Drama to the very end of Red Bull Romaniacs 2019 – What went down during the final day in Romania and how Manuel Lettenbichler took his first WESS win.
So often in hard enduro the war can be won or lost way before the final flag. Not at Romaniacs 2019 which delivered a dramatic and deserving result that ultimately saw three contenders whittled down to just two during the final day before the very last hillclimbs battered a result in favour of Manuel Lettenbichler.
Lettenbichler finished runner-up in the 2018 World Enduro Super Series and is a regular podium finisher at the world's major hard and extreme enduro events but this Romaniacs 2019 victory surely ranks as his biggest prize to date.
Hard riding right to the finish
Holding the provisional lead after a storming penultimate day, Lettenbichler was determined to claim the top step of the podium on the final day of racing in Romania. With a slender one-minute and seven-second lead over Alfredo Gomez, the German pushed hard from the start.
Heavy rain ramped up the severity of the already challenging course on the final day and as Gomez found his rhythm in the rain so he brought the fight back to Lettenbichler as the day unfolded.
The duo swapped and changed position with each passing checkpoint which ebbed and flowed the overall standings by seconds all day long.
That set up a nail-biting finish in the infamous Gusterita quarry which was as sloppy and sandy as ever. Lettenbichler arrived first and showed just how hard the last selection of climbs were before crossing the finishing line and anxiously waiting for Gomez to arrive.
The KTM privateer rider kept one eye on the clock and one on his rival Gomez as he too tackled the strength-sapping climbs. Within spitting distance of the final Red Bull arch, Gomez struggled to make one climb and, as the clock ticked by, the nerves turned to joy for Lettenbichler as he was declared the winner – his first Romaniacs win 10 years after his father Andreas won the event. To boot it was also Manni’s first WESS win which brought with it the 2019 championship lead.
“I’m over the moon right now, I really can’t believe it.” Said Lettenbichler at the finish. “This race is really something special and to win here feels amazing. The event is so long and so hard and anything can happen, I’m so pumped to take the win.
“It’s been an incredible five days and so gnarly, especially with all the rain we’ve had. Some of the uphills that would have been tricky anyway have become near impossible today.
“It’s 10 years since my dad won Red Bull Romaniacs so it’s great to be able to match his achievement – the Lettenbichlers are definitely going to celebrate tonight!”
So, so close for Gomez
For Alfredo Gomez it was a case of close, but not close enough. Despite giving his best effort, and surely all these riders gave a tremendous amount of effort, on arguably the toughest day of this year’s race it was not to be and he had to settle for the runner-up result.
“It’s been an amazing race, I’m so happy to get on the podium.” Said an exhausted Gomez. “The first day didn’t go so well for me but then on the second day I had a better feeling on the bike and was able to take the win.
“The last two days also went well and it was great to have such a close fight with Manni and Graham.
“Obviously I’m disappointed not to have taken the win but it still feels great to come second after such a long and demanding race. Thank you to everyone who helped me over the event – my team and all the fans – I’ll come back even stronger next year.”
Jarvis rides without GPS
Putting hopes of another victory in this year’s championship on hold, six-times Romaniacs winner Graham Jarvis ended his week on the third step of the podium. As if the final day was not tough enough, Graham totalled his GPS in a crash and had to ride without the tracking – following other riders at times and going the wrong way at others.
“It was definitely the hardest day today,” explained Jarvis. “It was so slippery on the hills after the rain and there was a lot of pushing.
“I’m happy just to get to the finish today – I was going well up to the service point then I had a crash and lost my GPS. After that I just tried to tag onto the other riders, so I knew where to go. I did get lost a couple of times, so I’m really happy to get third.
“Overall the event has gone well, it’s been one of the closest and I’m happy that I was still in contention right up to the end.”
Blazusiak finally finishes Romaniacs - P4 for the Polish legend
With the top three proving themselves the main contenders, Taddy Blazusiak improved as the week wore on after a technical issue on day one. No question the Polish legend was riding well and he continued to take scalps with each day before finally grabbing fourth at the flag.
A really strong ride from Jonny Walker for third on Off Road Day Four, saw him complete the top five in the final classification. In fact Walker was on a different bike set-up on the final day and provisionally led on corrected time entering the service point – posing the obvious question why he hadn’t been on that set-up all week.
Bolt bumped up to sixth
Behind the top five it was a long wait at the finish line for the next Gold Class riders to come into the quarry with Billy Bolt finally arriving in the mud to move up to sixth overall.
After sitting P4 for most the event, drama struck Mario Roman on the final day as he haemorrhaged time on some of the toughest climbs of the day to arrive at the finish 2h36m behind the leaders.
Signing off on an impressive week, privateer David Cyprian placed eighth overall ahead of Pol Tarres and Josep Garcia who completed the top 10 in ninth and tenth respectively.
Artola wins Silver Class
In the Silver class a final day win for Britain’s Sam Winterburn couldn’t deny Spain’s Josu Artola the top step of the podium. Opting to play safe and settle for second was enough to see the Spaniard win the Silver category outright. Spain's Alberto Aramburu placed third overall in Silver.
Romania’s Radu Sardarescu grabbed the final day’s win but shadowing him home for second saw Marcin Welglarz claim the overall Bronze class victory. In the final classification he was joined on the podium by Eric Slominski and Jean Michel Vigand.
Schmolz makes history
History was made in the Iron class with Anna Schmolzl becoming the first woman rider to ever win a category in Red Bull Romaniacs – in any hard enduro we can think of but correct us if we’re wrong.
The German was the model of consistency all week. Never outside the top three, Anna earned herself a commanding 20-minute margin of victory over Danny Melvin and Eduardo Martinez.
The World Enduro Super Series continues with round six at Hawkstone Park Cross-Country, UK on September 21-22.
Check our 'Results Feed' post for the top finishers in each class.
Photo credit: Future7Media Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.firstname.lastname@example.org