Over the last few months, I’ve been preparing hard for my 10th Erzbergrodeo. What last year’s event taught me was that the caliber of rider was getting stronger, the tracks getting harder and I was getting older! That would be a great excuse to ease back… if it were not for a certain 42-year-old in the form of his life! Experience counts for so much in Hard Enduro, yet the skill and determination of the younger generation provides an equally strong opposing force. So despite a stronger field than ever entering the 2017 race at the iconic iron giant, I knew I needed to train harder, eat better and be more mentally prepared for the hell that is unleashed at Erzberg!

The qualifying prologue this year was less technical and resulted in some of the faster bikes reaching the top spots. I was pleased with an 8th place overall with only Wade Young and Jonny Walker ahead out of the top Hard Enduro names.

In the main race, I got off to a really bad start – about 25th up the first hill. This was unfortunate because what followed, less than a minute from the start was a massive rock garden! This gave me plenty of rock blows to the chest as I battled across. The obvious line was jammed full of riders. I took another line, got snarled up, but managed to overtake some and I then picked off a few riders up the next hill. I arrived at CP 1 in 16th so knew I still had a battle on my hands. The wide open roads to Wasserleitung were a lot slower than normal because of the dust. I couldn’t see and it wasn’t worth the risk. You don’t need any gravel rash going into this race! I pushed hard but had to sit in line, looking for chances to take. I managed to get up to 12th by the 3 kings climb where I saw Jarvis going back down. We went up through the forest and over the mountain to the new steep climb which I got up first time. Hoping to have gained some momentum, I reached ‘Machine’ to find it was like a car park!

Paul Bolton of Great Britain races during the Red Bull Hare Scramble at the Erzberg in Eisenerz, Austria on June 18, 2017. Photo by Sebastian Marko for Red Bull Contentpool

From here onwards it’s a no-help zone. A combination of new sections and the old favourites one after another ensured that there certainly was no chance to rest. I got into 7th place and the track cleared. In Carl’s Diner (which was again 3-fold!) I pushed hard to keep the wheels rolling. It’s the most mentally challenging part of the race as it feels never-ending. Thanks to those who pointed out lines because at times you suffer from rock blindness and your vision just blurs!

Having made up some time, I was on a charge. Locking eyes on Billy Bolt mid-way through Downtown, this spurred me on. I tailed him for a while including through ‘Dynamite’ and I made the pass on him at ‘Lazy Noon’ to take 6th overall in 2 hours 32 minutes.

It was good to see many more riders reaching the finish in the 4 hour time limit (25 out of 1800 entrants). The weather had certainly helped to ensure the Erzbergrodeo 2017 was closer to the roots of Hard Enduro racing. The 23rd edition was not a near-impossible race as we have seen before. This year, yes it was super tough, yes we had to get off and push at times, but it was much more rideable and therefore a real race to the finish. Had it have rained, however it would have been a different story and may well have been without finishers!