The fourth stop on the 2019 Sprint Hero schedule was incredibly unique in terms of terrain. Located just outside the city of Flagstaff, AZ, forests of pine trees populated the site, at the foot of a dormant volcano. Underneath these trees was a ground unlike what many of the riders had ever seen in their racing careers. What’s been described as “cinders” or “lava rock” covered the ground, over a foot deep in spots, creating a vast sea of pebbles over the subsurface dirt. In action, this made the traction very unpredictable as the rock would move and slosh beneath the tires. The gravel-like cover also hid stout roots, which extended outward from under the trees, making this course a unique, but very tricky one for the racers.
Zach Bell — 2nd place Pro
Zach started the twelve-test event with the fastest time on the first loop. He continued to ride strong over the following tests, but a few mistakes crept in, which bedded him into second place. Through the first half of the format, Zach and Taylor Robert began to distance themselves from the talented field of pro riders behind. The two continued to push the pace faster and faster as the course burned in and the layout began to stick in memory. After the six initial tests, Bell was within nineteen seconds of the leading Robert.
After a quick break to reset for the final six tests, Bell again started strong. He took victories in the first two loops and narrowed the gap to sixteen seconds. Robert then answered, but only taking back about a second as the two seemed evenly matched. To Zach’s later admittance, he lost a bit of form over the final three tests, suffering small crashes or setbacks in each. Still, he held a firm lock on second place, and showed plenty of speed, taking his third-straight runner-up finish of the season.
“It was a brutal track; the conditions and the roots played a big part in your confidence. You really wanted to push, but you couldn’t. We had to be on our toes because the roots would come out of nowhere and bite you. It was tough seeing Clay go down like that, I hope he heals well. Overall, I feel I adapted pretty well throughout the day. The second-half [of the event], I started picking it up. But then the last three tests I made a few mistakes. And the last one, I really didn’t ride like myself out there. I don’t know what I was doing, just riding like a squid, but it was a good weekend. Another second place. I want to win really bad, but Taylor’s really good at this, so we’ll keep working.”
Blayne Thompson — 10th place Pro
Following his crash and subsequent foot injury just two weeks prior, Blayne’s participation in the Cinder Hills Sprint Enduro was in question. Fortunately, Thompson felt his injury had improved enough to give it a go. He put forth a good effort all day, though he found the limits of traction in the sea of cinders through many of the first six tests. Numerous mistakes and crashes set him back in the time sheets. Then, after the midway break, Thompson’s teammate, Clay Hengeveld went down as the rider ahead of Thompson. Blayne gave little thought to scratching his test and, reading the situation quickly as spectators and family were attending to Clay, he immediately went to tell the team, promoters and get medical on the scene. Additionally, Blayne rode with Clay in the emergency vehicle as Hengeveld was transported to a nearby ambulance.
After returning to the event, Blayne was allowed by the promoters to retake his test, and went on to improve his times in the standings throughout the second half of the day. Unfortunately for Thompson, he had lost a bit too much time in the initial loops to make much progress in positions, but he continued fighting and finished the event in tenth place.
“The terrain was something different for sure. It seemed like it would hold [traction] pretty well, but when you were coming into corners, the [surface] would just sink and suck you in. I kept learning that through the first half of the tests, crashing too much. But coming into the second half of the day I came into those a lot better. It was such a bummer that my teammate got injured like he did, but after that I actually started running in the top-five and six through the rest of the day, which was pretty good. I’m really not taking a break coming up. Getting hurt [at Mesquite WORCS] and being off the bike the last couple weeks was a bummer so I just want to stay on the bike as much as I can, keep training and riding and come into the second half of the year swinging.”
Clay Hengeveld — 7th place Open A
Clay got off to a slightly slow start by his standards at the Cinder Hills Sprint Enduro. Still, he placed in the top-five in class through the first couple tests and was never too far from the leaders. As the morning wore on, Hengeveld continually improved his speed and corresponding test times, and finished the first six tests within thirty seconds of the lead, holding down second position.
The conditions were very tricky, and the tree roots unforgiving. As Clay began his seventh test, he clipped a root at high speed, which sent his back-end into the air. There was no chance of saving the crash and Clay hit the ground in vicious fashion. The result of the crash was a broken femur, but through the assistance of family, team members, the promoters and medical staff, Hengeveld was rushed to hospital within the hour. In an incredible display of modern medicine and the resiliency of the human body, Clay was walking with assistance the following day, just hours after operation. His recovery is well under way and his spirit is strong as ever.
Robby Bell — Team Manager
“The Cinder Hills Sprint ended up providing a really technical racecourse. Not so much from tight, rocky, or tricky terrain in the standard sense. The odd traction and buried tree roots made it tough, and very unique compared to much of the west-coast, desert we’re used to.
“Zach continued to make progress and show his adaptability, pushing Taylor most of the day. On one side, it can be a bit frustrating to get second place “again”, but he’s progressing and closing the gap in my eyes and that’s a great trajectory to have.
“I wasn’t sure if Blayne was going to be able to race after his injury at Mesquite, so it was great to see him put in the effort he did. On top of that, he showed his character, stopping with Clay and staying with him for so long. With the short break in the schedule, hopefully Blayne can build back up to consistently show the top form he’s had in moments this year.
“I’m gutted for Clay. This sport can be so unforgiving, but he’s so tough and I know he’ll come back even stronger from this injury. It’s amazing he’s already walking, and I can’t thank everyone enough who aided Clay and his family at the event and at the hospital. Additionally, it was an amazing sight to see the whole team immediately at his side after the crash. That moment of support made me so proud of all of our riders, mechanics and family members.”