Submitted by Andy McGechan
Monday, 7th November 2016
Viewed 698 times

CAPTION: Auckland's Chris Birch (KTM 300 EXC), in a spot of bother during Monday's final day of enduro action. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

OCTOBER 25, 2016: When the going gets tough, KTM's Chris Birch gets going.

The multi-time former national enduro champion from Glen Eden showed the sort of style that earned him international glory when he won the Romaniacs Hard Enduro in 2010 by dominating the Kiwi equivalent near Tokoroa at the weekend.

Based on the famously brutal Romanian event, Labour Weekend's inaugural Husqvarna Hard Enduro proved to be an ideal testing ground for New Zealand enduro exponents who might be inspired to consider following Birch's example overseas.

And while KTM rider Birch seemed to make most of it look easy, it really was a tough test for both rider and machine. Riders classified themselves as either gold, silver or bronze level competitors and different courses were set through the forest to suit the various rider abilities.

The competition began with a "prologue", a short endurocross style event on Saturday to determine starting positions for the two days that followed and this was won by 21-year-old Cambridge diesel mechanic Dylan Yearbury.

The riders then faced more than 130 kilometres of track on Sunday and again on Monday, meaning many riders were in the saddle for between five and eight hours at a time, with the 36-year-old Birch taking his KTM 300 EXC to eventually win the gold grade by more than 28 minutes from Howick's Liam Draper, the young enduro star who also celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday.

Third overall was Taupo KTM rider Brendon Imlig, who finished 30 minutes behind Draper.

Unfortunately for Yearbury, he paid the price for removing his goggles and painful grit in his eye meant he was forced to withdraw and not start the final day.

"I was quite surprised by my winning margin," said Birch afterwards. "Liam (Draper) has been riding so well lately and I wasn't sure where my physical state would be after not having competed lately. I'm never really unfit, but I wasn't sure what my race fitness would be like.

"It was a bit different to the Romaniacs in terms of some of the terrain, but exactly the same in terms of work rate.

"I made a few mistakes and lost ground in some areas, but then made it up in others. It would have been the same for every rider and that's the nature of enduro riding. I'm guessing Liam had a few problems to deal with too," he smiled.

"I know I'm feeling pretty tired today."

The top three riders in the silver grade were Queensland visitor Adam Giles, followed by Ngaruawahia's Raymond Lempriere and Rotorua's Logan Clarke, while the bronze grade podium was Rotorua's Wayne Clarke on top, with Thames rider Natasha Cairns second and Te Awamutu' Rachael Archer claiming third.

"This event was not meant to be a typical New Zealand hard enduro, where only a few manage to finish," said organiser Sean Clarke.

"It was an adventure enduro and each grade was set to give riders a real sense of adventure, as well as testing their ability to complete the grade that they had entered, all the while they were following a course that we had uploaded to their GPS devices.

"There was a wide variety of terrain that they encountered from bogs to steep hills, to smooth forest tracks and easy grassland ... it had it all really. It was not as difficult as much as it was relentless and the GPS element is something riders would also have to get used to if they headed off to tackle the Romaniacs. It would have been a great learning experience for them all."

A fulltime rider coach, Birch now heads away to Vietnam for five days where he will guide a group of riders on and adventure ride over challenging terrain there.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

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