The terrain is steep, rocky and just plain inhospitable, but that’s exactly what you’d expect for the opening round of the 2010 New Zealand Enduro Championships.
The Yamaha-sponsored five-round national series gets underway on challenging farmland at Oparau, near Kawhia, on Saturday with the nation’s elite dirt bike exponents lining up to battle the elements, the terrain and one another in a bid for national glory.
Foremost among the entrants is multi-time national champion Chris Birch, the Auckland KTM rider now highly-regarded worldwide on the extreme enduro scene, and he is determined to win back the main prize this season.
A difficult opening round at the same venue last year meant Birch was forced to play catch-up as the series progressed but, if he can stay out on trouble on Saturday, he’s the man who everyone will be betting on.
That’s especially so with defending champion Rory Mead, of Whitby, not expected to be at Operau this weekend. The Yamaha ace is overseas with international racing commitments.
Motorcycling New Zealand enduro commissioner Gary Powell said he was expecting a good turn-out of riders.
“We will be using the same venue as last season but moving the juniors into the morning and starting the seniors a bit later,” he said.
“I guess that also means the seniors will be riding right in the heat of the day and that should sort the men from the boys. It will definitely be physically demanding. There are creek beds, rocks, native bush and the course covers pretty much all the types of terrain.
“I’d expect Chris Birch, Whangamata’s Jason Davis, Auckland cousins Karl and Chris Power, Mokau’s Adrian Smith, Tokoroa’s Sean Clarke and the Neild bothers, Mitchell and Damon, from Hokianga, to be among the leading riders.”
And any riders who can endure Saturday’s brutal test will no doubt be keen to tackle the inaugural, stand-alone, non-championship No Way In Hell extreme enduro, being at the same venue on Sunday.
“That course will be even tougher than the national enduro,” said organiser Sean Clarke.
For the riders who survive this weekend, round two of the national series is set for Whangamata on February 20.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com