WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE KIWIS GET GOING AT EXTREME ENDURO EVENT
The Red Bull Romaniacs event is perhaps the toughest extreme enduro in the world, but Kiwi rookie Jake Whitaker proved himself up to the challenge.
“This year was the first time I had been to the Romaniacs,” said the 25-year-old.
“Plenty of New Zealanders have been over and raced it in the past and they had given me advice to help me prepare, but nothing they told me could have ever prepared me for such a massive event.”
Staged annually in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, the gruelling event attracts the cream of the off-road motorcycle world.
Whitaker was among the elite battered and bruised ironmen who survived to the end of the marathon slog that wrapped up in the town of Sibiu just over a week ago.
The record eight-time and current NZ moto trials champion turned enduro ace from Wellington finished 13th of more than 500 starters. He was the best-performed of 29 Kiwi riders at the event this year.
On board a Husqvarna TE300, Whitaker rode an emotional roller coaster as mind and body was pushed to the limit over the brutal four days of off-road racing. Graham Jarvis (Britain), a four-time previous winner, took his Husqvarna TE300 bike to win the event outright, leading home Alfredo Gomez-Cantero (Spain, KTM EXC300) and Wade Young (South Africa, Sherco 250).
Whitaker’s performance as a first-timer was also outstanding.
“What a week it was,” he said.
“I pushed my body and mind past the point I thought I could ever go. I got myself and my bike into situations I couldn’t see a way out of, but somehow I found a way.
“The organisers promised 2016 was going to be the toughest ever and they sure delivered — Jarvis confirmed this in his prizegiving speech.
“There was times I thought my race was over and it did get close at times — maybe I just had a bit of luck my way.
“It was an emotional roller-coaster, an exciting, exhausting, challenging and yet rewarding week.
“I’ve learned so much and had the most amazing experience.
“To finish is an amazing feeling, but to end finishing seventh on the last day and 13th overall for the race is cool.”
Whitaker paid tribute to his sponsors, supporters including his partner Jane Roberts (“getting up every day at 4am with me and packing and making sure everything was ready, so I could focus on recovering, to prepare for the next day”) and the four Kiwi riders who helped him through the last gold section.
“Man, was I happy to come across those boys in the middle of the bush, waiting for me.”
Other leading New Zealanders at the event were Dougy Herbert (New Plymouth, Husqvarna TE300), 29th in the gold class; Wayne Thompson (Inglewood, Husqvarna TE300, 33rd); Phil Cheater (Papakura, KTM EXC300, 36th).
Christchurch brothers Angus and Hamish Macdonald finished second and third in the silver class (B grade), with Sean Clarke (Tokoroa) seventh.