A year ago Ryan Sipes started his new career racing dirt bikes trading in the whoops of Supercross for the rigors of off-road. He joined the Grand National Cross Country series and finished 14th overall but started the off-season with high hopes for the future when he took third-place for the final round landing on the podium for the first time. That year he also returned to his first love and raced in nine rounds of Motocross finishing 17th in points.
A year of experience under his belt paid off as Sipes entered the long summer break of the 2015 GNCC season in fifth-place overall with three podium appearances including two second-place results where he kept two-time Champion and current series leader Kailub Russell honest.
Last week in Slovakia, however, proved once and for all Sipes' decision to leave the heavy traveling of Supercross and Motocross to be closer to home and family was worth it. He became the first American in 90 runnings of the International Six Days Enduro to win the individual overall. His success helped salve a dreary week for the Americans who entered the contest as favorites to win the event for the first time but crashes and mechanical failures left them in 22nd.
Sipes is busy preparing for Round 10 of the 2015 GNCC series this weekend at Unadilla and was gracious enough to talk to MotoSport.
Photo: Ken Hill
Years Riding Pro: 12
What age did you start riding and on what: Age 2, Suzuki JR50 - I still have it!
What do you ride now: Husqvarna FC350
Hometown: Flaherty, KY
Career Highlights: 3x 250 SX winner, 2015 ISDE Overall winner
Other sports participated in: None
Other Hobbies/interets: Basketball, trials
Ryan Sipes took second at the John Penton this year in GNCC - Photo: Ken Hill
1. Tell us a little about getting to the ISDE. Is it a selection process like MXON or do you just express interest and you're in?
Antti Kallonen is the trophy team manager. He and the AMA have a hand in picking the team. He contacted me this year and I jumped on the opportunity. Really thankful for it.
2. Obviously you want to do well, but did you have any realistic expectations for yourself entering the week?
I try not to put expectations on myself because I think it takes focus away from riding my best and having a pure focus. That being said, I knew Taylor Robert and Kailub Russell have been close to the front at ISDE in the past, and I know my speed is comparable to theirs, so I figured I could be competitive. Never thought I'd win the thing, but I'll take it!
3. This is a whole new type of competition. How were the butterflies compared to lining up at the gates for Supercross or that first race for GNCC?
Early in the week, not too bad. Later in the week after I had built a lead and wanted to hang onto it, it was a really stressful time. I tried to treat every test as a Moto of its own, i.e. not thinking about the past or future, just focused on the task at hand. If 100% of my focus isn't on riding to my best ability, I won't be at my best.
4. Day 3 turned into a disaster. How did Kailub Russell's injury affect the team?
It was a huge bummer, because he was one of our best guys, and one of the best riders in the ISDE. Everybody kept their heads up though, and kept pushing.
5. Then the disqualification controversy. Did this affect morale sending Team USA from 2nd place to nearly last?
For sure. It was like a black cloud was over Team USA, like nothing could go right. Everybody stayed focused though and made the best of it.
6. Now here comes Ryan Sipes the bright spot for Team USA in a tough week. You stated you didn't want to talk about it during the week but now that it's over, did it cross your mind that you were leading and if so, did you have a hard time getting ahead of yourself and thinking about that overall win?
Yea, people said, "Well, we are out of it, so let's get this overall for you! No pressure." I had to stay vigilant and stay focused on just riding well, and not thinking about the end result. It was an amazing experience to have the chance of winning, ride well and stay focused, and be able to pull it off. I am proud of my focus and my riding and the way I handled the pressure. Years and years of mental training paid off! Also, I want to say a big thank you to all the Team USA riders and support crew for rallying around me after all the disappointment of the week and helping me to pull this off.
Ryan Sipes leads the ISDE field in Motocross - Photo: Mark Kariya
7. Entering Day 6 featuring Motocross, you must have felt good going in. Describe the day for you.
I definitely felt good about the final day being Motocross, but at the same time, anything can happen so I had to stay focused and prepare the best I could. I treated that final Moto like a Pro National! I knew I had to get through the first turn safely and stay out of trouble. I watched all the starts before me and walked around the track a ton to look at lines. I knew if I got out front I could bring it home. Happy I was able to get it done.
8. Did you know right away or did you have to wait for a final scoreboard?
I knew right away. I had a 35 second lead going into Day 6 and I won the final Moto by 8 seconds, so that wrapped it up for me.
9. When it was confirmed what went through your mind?
Just relief. From the time I took the overall lead on Day 2 until the end of the final Moto on Day 6, the weight of being the first American to win the overall was on me. When I crossed the finish line it was gone. I had done it!
10. You've got a pretty long career going. Is this the biggest win even surpassing your accomplishments in Supercross and Motocross?
I think so. In 10 years of racing Supercross I won three races. In two years of racing off-road, I won the biggest off-road race in the world. Pretty cool.
11. OK, now back to business. You've got Round 10 of the GNCC this weekend. You're in fifth place within striking distance of finishing second for the year. How do you change gears and settle down?
Forget about all this ISDE stuff and focus on doing my job! I'm excited to get back to racing GNCC and chase my goal of winning some races.
12. Going forward, do you think the ISDE pushes you to the next level in off-road racing?
It definitely gives me confidence that I belong at the front in off-road.
Ryan Sipes at 2014 Tennessee National
13. We can't forget your past life. Do you miss Supercross and Motocross?
I miss parts of it. I had a blast racing all those years. I don't regret my decision to make the switch to off-road though. I have more fun racing now than I've had in years. Plus I get to be with my family.
14. You can still pull in a Top 10 for Motocross. Do you think you'll ever return for a full season?
No. The one or two I do a year are just for fun. Any more than that would be too much.
15. Finally, you're now just two years into off-road full time. What did you have to learn transitioning from Moto in order to be so successful so quickly?
I am thankful for my Moto background because I think it plays a huge part in my success. Last year was a real struggle for me, learning this new discipline of racing, because it is so different than Moto. I've worked my butt off learning the technical off-road side and now it's paying off.