Enduro specialist Andreas ‘Letti’ Lettenbichler is preparing for one of the extreme enduro community’s toughest events this weekend — the gruelling Hell’s Gate. Held in Tuscany, northern Italy, on Saturday, February 12, Hell’s Gate is so demanding that just two riders completed it last year. That’s out of more than 100 starters! Held at night and in sub-zero temperatures, the knock-out style race pits riders against a series of sheer rocky climbs, slow-speed technical sections and high-speed tracks and trails.
Letti feels he has a point to prove after narrowly missing out on a podium at the event last year. Then on a BMW G450X, he held onto third place but was forced to pull out under competition rules when the gap between him and leader Dougie Lampkin grew too large. Letti’s race was blighted by an early crash and an enforced delay, due to a section of the route which was impassable to all riders. He had no option but to switch his engine off and wait while event staff pulled riders up a rocky section one by one. “Last year, they made it too hard, it’s not good to have a section where nobody at all can ride their bikes. We spoke to the organizers afterwards — hopefully it will be better this year,” says Letti, who is clearly keen to prove himself this time around.
Riding for the Husqvarna Monster Energy Speedbrain team, the talented German says he feels he has a good chance of a podium in this year’s showdown and has faith in his new Husqvarna motorcycle. Letti will be putting the two-stroke WR300 through its paces in a major event for only the second time — the last outing, at the Roof of Africa event in 2010, saw him snatch an impressive third place.
“I think we have prepared the bike very well and I’ve put in a lot of physical training,” he says confidently. “My feeling is that it will be a good race, the bike is still very different to riding the BMW four-stroke, but this time I think we have been able to prepare properly. The WR300 has really been working well in the last week. I’m looking forward to the race. We will see how it goes. Obviously it’s my first race of 2011 on the Husqvarna and I’m feeling good about it. I think I can get a really good result.”
Hell’s Gate takes place in a single day and is split into two sections — a qualifier in the morning and the main event in the evening, making it a real test of riders’ stamina. This will be the tournament’s eighth anniversary and to mark the occasion, the bone-jarring route has been given a makeover. The distance is now shorter, meaning the number of laps will increase from four to six and organizers have added a number of new sections within the most extreme zones. However, the most famous sections — including Salamandra Creek and the Laghetto — will remain.
Letti will be up against some of the world’s best off-road riders, including last year’s winner Dougie Lampkin and runner-up Graham Jarvis, as well as former BMW team-mates such as Gerhard Forster, who will also be riding a Husqvarna TE449 alongside fellow countryman Jens Ter Jung for the Touratech Racing Husqvarna team.
The Italian crowds always turn out in force to cheer on the riders and gather at the top of the circuit’s final peak to shout encouragement, which always gives you that vital extra boost needed, according to Husqvarna Monster Energy Speedbrain rider Letti, “The crowds are great, these Italian guys are real motorsport fans, and even though it’s at night we get big crowds which is perfect, as it comes right at the end of the race.”