Sunday’s Opening Ceremony formally kicked off the 2006 International Six Days Enduro in Taupo, and it is now just hours away from blast-off with 600 riders from 31 countries nervously making final preparations.

From 7 a.m. Tuesday, the first group of riders will leave the starting pen at the Taupo Motorsport Park and head off into the Kinleith Forest, just north of the town. Several of the special stages of days one to five are within 50 miles of State Highway 1. Day six is a special motocross test held at Taupo’s Digger McEwen Park.

From that moment, they’re on their own, sharing the dirt, pine needles and rocks but racing against the clock in what is commonly regarded the Ironman of motorcycling.

Perhaps favorite for the Trophy Team honors, where riders represent their countries in teams of six, is last year’s ISDE champion nation, Italy.

The Italians are again strong this year, but they’ll again likely have Finland and Sweden for company as the chase for Trophy Team honors gets hot.

Finland, in particular, is a standout team with such "name" riders as defending World Enduro Champion Samuli Aro and enduro legend Juha Salminen, Mika Ahola and Marko Tarkkala to fly their flag.

France, Spain and Australia are also strong contenders.

ISDE opening ceremony
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ISDE teams parade

Though they’ll ride under team banners, either for their country or for club teams, the riders will also be hunting for individual honors. Ten are former or reigning World Champions, and two of them are New Zealanders, Tauranga’s Stefan Merriman and New Plymouth’s Shayne King.

Although originally from the Bay of Plenty, Merriman has raced under an Australian license for a number of years and he will again be a part of Australia’s representative Trophy Team.

Merriman, a four-time former World Enduro Champion, and Finnish pair Aro and Salminen (Finland) are perhaps the three riders favored to take individual honors.

Former World Enduro Champion Salminen (30) has arrived from the United States, where he has just completed his second consecutive season of winning the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series.

"I didn’t race the Six Day last year,” he said. “I’ve been two years in the U.S. and last year we had a race over there at the same time, so I wasn’t in Slovakia.”

"I don’t know what happened there. But, we are here and we have a strong team and we do what we can, so let’s see who wins. At least we try to do our best, and our best should be enough. We know there are top teams: France, Italy, and New Zealand is fast, too, and Australia has a good team.” And his secret to lasting six days?

"Well you can’t win the six days the first day or second day, but you can lose it. So just start slowly and have a look how it is and, when it’s time to go fast, go fast."

To win a gold medal, a rider has to finish within 10 percent of the winner’s time in their class (so, if the winner clocks 5000 seconds, a rider can have no more than 5500 seconds at the end of the event). To win a silver medal, riders must be within 50 percent of the winner of their class and, to win a bronze, all a rider has to do is finish.

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