Billings, MT – . Round two of the AMA US Hard Enduro Series headed north for the “Bentonite Brawl,” appley named after the bentonite clay surface in the southern Montana City of Billings. Cooper Abbott would have his best ever finish in a US Hard Enduro race with a runner up placement. Montana native, and 7x King of Kings snow climb (snowmobiles) champion, Keith Curtis was battling for a podium position all day. He ultimately settled for solid P5 after not cleaning the “hill of doom” which was three climbs from the finish. 2021 Women’s Champion Louise Forsley would win the women’s pro class and place 22nd overall, but had to pull out of the race early due to a wrist fracture. (She had amassed the furthest distance on the course before the cutoff time).
The night prior, the top 96 riders would compete in a head to head, knockout style hill climb prologue to determine starting row order for the main race on Sunday. With 10 riders to a row, this is how the FactoryONE Sherco riders fared. Keith Curtis would start on row one with the 5th gate choice. Cooper Abbott would start on row two. Louise Forsley started on row three.
“That was way more gnarly than it seemed in photos or video!” Exclaimed a jubilated Cooper Abbott. “I had to start on row two because I thought the head to head knocks determined start order, not the two timed climbs before that. I was just testing lines at that point for the knockouts. Regardless, I was P2 out of the gate in my group behind Petrie (Brandon Petrie of Sherco Enduro Racing). By the first set of climbs, I was P7 and working my way up. A few bad decisions started to cost me and I fell to P10. Near the halfway point I ‘Larry looped out’ and the bike fell on me weird. I felt a “pop” in my shoulder, then when I went to pick it up, another “pop” so I was able to continue.”
“At the half way point I was confirmed to be in P10 so I knew I had to push. I would focus on the guy ahead of me. I was picking them off one at a time and then putting in a gap. By the time we were to the final three climbs, positions 2-6 were all bunched up. I was able to get past Ryder (LeBlond) and Keith (Curtis) after several attempts on the big climb, I think it took me seven attempts however. Cory (Graffunder) was just in front of me. He seemed to be cruising thinking he had a bigger gap than he had, so I pinned it and caught him at the last climb. I had walked this hill the day prior so I knew the line I wanted. He didn’t, so he checked up to take a look. That is when I was able to rocket past. I knew if I could clean it I could hold on for P2. I was able to do that but I thought the finish was at the top of the hill and of course it wasn’t. I hadn’t walked the downhill so I looked for Trystan’s (Hart) line but the hard rain had covered it. So I went for what I felt was the best line. When coming down I was coming to a huge drop off and thought ‘oh no’, but I was able to lean as far back as I could and I saved it to finish ahead of Cory.”
Cooper Abbott clearing a “Coulee”
At the half way point of the race, Keith Curtis was back and forth between P2 and P3. Cooper Abbott would come to the checkpoint 16 minutes back of Keith in P10. Abbott would begin his big push in the second half, slowly picking off riders one at a time. The top 10 riders would all battle for position the entire second half. Dramatic overtakes on the rain soaked hill climbs would be the difference maker in most cases. This was true for Cooper Abbott and he and Cory Graffunder were battling for the final two podium positions over the last three climbs. Abbott made his move on the final ascent to overtake Graffunder. He turned hard right to make the equally steep descent, where the two came together mid-hill, but Abbott was able to keep it on two wheels and finish ahead of Cory at the checkers.
At the 3rd to last hill, Keith Curtis was holding P2, but he failed to clean the hill and his Sherco SE 300 came tumbling down the course. By the time he retrieved it, and made it up the climb, three riders had gone past including Abbott, Graffunder and Ryder LeBlond.
Louise Forsley had a very strong start through the EnduroCross course and onto the first climbs. She began to amass a large gap back to Morgan Tanke and young Inside Enduro Sherco rider Hallie Marks. Unfortunately for Louise, she had a bad get off jumping a “coulee” as they say in Montana, and broke her wrist. She will be out for 6 weeks. (A coulee is a gully or a ravine that is usually dry and was cut by water action)
Louise Forsley’s Get Off at the “Coulee”
Of note, There were eight Sherco’s in the top 25. Matt Spears of Inside Enduro Sherco won the A Class. 15 year old Riley Bender won the B class on a Sherco SE 125 Factory and was one of the top overall amateur’s in the field. Second in the B class was Tanner Marks, younger brother to 17 year old women’s pro Hallie Marks. Matt Kirby finished P3 in the C Class.
Round three heads to Iowa for the Iowan hard enduro on May 22nd. This will be the first round of the east portion of the schedule.
Keith Curtis near the top of one of the timed prologue hill climbs