Red Bull's Erzberg Rodeo is considered the toughest off-road motorcycle event in the world. Over 1,800 riders entered this year, with 500 riders earning qualifying spots. And one of the world's best snowmobile racers––Montana native Keith Curtis––claimed an astounding 21st overall finish.
We caught up with the multi-time RMSHA champion a few days after the Erzberg Rodeo. Curtis is staying in Europe for a month to prep for and race the upcoming Red Bull Romaniacs Hard Enduro, July 12–16.
After asking how difficult this race was compared to everything else he had done to this point, Curtis replied that he was glad we asked a week later because it felt like his body was still coming back around.
He rated the race a 10 on a scale 1-10 for difficulty and said that he had never put his body through four hours, with the exception of a few breaks, of true anaerobic exercise. He tried to use his 25 years of big mountain dirt biking skills to sail through the technical areas such as Carl’s Diner and Downtown without breaking a sweat, but it wasn’t possible.
Curtis during prolog qualifying, where he would earn a starting position on the front row.
About an hour into race, hip cramps set in and upped the difficulty. Curtis said that he’d never encountered cramps like that as he has always stayed plenty hydrated and properly nourished.
“Take your typical Sunday, technical mountain ride we all cherish and reminisce about and times it by 10 for technicality and intensity, then put a time cap on it so you have to push as hard as possible to try and finish,” Curtis said. “Erzberg is on a level of its own, the true Iron Giant.”
A week before leaving for Austria, Curtis was lying on the beach in Kauai with his girlfriend and another couple for a much needed break to unwind from the RMSHA season. Curtis had recently won 600 Stock, 800 Modified, 1000 Stock and Open Modified points championships during the 2016 RMSHA season. Before his vacation in Hawaii, he was hitting the gym when he could, eating healthy and racing/riding snowmobiles every chance he got from November through April.
Curtis racing the RMSHA Afton Hillclimb on February 26 this year. RLTphotos image.
After the Crested Butte Hill Climb, he rode for a few days in Moab, UT, and then worked hard the week prior to heading to Austria. Curtis admitted that more time on his bike before showing up to Erzberg would have been helpful.
He picked his bike up from the KTM Factory through his good friend, Winnie. The bike was set up for the most part, but he added a Pro Circuit Platinum 2 exahust, Pro Moto Billet wrap-around hand guards, Seat Concepts seat cover, STR front disc guard and a Hyde Racing skid plate. He also included a MotoFX graphics wrap for extra protection and to grab the attention of the Erzberg crowd.
From what he saw, the Factory guys run little for protection using just a skid plate. Curtis said bib mousses are a must and a soft bib mousse is even more essential for the rear tire. He used a Mitas soft compound rear tire and said it felt almost like a trails tire, but was a harder compound and it showed by the end of the race. Half of each lug was worn off from spinning through the rocks.
The bike also had a very soft suspension; whereas he was used to it being fairly stiff for what he thought was technical riding. After hopping on the factory bike, he braced for the first bump and was surprised when he coasted through it like nothing was there.
No racers were allowed to ride on the Erzberg mine prior, only helpers. So Curtis found an electric Haibike and spent time walking the course and he said the terrain didn’t overwhelm him at that point. He wished he would have had more time to walk more of it, but that it was be tricky to find most parts of the course and even more difficult to get to those areas before the event.
He remembered walking through Carl’s Diner and thinking how challenging and tiring it would be making it through three times. He knew Downtown would be extremely tough and it turned out to be even more challenging after 20 racers had gone through before him. They left nothing but roots, mud and steep hillside.
The different sections of the race consisted of long and short hillclimbs – some with a run-in/some without, a tight, technical single track, tight trees, tight switchbacks, slippery rock beds, slippery roots, huge boulders the size of dirt bikes, steep side hills with vertical roots, slippery mud that’s hard enough to stand on, let alone ride on, high-speed corners and extremely steep downhills that even the best walk their bikes down.
“Yep,” said Curtis. “That’s Erzberg to a T.”
Curtis, left, negotiating the rocky climb out of the mine. Red Bull photo.
Of those, the steep slippery side hills with the wet roots were Curtis’ strong sections. He did well in Carl’s Dinner with his long legs, but said he needs to learn how to keep his feet on his pegs through more of the sections, which is difficult when that exhausted. According to him, the most difficult areas were the steep hillclimbs that had absolutely no run-in – tall guy struggle areas, he called them.
Curtis had an idea of where he would stack up against some of the other guys as some of them are also in Endurocross. He was hoping for a finish, but he said the Iron Giant showed who was boss. Curtis raced the ISDE in 2013 and knew his motorcross skills needed some fine tuning, but he also knew he had “decent” speed on the flat track.
According to him, the ISDE in Sardinia was far from technical and he was a little concerned for the prologue, as there were 1800 racers and they took only 500.
“It was a huge relief placing 30th the first prologue day. I had a tough time falling asleep that night I was so jacked up when I heard the results at 9 p.m.,” said Curtis. He then went on to shave five seconds in the next run and ended up with 37 as his starting number.
Looking To Next Year
To prepare for next year’s race, Curtis said he would get a team of six guys together for KC711 support and he would have water, snacks and the remaining time ready at check stations. He said the team would be most beneficial in the “help” areas.
When he came to the first really gnarly section, there was rope hooked to the racers’ bikes ahead of his on the front fender grab strap. After waiting 10 minutes that he didn’t have to spare, someone finally hooked on to his bike and pulled him up the steep hillside. He teamed up with two French riders to pull their bikes through those zones.
A support team would also be helpful in scouting lines in Carl’s Dinner and Curtis said that he needed someone agile who could run through boulders and offer help when needed.
He would also prepare for next year by getting more seat time on his dirt bike, which can tough since riding is forbidden in Austria unless on private land. But he said he knows someone now.
Curtis also said he would make sure he’s ready to rock and roll at the hole-shot. He was letting his goggles air out when the flag was thrown, which he referred to as an amateur move. Passing 29 really good riders is not easy on a course like Erzberg and he said he wasted a lot of energy early on.
As a seasoned RMSHA racer, Curtis found a few things about Erzberg that he thought the snowmobile racing organizations could learn from. From a marketing standpoint, he said helicopters are about the best tool for capturing epic footage. There were also a lot of events that kept the crowd satisfied such as the rocket ride, where riders tried to climb technical hills, flipped their bikes over and attempted again and again.
Curtis also enjoyed the rider panels. He was between Grahm Jarvis and Paul Bolton while they gave the audience and media crews a quick introductory. In addition, there was a huge wooden half pipe with a short endurocross track near the vendors where certain racers were scheduled for interviews and there was an area for a quick “show your talent.” All of these were great to keep spectators engaged and for them to get an up close and personal feel for the athletes they follow.
The next for race for Curtis is July 12-16 with the Red Bull Romaniacs Hard Enduro.