The bike world’s bandits of balance kick off their season near New Plymouth with the opening two rounds of the North Island Moto Trials Championships on Saturday and Sunday.
The pressure goes on for defending North Island trials champion Matt Foster and not only because he won the premier Expert grade last season and because the Taranaki man is on home turf, but because he’ll have to contend with an extreme heavyweight hitter this time around, Wellington’s five-times former national champion Jake Whitaker.
Kiwi international Whitaker, also the current New Zealand and Australian Moto Trials Champion, will spend much of him time at home this season, which means he can devote himself to reclaiming top honours in this prestigious North Island series.
“I was a bit lucky last season,” admitted Foster, the 20-year-old well aware that he will hand the ‘favourite’ tag to his illustrious friend and rival Whitaker.
“I guess there is a target on my back because I won the series last year but I was just fortunate that Jake (Whitaker) wasn’t able to do the whole series because he went overseas to ride (in Australia, Italy and Scotland).
“But I do enjoy riding over rocks and that’s what is set out for Saturday, so you never know.”
Motueka’s Karl Clark and seven-time former national champion Warren Laugesen, of Napier, are also expected to threaten for the Experts Grade title this season, while a cluster of A Grade riders have elected to step up to the Experts Grade – Dunedin’s Blake Fox, Rotorua’s John Haynes and Tauranga’s Phillip Shilton – and they could also surprise.
These riders are looking to test themselves ahead of their entry into the junior section of the World Moto Trials Championships in Australia in May.
Day one on Saturday is scheduled for Millar’s property, Alfred Road, near Egmont Village, while the following day is set for Vickers’ property on the corner of Frankley and Barrett Roads, on the outskirts of New Plymouth.
Riders can expect some very steep climbs and big rocks on Saturday, while Sunday’s course will feature a small creek, native bush and a few thousand tricky tree roots to overcome.
Meanwhile, Lower Hutt’s Carl Robson should be a contender for A grade honours, along with Wellington’s James Wade and Petone’s Robert Howard.
Top riders in the Intermediate Grade include defending champion Gary Samson, of Waihi, the vastly experienced Kevin Pinfold, of Ashhurst, youngster Liam Draper, from Auckland, and Inglewood’s Grant McEwen.
Tauranga’s Warwick Merriman will be expected to defend his presidents’ grade crown, pitting himself against such notable riders as Te Puke’s Paul McLeod, Auckland’s Raymond Skinner and Paraparaumu pair John Lawton and Kevin Tither.
Junior rider Benjamin McLeod, of Te Puke, should also be worth watching.
With this sport, the emphasis for this sport is not on speed, with the prime aim to conquer the extreme terrain without touching feet on the ground or falling off. Points are lost for these “faults” and a rider with the lowest score wins.
Access to both days’ riding will be signposted from the respective main roads. There is no charge for spectators. Riding starts at 10am on both days.
Rounds three and four are set for the Bay of Plenty region on April 14-15. The eight-round series then heads to the Wellington region for two more rounds on July 7-8 and then wraps up in Hawke’s Bay on August 25-26.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com