Knight seeks payback for overdue payday
David Knight has been waiting more than five years for another shot at a big off-road payday, and he's coming to Foz do Iguaçu on Thursday night to get it. Brazil, the first stop in the Global X Games expansion, will start off with Enduro X and features a rivalry that goes back to a battle that happened one night in Las Vegas between Knight and the current king of indoor enduro, Taddy Blazusiak of Poland.
Nov. 17, 2007, was not supposed to be an exciting night in endurocross racing. At least not for the Isle of Man's Knight, who simply couldn't miss that year. The one-man wrecking crew had already won the FIM SuperEnduro World title and the Grand National Cross Country series and was one main event win away from sweeping the AMA EnduroCross championship and winning $60,000, an unheard of amount of prize money for off-road racing.
His team held a meeting. No KTM rider was to challenge Knight for the win. It seemed like a formality of a request; no rider on any team or brand had shaken Knight all season, and his résumé, even then, had future Hall of Famer attached to it.At the time, Knight was in the middle of his first season on the GNCC circuit and was asked by KTM to squeeze in the three AMA EnduroCross events. He said his contract with KTM was already signed, and he wasn't given any more money to take on another series campaign. But the chance at $60,000 was enough to lure the gentle giant.
Blazusiak, the off-road breakout star of 2007, was brought in by KTM to try his first EnduroCross race. He had stunned the industry in June when he won the Erzberg extreme race as an unknown. He said he remembers a meeting but doesn't recall any team orders. On a No. 40 KTM and with a feet-flying, all-over-the-place style never before seen in the sport, he took the win and the $10,000 purse, denying Knight the chance to win the $50,000 triple crown prize.
Knight was stupefied. He thought Blazusiak was going to let him by. He was faced with a dilemma: race conservatively and ensure the championship or go all out, and risk crashing, to try to win the triple crown. But by the time he realized that Blazusiak wasn't backing down, it was too late for option No. 2. Knight crossed the finish line in second and ghosted his bike over the tires, buzzing Blazusiak, who was celebrating in fist pumps, and stomping out of the arena.
The advertising slogan "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" didn't convince Knight. He left town, and the series, and never came back.
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, is very far from Las Vegas, the birthplace of AMA EnduroCross. A new country for the sport, a neutral fan base and a nontraditional course might be the best way to reintroduce this rivalry to the rest of the world. X Games Foz isn't the first rematch between them, but it is their first event together with live television, big prize money and, of course, one gold medal. Knight and Blazusiak recently squared off for the first time in five years in the Euro-based FIM SuperEnduro World Championships, where Blazusiak won a fourth title and the majority of the races.
These two are not enemies. Knight acknowledges he was most upset at KTM for the miscommunication in Vegas. But still, they have rarely crossed paths. Knight won another GNCC title in 2008 and went back to the Enduro World Championships, winning his third title in 2010. Blazusiak became the face and star of indoor and extreme enduro at the exact time the sport was looking for one. Today, Knight knows his role as the underdog; he embraces it and uses it for motivation. He's moved on from KTM and runs his own team with help from Honda of Europe."I know I can beat Taddy. I've beaten him three times this year in indoor," Knight said of the SuperEnduro series. "I won the last final we did in France. That was bar to bar from the first turn, just me and Taddy. It was nice to beat him in a head-to-head race with no one in the way."
A four-time champion consecutively in the AMA EnduroCross and FIM SuperEnduro Championships, Blazusiak is KTM's No. 1 rider, and he doesn't apologize for his domination. In the AMA series alone, he has won 24 of the past 29 events, including the X Games gold medal in 2011. The fact that Blazusiak failed to medal at X Games Los Angeles 2012 wasn't a fluke. It was just a bad day. His win record is not of luck, and he does his best to remind people that what he does is not easy. He said if he wins a championship on a Saturday night, he's training for the next one on Monday morning. To him, that's what makes it fun.
"That's something I'm always trying to explain to people," Blazusiak said. "It's so easy to lose a race. But to win one, it's a lot of work. We all have the same chance when we're on the gate. We all have to go through the same amount of laps, go over the same obstacles, and we all have the same shot at it."
Blazusiak said he is looking forward to racing Knight again, this time in the widest spotlight in the sport. But Knight won't be the only potential challenger when Enduro X comes to the Centro de Convenções de Foz do Iguaçu. The football field-sized venue offers a layout that is three times the size of a traditional endurocross course and will have tacky, bright red dirt. Invited athletes were advised in their welcome letters from the sport organizer to "leave your second-gear bikes at home," meaning they should expect much higher speeds and a less technical track. All the favorite obstacles will be in play -- The Matrix, water pit, logs, tires and rocks -- but a much longer course means these elements will be more spread out. And without some of the normal course-building machinery, and unpredictable weather, it could affect what greets riders when they arrive for track walk.
But the course could be a dirt oval and it wouldn't slow down Blazusiak, who puts in as much time in the trails and motocross as he does on the concentrated obstacle courses that are endurocross tracks. Such riders as 2012 gold medalist Mike Brown, silver medalist Cody Webb and the rest of the regulars, including Geoff Aaron, Colton Haaker and Taylor Robert, will be ready to challenge, but the edge remains with the guy who has won more than 80 percent of the races he has entered.
Women's Enduro X: Forsberg vs. The Field
Two-time Enduro X women's gold medalist Maria Forsberg has been a force wherever she competes, and she remains the easy favorite in Brazil. Forsberg has an irresistible blue-collar story and rode to a perfect 13-for-13 season in the Grand National Cross Country Championships in 2012. The only race she didn't win in 2012 was a round of the AMA EnduroCross series, which Louise Forsley won.
In 2013, she has taken a five-month sabbatical from her full-time job as a Boeing plant electrician in Seattle to focus on X Games, GNCC and AMA EnduroCross (in that order because of series conflicts). With more international travel, growing expectations and encroaching competition, Forsberg knew she needed to narrow her priorities.
It has already paid off. Top female riders such as six-time AMA WMX champ Jessica Patterson and three-time WORCS champ Kacy Martinez have entered the GNCC series in 2013, but Forsberg still leads with two wins in the first three rounds.
Forsley, the X Games 2012 silver medalist, will be absent from Brazil because of a broken fibula suffered earlier this month. The rest of the medal favorites include Martinez, five-time women's Moto X medalist Tarah Gieger and 13-time FIM Trials and Enduro World Championship winner Laia Sanz, who is a rookie and the only European rider in the women's lineup.
Sanz, a Spaniard, has little endurocross experience, but she competed in the SuperEnduro finale last month in France and won the first women's final by more than one minute. In the five-lap race, she lapped second place. But she makes no claims for the race in Brazil.
"We will see how my level is because I have never competed with the American girls," Sanz said. "I know that they are very strong. We will see."
Forsley, the best female trials rider in America, has spent time training with Sanz in Spain. "It was only a matter of time before she tried endurocross," Forsley said of Sanz. "She's like a man she's so good. She will dominate. That girl is a beast."
But Sanz admits that she struggles on jumps and has little experience with anything resembling a Supercross rhythm section. The more technical the better for Sanz.
Gieger will thrive on a faster track, and with her switch to KTM in 2013 and a focus strictly on X Games Enduro X, Gieger hopes to increase her medal count to six.