Italy’s brutal Hell’s Gate enduro race is over for another year with the Husqvarna Monster Energy Speedbrain team rider Andreas ‘Letti’ Lettenbichler taking fifth place. Water sections, rocky climbs, thick mud and rutted woodland tracks would are hard enough alone – but at Hell’s Gate, they are coupled with truly punishing weather conditions. This year, German Letti and his fellow competitors braved ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures at the Tuscan village of Castelvecchio Pascoli, where the competition is held.
Only four riders in Hell’s Gate 2012 completed the full five laps with Letti narrowly missing out after being forced to drop out at the final checkpoint following a crash. He was one of only five to make it so far into the race out of more than 100 riders who started out. Brit Graham Jarvis, on a KTM, took first place, while countryman Jonny Walker (KTM) was second and Spaniard Xavi Galindo (Husaberg) third.
This was just Letti’s second time riding his Husqvarna WR300, so he had no time to test it before the event began. However, he said the bike performed ‘brilliantly’.
He says, “It went great, it was really hard – the toughest it’s ever been. Only four riders actually made it to the end and unfortunately at the last checkpoint I had to retire. I was just two minutes behind, which was due to a crash where I’d fallen pretty hard.
“Hell’s Gate is definitely the toughest endurance race in the whole year. It’s so tiring and it’s normal to have a number of crashes. I think the hardest part is the ‘cascata.’ It’s a canyon which is very rocky – there are some huge steps and uphill sections. It’s so hard.
“Although I didn’t have enough time to test my bike properly before the race, I was still happy with it – the mechanics are great; I knew they’d have everything right. That’s how it always is with me – no practicing, just do it!”
The qualifying section of Hell’s Gate alone is tougher than many events and few riders make it past this morning race. Letti fared extremely well, despite a series of crashes. He was one of only 30 riders who made it through to the afternoon race.
“I was really pleased after qualifying, I started in a great position for the afternoon. But conditions were terrible. The weather really makes Hell’s Gate even harder – the snow and ice make it even more extreme. There was snow and ice everywhere. Although I did crash a number of times in both races, my bike did really well, it wasn’t affected at all. I wasn’t hurt either.”
The initial five qualifying laps begin at 7am and there is just a two-hour gap between the end of the morning race and the start of the afternoon event, which can last as long as 10 hours. It pushes even the fittest of riders to the very limits of physical and mental endurance.
As usual, hundreds of Italian supporters turned out to watch the race, offering assistance to riders when they became stuck or came off their bikes – something which the rules of Hell’s Gate permit.
Next on Letti’s calendar is the Erzberg event in Switzerland where 1,500 riders compete in a former iron mine known as the Iron Giant.
Hell’s Gate 2012 Morning Race Results:
1. Jonny Walker (KTM) 41.50:15
2. Graham Jarvis (Husaberg) 42.31:57
3. Alessandro Botturi (KTM) 43.36:69
4. Cody Webb (Beta) 43.41:13
5. Dougie Lampkin (Gas Gas) 44.33:88
6. Andreas Lettenbichler (Husqvarna) 44.37:44
7. Xavi Gallindo (Husaberg) 44.39:12
8. Paul Bolton (KTM) 45.58:08
9. Piero Sembinini (Beta) 46.21:31
10. Maurizio Lenzi (KTM) 47.39:44