Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Manuel Lettenbichler will return to competitive action today when he begins his participation in round two of the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship – Xross Hard Enduro Rally. The young German was forced to sit out the opening event of the series following surgery on his left knee but is now well on the way to full fitness.
New to the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship calendar, the Xross Hard Enduro Rally is a long-standing event that takes place over four days in the mountains of Serbia. The action begins with a straight rhythm-style prologue on the evening of Wednesday, May 18. Then follows three full days of hard enduro rally racing in the forests and hills close to the host town of Zlatibor. Each day will cover around 100 kilometers of tough terrain, with riders and machines pushed to their limits. The winner will be crowned after racing concludes on Saturday, May 21.
Closing 2021 with a strong showing at the first round of the FIM SuperEnduro World Championship, where he finished as runner-up, Manuel Lettenbichler had initially looked forward to completing the indoor season before making a strong start to the HEWC at round one in Israel. However, after carrying a knee injury that had plagued the Red Bull KTM star for five years, it became clear at the end of 2021 that surgery was required to fix the worsening condition of his left knee.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing caught up with Mani to get the full details on his recovery ahead of the second round of the 2022 FIM Hard Enduro World Championship season.
Mani, how are you feeling now, strength and fitness-wise?
Manuel Lettenbichler: “I’m feeling alright let’s say. I’m definitely not 100 percent, but I want to give this race a try and see where we’re at. I’m looking at Xross as more of a training exercise – hopefully at three long days it won’t be too tough, but I’m not under any pressure to get the results just yet, I just want to get some valuable time on the bike, and if I can earn myself some championship points then that’s a bonus.”
Tell us more about your knee – when did you injure it, how did the operation go, and how has your recovery been?
ML: “I broke my inside ligament and my meniscus five years ago. It wasn’t too bad and at the time it was decided to try and let it heal on its own, without surgery. Towards the end of 2021, my knee had started to lock a couple of times, and in December it became quite bad, so I knew surgery was the only option. Initially, the doctors thought that after working on the injury, I should be good after only a couple of weeks, but after more investigation the damage was found to be a lot worse and as such the recovery was a lot longer. The doctors told me three to six months at first, and certainly for the first six weeks I couldn’t do anything. After that, I worked very closely with the team at the Red Bull Training Center in Salzburg and from then on, my rehab has gone extremely well. I had hoped to be back for Israel and round one, but I wasn’t quite ready. Hopefully Serbia will go well, and I can continue to build from there.”
Now heading to Xross, how do you feel on the bike, how close to being 100 percent are you?
ML: “I’m not 100 percent, that’s for sure. My knee is not too bad, but I’m missing a lot of bike time. I wanted to be there, but I won’t push things too hard, I’ll just see how things go. Looking ahead, I definitely want to be ready for Erzberg, so that’s the main goal right now.”
What are your thoughts on Xross? Will it be similar to Romaniacs?
ML: “I’m actually really excited – the landscape and the scenery look amazing so it should be a good race with some good riding there. I’ve never been to Serbia before, so I’m excited to see the country for the first time. It’s probably going to be a little bit like Romaniacs, not as long days of course, and the terrain sounds like it might be a little rockier in places, but the format sounds similar.”
Thoughts on the championship – you missed round one, can you still fight for the title?
ML: “I definitely want to give everything at every race now, but it will be hard with so few rounds to make up the points I missed. As we know, anything can happen, so I’ll keep taking each event one-by-one, keep pushing to the end of the season, and hopefully we’ll be in a good place. If I can earn some solid podium results, I’ll be really happy. The races look great this year – we have a few new events on the calendar – and I’m really excited to get started. I’m looking forward to another solid year!”
The 2022 FIM Hard Enduro World Championship continues with round two – Xross Hard Enduro Rally, held in Serbia from May 18-21.