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Whitaker Breaks Through To Win Toughest Event

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker (KTM 300EXC), outright winner of the weekend’s big annual Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa. Photo by Andy McGechan,

It may have seemed that Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker might never break through to win the event he had perhaps always seemed so destined to dominate.

But that was until almost everything finally fell into place for him at the weekend, with just an injured knee to slow him down.

The 32-year-old father-of-two became a record eight-time national motorcycle trials champion, before he switched bike codes and went on to also win all there is worth winning on the New Zealand enduro scene … except for the annual Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro (HHAE).

Whitaker has always ranked among the favourites to win the big three-day HHAE near Tokoroa over Labour Weekend, but he had always missed out, often by the scantest or margins.

This time around Whitaker was not accepting no for an answer and took his KTM 300EXC bike to dominate racing over Labour Weekend, leading right from the start of the three-day ordeal by winning the thrill-a-minute arena-style prologue in Tokoroa’s industrial zone on Friday evening.

He also finished ahead of the chasing bunch after Saturday and Sunday’s off-road sections, held on forestry land near Tokoroa, eventually edging out nearest rival Wil Yeoman, from Taupo, with Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder accepting third place overall.

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“Friday night’s prologue went really well for me and I came away with the win,” Whitaker said. “The big advantage from that was being able to pick my starting position within the top 10 for the start of the main event (over the two days that followed).

“I chose to leave in 10th position, 10 minutes behind the lead rider. This gave me a bit more control over the race as it’s easier to catch riders than to pull away with the GPS navigation element of this event.

“I caught up to the front boys just after the lunch break. I had a good battle with Wil Yeoman for the rest of the afternoon but, by the end of the day, I had a four-minute lead going into Sunday,” Whitaker explained.

“I managed to give my knee a good knock earlier in the day on Saturday, in a small, stupid crash, which made things pretty hard for me for the rest of the event.

“Sunday was an easier day, but there was still a long day to go, with a couple of tough climbs and big off-cambers to overcome.

“Each day was around seven hours of racing. Wil Yeoman and I raced wheel-to-wheel for most of the final day. I won the event by just over three minutes.

“It was awesome to have the young guys coming through and charging hard at events like this. A massive thanks are due to Sean Clarke and the whole Forest Trail Event crew for putting on another awesome event.”

There were classes for riders of all abilities, riders nominating themselves as either Iron class, Bronze, Silver or Gold.

“The Gold class was pretty much as hard as we could get it, with a lot of technical ups and downs,” said event organiser Sean Clarke, of Tokoroa.

“Last year I thought we had reached the limit for Gold and this year it was probably about the same.”

There were about 300 kilometres of trail and tracks facing riders at the event, with section labels hinting at what lay ahead – names such as "Parachute Drop Up", "Log Jam", "Keep your Lunch Down", "Last Climb", "Rock Garden", "The Big Down" and "Romaniacs Ridge".

An indication of just how challenging the racing was going to be was in a note to riders that they must also carry "survival equipment", including a cell phone, first aid kit and survival blanket.

Finally, when the bike engines were switched off, or the riders had cried "enough", late on Sunday afternoon (October 22), the "last man standing" was KTM rider Whitaker and he had truly earned every accolade that could be heaped.

Credit: Words and photos by Andy McGechan,

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