Quintin van Jaarsveld
Kyle Flanagan’s never-say-die attitude saw him claim his maiden South African E1 title in thrilling fashion as the National Enduro Championship came to an epic conclusion in Bronkhorstspruit on Sunday.
The Paddock rider pulled off the unfathomable in the weekend’s decisive double-header, securing back-to-back class wins and finishing second overall behind Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing teammate Blake Gutzeit on both days to snatch the title from William Oosthuizen.
Flanagan pipped the Pepson Plastics Husqvarna Racing rider by just 45 seconds in what was a dramatic winner-takes-all battle between the E1 rivals, and he did it after being injured in a freak truck incident three days earlier.
“It feels amazing! It’s been a dream of mine since I started racing and to get that monkey off my back is huge,” he told eHowzit.
Flanagan faced near insurmountable odds from the jump, as a knee injury in the opening round of the championship in Cape Town in April nearly ended his championship chase before it even truly began.
Looking back, it was a major moment that put the wheels in motion for a special title triumph.
The 22-year-old said sage advance from teammate and Paddock legend Denzil Torlage kept him in the fight.
“I damaged my knee in the second lap,” recalled Flanagan. “I came into the pits and wanted to abandon the race because I was in pain, but Denzil told me that it doesn’t matter if it takes the whole day, I should just finish the race.
“He reminded me that every point counts and that his son Marc won the championship by one point after a similar situation, so I soldiered through two laps with a damaged knee.”
Gutting it out saw Flanagan finish 11th in the E1 Class and leave Cape Town with 10 points to his name.
The injury continued to hamper him heading into Round Two.
“Going into Port Elizabeth, I had only ridden twice before the race and my race fitness was not there, but I managed to come away with a third in E1.”
The injury-enforced stuttering start meant that Flanagan had to win all five remaining races to win the E1 championship, a daunting task for any rider.
Flanagan, however, was unfased, his belief unbroken. “I told myself I had to take it one national at a time and gave myself no other option but to win every race.”
His winning streak started in the Tugela Valley, and picked up steam in the South Coast double-header that followed.
Racing in front of his home crowd, Flanagan clinched a career-first overall national enduro win, which he followed up with another class win to set the stage for a shootout for the championship spoils in Gauteng.
As fate would have it, the final stretch was not going to be smooth sailing for Flanagan and things took a bizarre and drastic turn on Thursday.
During a last-minute training ride, the open back door of a truck hit Flanagan off his bicycle on the N2 towards Port Edward, sending him to the hospital.
“I felt stronger and more prepared for this last race than any of the others before the accident,” said Flanagan, who was fortunate to escape serious injury.
“I was pretty beat up, but by some miracle all I sustained was some roasties and some bruising on the shoulder and lower back.”
Flanagan was shook up and banged up, but there was no way he was going to miss the decisive double-header.
“I didn’t work so hard to have it all taken away by an irresponsible driver, so at 10pm I left the hospital, got some sleep and left for Johannesburg at 4am the next morning to go racing and finish what I worked so hard for,” he explained.
His heart, skill and mental toughness were on full display at the weekend.
“The first day went well. I felt strong for the majority of the day and only had some slight back pain towards the end of the race. However, it did not affect my race in any way.
“As Sunday came, I just had one more day to go out and get the job done. William dropped the hammer from lap one and fired the whole race. We had the tightest race we had had all year and in the end, I won by just 45 seconds.
“Because of Denzil insisting that I finish that first race in Cape Town, I tied with William on points and won the title because I had more wins. So 45 seconds and some wise words from the general in the end left me with a South African championship.”
It was the most thrilling of finales for Flanagan, who also secured the South African WFO E1 title this year.
His teammate Gutzeit also celebrated, with back-to-back wins over the weekend earning him the South African E2 title.
The other championship winners are yet to be confirmed.
It was a successful weekend for South Coast riders in general.
Torlage registered a second place on Saturday and a third place on Sunday in the Masters Class. His Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing teammate Kayde Mante posted successive second places in the High School Class and Herbalife Nutrition bLU cRU Yamaha Racing’s Piwe Zulu placed third in the National Silver Class on Sunday.
Race photos by Sage Lee Voges for www.zcmc.co.za