for it to be pulled up with a rope. There was no option but to wait until you got pulled up. By the time you were at the top the riders ahead of you were along way ahead. I was fourth on the first lap and then moved forward one place. I knew that I was the third and last rider in the race as I started the third lap, it was hard to keep motivated when it’s like this.
“I started the fourth lap in third position but because I was quite a long way behind the leaders the organisers pulled be out of the event. It’s disappointing but knowing that I was third in the morning race, and was the third rider in the final is very positive.”
Morning Enduro (Stage 1):
1.Taddy Blazusiak (KTM) 34.02:70;
2. Graham Jarvis (Sherco) 34.30:22;
3. Andreas Lettenbichler 34.41.15;
4. Dougie Lampkin (Beta) 36.19.70;
5. Cory Graffunder (Husqvarna) 36.40:89;
6. Xavi Galindo (Husaberg) 36.48:86;
7. Mikael Vukcevic (Sherco) 37.43:43;
8. Chris Birch (New Zealand, KTM) 38.11:54;
9. Daniele Maurino (Gas Gas) 39.47:82;
10. Daniel Gibert (Sherco) 40:00.05.
Main Event (stage 2 – official finishers):
1. Dougie Lampkin (Beta) 4 laps;
2. Graham Jarvis (Sherco) 4 laps.