by Thomas Day
2004 World Championship Trials, Wagner Cup, Duluth, Minnesota
Last year, Takahisa Fujinami told the press that he likes the United States “very much.” He says it’s because he likes American food, especially breakfast (“ham, eggs, and toast”), but I think it’s because he can beat World Trials Champion Doug Lampkin here and has done it three out of four times in the last two events in Duluth. For the first time, in 2004, Fujinami didn’t just beat Lampkin in Duluth. “Fuji” was the 2004 World Trials Champion. Victory adds a positive aftertaste to just about any meal, even, or specially, breakfast in Duluth.
Due to the success of the 2002 and 2004 events, the Duluth trials organizers were awarded with a third FIM World Trials event, that will be held June 4th and 5th. The SpiritMountain course went through dozens of tweaks during the weeks before last year’s event. Steve Alhers and his team combined natural terrain and two “stadium sections” to reduce the semi-mountainous hiking spectators endured in previous US Trials events and the 2002 world event.
In 2004, the IronRange accommodated the event by providing ten hours of hard rain from early Saturday morning until a little before the last rider struggled through section fifteen late Saturday afternoon. Lampkin’s press release called it a “torrential rain,” but it just seemed like a normal Minnesota drizzle to me. One section was so hard core (submerged in 4′ of fast moving water) that the FIM closed it after the first riders practically drowned. By the second loop, all of the top riders were “taking fives” on at least one other section because it was impassable, even for the world’s best. Martin Lampkin, the ex-champ and father of the current champ, said this was “real trials” weather and commented that spectators were privileged to see the world’s top riders struggling with the weather and terrain. He wasn’t being politically correct or condescending. I heard the same sentiment repeated by Spanish, Japanese, and other international trials experts. So much for a US event being “too easy.”
One section that they did ride, section three, was so complicated that Doug Lampkin, the world champ, crashed into a wall, broke his forks, and injured his right leg. That crash cost him a dozen points as he recovered, five’ing the next section and following it up with a five on ten and a pair of threes on six and eight. When the day was finished, Lampkin was still only eight points back of Fujinami (45 points to 53), but he was off the podium and the championship race tie was broken with a Fujinami lead of seven points. England’s Graham Jarvis (49 points) finished in second and Spanish “rock star” Adam Raga (52 points) finished third.
Lampkin was still limping as he walked the early Sunday sections. But he was back into his game quickly and Sunday was a totally different day, weather-wise. Sunday’s fog and rain were replaced with bright sunshine and considerably more heat than I’d expected for early June in Duluth. That did a lot to reduce the problems for the riders, too. Fujinami’s 45 points from Saturday earned Marc Freixa a seventh place finish on Sunday. A little change in surface conditions goes a long ways in world class trials.
Saturday’s section-by-section battle between Fujinami, Lampkin, and Raga was unbelievable from the first section to the end. The lead changed several times and spectators were running from section to section to see the action. Scores of the top three riders, through two laps around fifteen sections, were 15 and 17 points. Saturday ended with Fujinami in first (15 points), Lampkin in second (with 17 points and 23 clean rides), and Raga in third (with 17 points and 21 cleans). Fourth place was Albert Cabestani with 33 points, to give you an idea of how tight the top three positions throughout the day.
If you have seen a US trials event, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know what trials is all about. I was told, repeatedly, that US riders don’t participate in world events because they don’t want to be embarrassed or jeopardize their endorsements. 2003’s standing US champ, Geoff Aaron, was in Duluth, putting on a stunt demo at Grandma’s Sports Bar and trying to obtain a press pass to the world event. Chris Florin was the only US rider competing at the “champ” level and he was cheered every time he rode, regardless of how he scored in the sections.
For the spectators who braved Saturday’s rain and fog and Sunday’s mud and heat, 2004 was the most incredible Spirit Mountain trials event yet. When I got home, I shagged out in front of the idiot box, saw an ad for a new Jackie Chan movie; and was bored. After a moment I realized I’d seen all those moves, live and on a motorcycle, dozens of times through the weekend. Real life tops Hollywood special effects every time the world’s best trials riders are in Duluth. The 2005 event is shaping up to be another close battle between Lampkin and the rest of the world competition. Lampkin won the first 2005 event on the new Montesa Cota 4RT four stroke, the first FIM four stroke win since 1986. Raga and Cabestani finished second and third, while world champ, Fujinami, finished fifth behind Toni Bou. By the time the chase gets to Duluth, the race will be fully engaged and the competition will be fierce. This is an event that shouldn’t be missed by any serious fan of off-road motorcycling.