The final day of a GS Trophy competition feels like the season finale for that really good series you decided to binge over a long weekend. The early episodes drew you in and got you excited. By the middle of the season, you were completely invested in one of the characters, and you spent the final few episodes knowing it was building to the end; your head is crammed full of everything that has already happened, but you can’t wait to see what’s coming at the finale.
While the experiences are different, the feelings are the same whether we are talking about the competitors, event crew or family, friends and fans watching from home. Anticipation, excitement and a touch of exhaustion wash over everyone.
On the final day of competition, the riders must get up and do it all again one last time. For Ben Phaup on Team USA, that meant riding the final day and completing the final Special Stage on his birthday.
It was a short but challenging and beautiful day of riding. The route carried riders over 80 kilometers total—60 kilometers off-road—in a loop ending back at camp early in the day by design. This allowed the teams to get all bikes lined up in order to complete the final event from lowest to highest place on the leaderboards and allow all teams to watch and cheer each other on.
The final Special Stage was a tight course weaving its way along the beach, through the trees, below the pier and even through some of the beach structures before riders barreled back to the start. All three team members rode the course at the same time, and though dropping a bike or going out of bounds would add to their overall time, they could dab a foot or dismount to help themselves or a teammate.
The flag went down, and Team USA was off. Cory Call tore off the line first, but before Ben could get going, he stalled his bike. Within mere seconds, he punched it back to life and was off with Jim Duplease close behind. They rode a course which had been torn up by 16 teams prior to them with only a couple small hang-ups and one bike drop.
There were only four teams left to ride when they finished, and once they were done it was party time. The final night is the last chance most competitors will have to spend time with their new friends from all around the globe. While the food, drink and fun flows, everyone is left wondering what the final scoring will be.
The points were finally announced for the video and photo challenges. In a twist this year, each competitor was allowed to vote for a team—not their own—and that would count for 50% of the vote along with the website votes. The USA tied for 14th place with France over the course of those two challenges.
Next, the winners of the final Special Stage were announced. In a total upset, Team LATAM had the best score on the stage and the whole crowd celebrated with them, including Team USA (8th). Women’s Team South Africa took the top spot after one of the team members buried her rear hub in sand and stone, gracefully dismounted the bike, and single-handedly balanced the bike and picked it up out of the hole by the rear subframe. It was an impressive feat to say the least!
It seems few people were interested in which team won the day. After sitting through all of the other scoring, everyone was anxious to hear who the overall winners of the 2022 International GS Trophy were. One by one, starting from the bottom of the leader board, teams were brought on stage. That may sound sad, but there was nothing but smiles after seven full days of gorgeous riding, fun and difficult challenges, and some of the best camaraderie to be found in adventure riding.
Team USA finished in 5th place. They were brought up on stage, handed their country’s flag and the windscreens from their bikes, which they will get to take home with them. As photos were finished, the guys turned to exit the stage, but were called back. Stefanie Grund, head of the GS Trophy, looked to Shawn Thomas and they rallied the crowd into singing “Happy Birthday” for Ben.
The first-place finishers for the 2022 International GS Trophy Southeast Europe in Albania were the men’s and women’s South African teams, with the women’s team beating the German women by just one point. These teams demonstrated exceptional riding skill, as well as true camaraderie in the Spirit of GS.
It is now time for the teams to return home. They will experience a sudden lack of excitement and the rush of the past eight or nine days in Albania. Exhaustion will set in on their long flights home, along with a touch of sadness. Once the jet lag evaporates, they will have some of the best stories of their lives to tell everyone, and they will have new friends around the globe. The GS Trophy has come to an end again, and just like that series we binged and loved, we will wait—none too patiently—for the next season to appear.