Moto Trials will be fierce hunt to unseat Whitaker, writes Andy McGechan.
Wellington's Jake Whitaker can possibly be beaten for the national Moto Trials championship title this year by just one man ... himself.
The extremely talented 21-year-old Kiwi international has won the premier title at the New Zealand Moto Trials Championship for each of the past five years and title No.6 beckons at the 2012 edition, set to run in the South Island over Labour Weekend.
But, as is the nature of this sport, his title defence rides on a knife-edge and a momentary lapse could see his title hopes slip away.
Fortunately for Whitaker, he has few equals in this part of the world.
He collected his third consecutive Australian Moto Trials Championship crown in September, making him a multiple and reigning champion on both sides of the Tasman.
"The only thing that scares me a bit is if the organisers make the course too easy," says Whitaker. "We need tough obstacles to separate us out. If it's too easy, then all my rivals will be achieving the same points as me, and then if I lose concentration and make one little mistake, it could be enough to muck things up for me.
"I only lost three points at the New Zealand Moto Trials Champs last year and, if the course is too easy, it is possible to lose no points over the three days. There could be other riders still equal with me after three days."
Whitaker probably shouldn't worry because, the reality is, what he regards as "easy" quite likely is impossible for other riders.
With this branch of motorcycling sport, the emphasis is not on speed but on surviving the balancing act, like walking a tightrope on a dirt bike. The prime aim is to conquer extreme terrain without falling off or feet touching the ground. Points are lost for these "faults" and a rider with the lowest score wins.
Whitaker's rivals in the Expert Grade include Nelson's Karl Clark, Rotorua's John Haynes, Invercargill's Bradley Hibbs, Tauranga's Phillip Shilton and Dunedin's Blake Fox.
Others to watch for include Invercargill's Jason Hibbs, Lower Hutt's Carl Robson and Tauranga's Corey Davies in the A Grade.
The Intermediate Grade should feature riders such as Te Awamutu's Colin Downs, Pukekohe's Robert Williamson, Canterbury's Ashley Halder, Auckland's Peter Boettcher, Kaikoura's David Trewin and Tauranga father and son pair Kevin and Jacob Gundry.
Saturday's and Sunday's competition will be on a Chapman Rd, Central Otago property, while day three's is off Blackman Rd. All venues will be signposted from Earnscleugh Rd, near Alexandra.