Singletracks: Xtinction Race Report
Well, summer break is nearly over and racing is already kicking back into high gear. Welcome back to Singletracks, the all off-road column brought to you by RTR Performance in Kamloops. The first ever Canadian Extreme Enduro, Xtinction, took place last weekend. Unfortunately RTR’s Bobby Prochnau is out for the season and wasn’t able to attend, but a host of other Canadian racers, along with a few Americans showed up to see what the Corner Grass crew had in store for them.
Canada's first extreme enduro, Xtinction, was definitely a success.
Extreme enduro has quickly rose from obscurity into the mainstream thanks to events like Erzberg, Romaniacs and the Endurocross series south of the border. Pitting man and machine against nearly impossible terrain, this form of racing has quickly become a fan and racer favorite. After seeing events in the USA and Europe, and watching Canadian racers like Cory Graffunder, Shane Cuthbertson and Bobby Prochnau successfully compete against the best in the world, Corner Grass mastermind Lee Fryberger decided it was time to bring extreme enduro to Canada. Xtinction was the name chosen after finding a venue in the Badlands of Alberta.
Welcome to Mars.
The scenery on the drive out to the bad lands of Alberta went something like this: wheat field, cow, fence post, tractor, and back to wheat field again. Thanks to a very generous land owner, the Xtinction race site sat nestled in the heart of the Badlands near the Red Deer river and treated everyone in attendance to epic scenery. The Badlands are probably one of the most unique areas in the country. Carved out from an ancient glacial lake millions of years ago, water erosion has left a series of hills, valleys and rock that resembles something found on the moon or mars. Oh yeah, there’s also dinosaur fossils hiding in the hills, hence the name Xtinction.
Honda Canada's Jason Schrage did double duty on the weekend, racing the ADRA hare scramble on Saturday and the Xtinction Hard Enduro on Sunday.
Saturday featured an ADRA hare scramble that was dominated by current CEC points leader Jason Schrage. Schrage was one of only a few pros to race the hare scramble as most opted to save their energy for Xtinction on Sunday. The big news on Saturday evening was that Cory Graffunder was back in Canada for the race. Another big name was Kyle Redmond of California, riding a KTM300 provided by A&E Racing. Most of the top Canadian off-road racers came out, including the Feeding Performance Husqvarna squad (minus Guy Giroux), KTM’s Geoff Nelson, CGRT’s Shane Cuthbertson, Honda’s Jason Schrage and Yamaha’s Brian Wojnarowski who was the lone racer from the East. A slew of other racers came out to try their hand at Extreme Enduro, bringing the total entry tally up to 60-something racers. There was a lone female entrant, Jill Bolso, who wanted to tough it out with the guys. Victoria Hett was there, but as a spectator only (she is still recovering from carpal tunnel surgery). Unfortunately the rumours that Taddy Blasusiak was going to race were just that: rumours. There had been talk that quite a few Extreme Enduro specialists would show up but Graffunder and Redmond were the only ones that actually decided to show up. Maybe next year?
Cory Graffunder had a triumphant return to racing in Canada.
Sunday morning dawned cool and cloudy with scattered showers. The soil in the badlands is primarily clay, so rain would make things even more difficult. Qualifying started at 9:00am. Riders were sent out three per minute for a four lap sprint. The top 30 would advance to the main event in the afternoon. The qualifier course featured a brief but very technical ride through the edge of the Badlands and part of the grasstrack used on Saturday. Within minutes of racers getting into the badlands the carnage began as some racers immediately struggled with to make the first of a series of hill climbs in the Valley of Genges.
It's a bird...it's a plane...wait, it's a KTM! Some racers struggled with the steep hills of the Badlands.
Brent Kroeker here ghost riding his $12000 GasGas EC300 Nambotin Replica. Ouch.
Not all riders struggled though. A battle between two racers quickly formed as Cory and Ryan Graffunder flew through the course at a blistering pace. Cory was expected to be strong, having international success at races like Erzberg, Hells Gate and the AMA Endurocross series. Ryan Graffunder is definitely a fast kid, but I think most people were surprised to see him running with Cory and even passing Cory on the 2nd lap of the qualifier. Out of the entire qualifying loop, there was one hill that quickly became the focal point of the race. Immediately out of a right hand corner sat probably one of the most intimidating hills I’ve ever seen (that includes all the stuff I saw while covering the Romaniacs in 2008). The hill was probably close to 50 feet high and was more of a cliff than a hill. Made up of hard pack sandstone typical of the badlands it had a steep transition at the base to the near vertical hill, then developed a mean kicker that flustered even the best racers. Cory bobbled on this hill on the 2nd lap with Ryan right behind him. Ryan didn’t let off and ended up using Cory’s Husky TC250 for traction on his way into the lead!
Ryan Graffunder turned a lot of heads as he battled with his cousin, Cory in the qualifier.
Behind the Graffunder duo was a smooth and steady Shane Cuthbertson. Shane used his years of experience in extreme enduro to ride smart as he chased down the leaders. After Cuthbertson was the mighty Honda of Jason Schrage. Schrage started slow but steadily improved throughout the qualifier.
Brian Wojnarowski was the lone racer from the East. Considering his lack of hill climb experience (the hill used for a podium at awards was larger than anything in his neck of the woods), Wojo did extremely well at his first extreme enduro.
The Corner Grass crew put together a great course that challenged competitors and offered easy access for spectators.
After threatening rain all morning, the skies finally opened late in the qualifier. The course went from nasty to nearly impossible, yet the top guys still made it look easy. Farther back was a different story as racers destroyed their bikes and egos on the slippery course. Some riders did persevere, including 41 year old Scott Kinakin who finally conquered the monster hill after staring at it for a good 20 minutes. Jill Bolso, the lone female entrant tried valiantly but failed to complete a lap of the qualifier. She did show great perseverance on the technical course and vows to return next year and qualify for the main event.
Jill Bolso showed determination as she tried to navigate the difficult qualifying course. Unfortunately the hills proved too much but she vows to be back next year and make the main.
Ryan Graffunder had problems late in the qualifier, leaving Cory to run away with the victory, 4 minutes ahead of second place. Ryan dropped to 13th which was still a fine qualifying spot. Cuthbertson moved up to second with Jason Schrage and Kyle Redmond tied dead even for 3rd. Julien Cerny came 5th and Koa Estrella came all the way from Hawaii to take 6th in the Xtinction qualifier. Giant Killer Ben Rego was 7th, Paul Petrin was 8th, KTM’s Geoff Nelson was 9th and Noel Bolso rounded out the top 10. The top 30 riders advanced to the main which promised to be difficult with the rain.
Koa Estrella came all the way from Hawaii to do battle in the Badlands. Estrella qualified 6th and was inside the top 5 in the main before drowning his bike in a mud hole.
Walking out of the Badlands back to the pits proved difficult as the clay hills turned to ice. Flat land was nearly impossible to walk on, anything resembling a hill was. The organizers were forced to push the main event back an hour to 2:00pm hoping it would dry out and cut out approximately 40% of the course. It was a tough call and very unfortunate, but the Badlands can be a very dangerous place, especially during wet weather when quicksand and flash floods are very real possibilities. After making the tough call, the weather gods shone down, clearing the skies and drying out the course. Too bad the course had already been shortened as it would have been dry enough to run the entire thing. One positive thing about the shortened course was it became much more spectator friendly and the racing would be closer since competitors would be able to experiment with lines as they did more laps.
Geoff Nelson's regular riding at McNutt paid off at Xtinction. The KTM rider finished 5th overall at Xtinction.
At 2:00pm under sunny skies, the top 30 lined up for the Lemans style start. Cory Graffunder pulled the holeshot ahead of Paul Petrin and Shane Cuthbertson. Jason Schrage had a horrible start after taking a soil sample while running to the bike. With clear vision and no one to slow him down, Cory immediately started pulling away from the rest of the pack. Cuthbertson crashed early on and lost significant time untangling his bike from the net-wrap marking the edge of the course. By the end of the first lap Cory Graffunder was in first, followed by Kyle Redmond just over a minute behind. Schrage showed that he rides better than he runs and recovered from his lousy start to move into 3rd with motocrosser Julien Cerny hot on his heels in 4th. Koa Estrella, Paul Petrin, Geoff Nelson, Shane Cuthbertson, Marty Halmazna and trials rider Thomas Cordner rounded out the top 10. Ryan Graffunder ran in the top 3 early on the first lap but sunk his bike in one of the treacherous mud holes, costing him 15 minutes and eventually the day when his motor finally blew up.
Xtinction was humbling for many racers. The steep hills destroyed a lot of bikes and egos alike.
Watching the racers battle the brutal course was a sight to see. More difficult than the qualifier, it challenged even the best. The steep hills and technical terrain began to take their tole on the racers as some crashed and others just sat at the bottom of the relentless climbs, defeated. As the laps wore on in the two hour main event, a battle started to develop for the lead. Cory seemed to be on cruise control, but the pace wasn’t fast enough to hold the lead as Kyle Redmond closed in. Redmond eventually caught Cory and then the duo had a six lap battle for the lead. It made for some exciting racing to see the two battle back and forth along the Xtinction course. On the second to last lap, it looked like Redmond had the advantage, but a bad line choice through the mud holes late in the lap left Redmond stuck and Cory flying by into the lead. Graffunder would hold the lead for the remainder of the race, showing his home country crowd why he’s been successful around the world. Redmond held on to second about 45 seconds behind Graffunder and Jason Schrage rounded out the podium. Julien Cerny and Geoff Nelson battled it out for much of the main event. In the end Cerny narrowly made the cutoff to get an 8th lap in while Nelson was cutoff at 7 laps, landing him in 5th place.
Graffunder and Redmond were this close for the majority of the main event.
Koa Estrella was battling inside the top 5 when on the 5th lap he sunk his bike in one of the mud pits, ending his day. Shane Cuthbertson recovered from his first lap crash to battle up to 6th place on the day. Behind Cuthbertson, Ben Rego man-handled his YZ450F to 7th place. Rego’s tough demeanor and on the edge riding style was impressive to watch. Paul Petrin held on to finish 8th on a new KTM350SXF and Noel Bolso finished just behind him in 9th. Rounding out the top 10 was Jared Thomas, another Albertan local that has some serious technical skills.
Ben Rego is quickly becoming a household name thanks to strong finishes at the Canadian Enduro Championships and Xtinction. Rego placed 7th at Xtinction.
Buried back in the pack was a quiet yet extremely determined competitor. 16 year old Cole Dobovich was the youngest rider to tackle Xtinction. He qualified in 25th position then went on to finish 22nd in the main event, completing four laps of the demanding course. Cole has a bright future in off-road and I’m sure we’ll be seeing his name on top of the podium one day.
At 16 years old, Cole Dobovich was the youngest competitor at Xtinction. Cole not only qualified for the main, but finished a very respectable 22nd overall.
Talking with the pros after the event, it became evident that extreme enduro has a bright future in Canada. Although the course became more of a hard hare scramble than an outright extreme event, it was still a great success. It was a great homecoming for Cory Graffunder who showed the rest of the pros where they stand against world class competition. The Badlands provided the perfect backdrop for the race and I’m sure 2011 will be even bigger and better!
California's Kyle Redmond put on quite the show and battled hard with Graffunder but had to settle for second.
A big thanks to the Corner Grass crew of Lee Fryberger, Shane Cuthbertson, Nick Riewe and Jay McGregor for putting together a great race, and the DMX interns for interviewing riders and checking things out while I was out in the hills getting covered in mud.
Kyle Redmond, Cory Graffunder and Jason Schrage. Your Xtinction podium.
For more photos, check out http://steveshannonphoto.smugmug.com/Racing/Xtinction-Qualifying/ and http://steveshannonphoto.smugmug.com/Racing/Xtinction-Main-Event/.
Crashes like this were very scary and all too common at Xtinction. Fortunately there were no injuries to any of the racers. The same can't be said for the bikes unfortunately.