July 2022

Romaniacs 2022 with Billy McCulloch

Pre event.

Theres a certain feeling of landing in a foreign country to race dirt bikes, the anticipation, nerves, excitement and feeling of the unknown all wrapped into one. being my first time I wasn’t sure what  to expect so the emotions were quite high on all levels but at the end of the day it just adds to the experience.

The first three things I noticed when I arrived, The country side is unbelievably beautiful, the roads are sketchy and the drivers even more so, it wasn’t an uncommon site to drive past a rolled truck or a totalled car on the skinny seemingly back roads which were actually their highways.

After settling down in Sibiu for a couple of nights getting adjusted to the weather, timezone and beer I met up with my service crew who had prepped up my bike. I had hired a brand new 23 model Gas Gas 300 and brought over what are the essentials, Force accessories bike protection to ensure it made it through the race, Alltech suspension to make it feel like your riding a couch and a Two stroke performance head and ECU to give it some more grunt and clean revving feel.

Local Shane Moss who took me out riding for some 3 days leading up to the race.

Shane’s an Aussie who lives in Romania with his wife and has been involved with many different aspects of the race over the last 12 years so needless to say he has plenty of local knowledge of the countryside.

After years of waiting and training in anticipation the feeling of getting out on the bike in Romania was quite surreal, it felt like a dream come true to just to be riding there and experiencing everything the terrain had to offer, Extremely long downhills and uphills, more tree roots then your heart could desire and mountain views that made you think you were riding in the swiss alps, all wrapped in to one make it the coolest place to ride ever.

With all this going on you would be excused to think that the excitement is at its peak but it really hits next level when you see the prologue track under construction in the middle of the city in Sibiu. Built from man made obstacles, laid down in the main road and constructed out of some 130 Ton of rock, 80 ton of logs and enough truck tyres to fit nearly every truck in Romania its quite the site to behold.

The first official event for the race is the “Nations Ride”. Beginning at the competitors paddock on the outskirts of the city, parading through the medieval city centre and finishing at the prologue track on main street.

Funny story here, there was actually some miscommunication as to were my bike was being stored and I ended up being dropped at the wrong spot as the event was starting, hailed down a cab flew through to the other side of the city picked up my bike and blasted back through the city to meet the parade, just managing to avoid about five road collisions on the way. Made it just in time to join the parade coming into the prologue area so luckily i was there for the most important piece of the parade, The Burnouts.

After the fiasco of the nations parade prologue kicked off. we had track walk at 7:15 and our one run at 7:30. If we placed in the top 35 we qualified for the “main event” which was taking place at 4 o’clock that afternoon. Unfortunately after some silly mistakes and riding quite timidly I narrowly missed out on the main placing 39th giving me a 7.5min penalty to take into the start of the offroad days.

Event

The long Anticipated off-road start was finally here. The first day start was situated atop a hill overlooking the valley in which Sibiu is situated in, a quite spectacular way to start the race and it only got better as the days went on, The trails for the first day was a mix of technical single track with a few tougher sections and also some very fast fire trails were it was common to be in 5th or 6th pinned. After the service point on day one the difficulty was upped crossed the valley and heading into some steep off camber sections which short pinches and some long chopped out downhills. Safe to say by the end of the day i was quite happy to sit under the red bull tent and eat some pasta. Placing 20th for the day I was happy to make up some positions and get into the groove.

Day two kicked off very early, up out of bed at 4 with a long drive to the off-road start with some classic congested Romanian traffic. Start time for myself was 6:59 and I was full noise as soon as I left the red bull arch, I made up some good time early in the morning but as the tracks started head in to the alpine regions the terrain developed some crazy long downhills, sections where you would be going down one hill for 15 minutes straight and lose 600 meters of elevation easy. Not long before the midway mandatory service point I had a massive crash losing control on a downhill after clipping a tree with my bars, ending up with a very painful corky in my quad and a slightly bent up bike, best case scenario for the situation.

After the service point the day starting heading much higher into the alpine regions giving way to some insanely spectacular views, the only comparison i can make is if the VIC high country had a baby with the swiss alps you would get the Romanian alps. Pushed through the pain and made it to the finish in 25th absolutely wrecked but quite happy to see the day out.

Day three started from the Ranca Skii resort Atop the grassy slops sitting at 2300 meters of elevation, it was quite picturesque ride to the start line with the sun coming over the hills following the iconic Trans Alpina road over the hills. The third day was very similar to the second, Amazing scenery, Fast rocky paddocks, Long decent’s, long Ascents and Sheep dogs the size of small ponies. Much better feeling overall today i felt i rode well and expected to make up time which is why i was quite surprised to cross the line in 26th.

Not A lot of sleep was to be had the last night of competition, nerves and anxiety was quite high which made it feel rough to get out of bed and into the car. The final start was from the competitors paddock where we road through the city out to the offical day 4 start on the outskirts of town.

I started the day like a bull at a gate and proceeding the find that the overnight dew had made the grass quite slippery going down on the second corner. I got up with one thing in my mind. “I need to make up time” and that basically was my mantra for the whole day. I didn’t feel great on the bike the residual fatigue from the previous four days was clearly having an effect in the way of lots of small mistakes and “OH SHIT, that could’ve been bad ” moments. The Final morning was comprised of uphill creek beds, downhill creek beds, flat creek beds and some flowy single track with the odd hill mixed in. After the service point at 10:30 the tracks got fast. we headed down into the flats of Sibiu and made our way across the city riding along footpaths, nature strips and along the edge of a riverbed, quite different to anything we had seen thus far but quite the experience. These trails eventually bought us out into the famous “gusterita” Hillclimb where the finish line was setup.

All I can say is wow, I can remember rolling into the final sections and seeing the thousands of fans waiting in anticipation, The huge sandy hill with the red bull arch atop and thinking how surreal it felt, it seemed just moments ago the nerves of starting the race were high, then the challenge of making through each day and all of the sudden I’m staring down the final hill. The next 10 minutes was an absolute blur, getting up gusterita and then cleaning the rest of the final sections and crossing the finish line all seemed like a dream in motion.

When I finally crossed under that final arch i wasn’t quite sure what to think. Should I be happy? Sad? Proud? it was wild, but in the end it was a crazy mix of emotions that looking back in hindsight is like nothing else.

So in short, Romaniacs is the most epic thing I’ve ever done. I certainly wont forget it, to anyone thats ever thought about competing in it, give it a go you certainly wont regret it.