The 39-year-old from Taikorea, a two-time former cross-country champion in the United States (in 2009 and 2012), as well as national cross-country champion in New Zealand in 2015, showed he was still capable of racing with, and beating, the young elite in this country as he dominated the three-hour race in the sandy Woodhill Forest on Sunday, leading a Yamaha 1-2 to the chequered flag.
He was entered as a solo "ironman" rider and he started on the third row of the 86-bike grid, but made short work of powering his Yamaha YZ450FX to the front. "I was lined up on row three, alongside my Yamaha team-mate Ashton Grey. The two rows ahead of us held the top 'team' riders. I got a good jump off the line and led my row. "Quickly we started to catch the riders in front. There was a lot of clear fell and it was difficult to see the track early on. Ashton was right behind me and moved past me on several occasions. I was also battling arm pump on lap one. "We worked our way through to the lead before the end of the lap.
Early in the second lap a branch on young pine tree clipped a finger injury I’ve been nursing for a while and really hurt it. With the arm pump and a sore mitt, I was riding pretty tight through the first few laps. Ashton was riding well and kept the pressure on." Whibley's pit man, injured national-level cross-country racer Liam Draper, called him into the pits for a refuel just after the first hour. "The arm pump began to fade, but the hand continued to bother me, especially in a section of young trees that repeatedly slapped it as we rode through. I didn’t realise, but, at this point, I had begun to stretch out a lead and when Liam brought me in for a quick splash late in the race, I was informed I had a good lead. "As the laps wore on, the sun settled lower in the sky, making it difficult to see into the shadows. But a small price to pay for such an awesome day. "Overall, it was another fun day playing in the sand at Woodhill Forest."
The 17-year-old Grey, who works at Blackwood Yamaha in Cambridge, crossed the line in the runner-up spot, making it a Yamaha 1-2 result, while the first of the two-rider team entries, Waikato pair Andrew Charleston and Phillip Goodwright, claimed third overall, crossing the line six minutes behind Grey. Whibley is supported by Yamaha Motor New Zealand, Arai, TCX, Oakley, G2, Asterisk, MotoSR, Vortex Ignitions, EC3D, Bush Riders MCC, Rossco's Start Up Services, Unabiker, Leatt Brace, Tire Balls, Renthal, Bikesportnz.com, CarbSport, KettleClamp, Alliance Offroad, Ride Eng MotoSeat, FMF, Michelin, Yamalube CV4 GYTR, IMS, Rekluse, Workshop Graphics, Silverbullet.co.nz and O'Neal.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan