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When The Going Got Tough, Whitaker Got Going

APRIL 7, 2024: Only 34 of the 148 riders to start the 2024 edition of the No Way In Hell Extreme Enduro on Saturday made it to the final hurdle.

So tough was this year’s edition of the Husqvarna-sponsored No Way In Hell (NWIH) event that many of the competitors didn’t even make it over the first hurdle, unable to reach the 2.5-hour mark in the required time and, for failing to hit the cut-off, they were promptly withdrawn from the gruelling race.

Several more culls further reduced the field at different stages later in the day and, while just 23 percent of the entrants did reach that final treacherous hill climb by mid-afternoon, this was a huge increase over the number of “survivors” recorded in previous years.

Perhaps this is a testimony to the increased general skill level now being achieved by New Zealand’s elite dirt bike racers and it possibly also proves that motorcycle engineering and technology has stepped up to a new high level.

It’s worth remembering that only two of the more than 60 starters in the inaugural NWIH event in 2010 did survive until the end of that race.

So, by comparison, it was a relatively high number of riders who did manage to reach to final hill-climb at the farmland venue at Oparau, near Kawhia, on Saturday and toughest of them all was Wainuiomata’s record eight-time former national trials champion Jake Whitaker.

The 32-year-old father-of-two took his 2024-model KTM 300EXC to finish the gruelling race just a fraction over four minutes ahead of runner-up rider Wil Yeoman (Yamaha), of Taupo, with New Plymouth 17-year-old Sam Parker (Husqvarna) claiming the third podium spot.

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Papakura’s Ryan Hayward (KTM) finished fourth overall and Parker’s 49-year-old father Tony Parker (Husqvarna) defied the odds to round out the top five.

The soul-destroying and body-breaking aspects of the course were blindingly apparent to spectators, with perhaps 30 riders stranded halfway up the first major hill-climb, slumped next to their lifeless bikes, just an hour into Saturday’s 70-kilometre race.

And it got steadily tougher from there onward, some of the terrain something that even Hillary and Tenzing might have thought twice about.

“The last time I raced here was 2014, actually the last time this race was run, so that’s 10 years ago, and it was one of my first ever hard enduros and I actually entered it on a trials bike.

“I can’t remember where I finished in 2014 but I was up near the front somewhere. When I heard it was back on again this year, I knew I just had to come back and ride it on the KTM enduro bike.

“The first lap here at the NWIH was quite fast and I knew I was going to have my work cut out to keep up with the cross-country racers like Wil Yeoman and Brad Groombridge (from Taupo), but the terrain got a lot tougher after that and this played into my hands.

“I took the lead on the final hill. I knew if I didn’t rush things, but played it cool, an opportunity would arise and that’s how it worked out.”

The event was jointly sponsored by Husqvarna motorcycles, Forbes and Davies accessory distributors, O’Neal apparel, Maxima oils, Arai helmets, Ogio bags, Blur, Maxi Grip, Kiwi Rider magazine, Muck-Off, Metzeler tyres, USWE and SATCO logging attachments.

Credit: Words by Andy McGechan,

© Scoop Media

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