With 2014 King of the Motos’ winner Cody Webb racing in Europe, all eyes were on Colton Haaker, age 25, of Hollister, California to lead a stacked field during Sunday’s King of the Motos competition. And Haaker–an X Games medalist who frequently podiums on the AMA Endurocross series–delivered. But not without a battle and a few helping hands.
“There is no way I could have won this race without help from my fellow competitors.” said Haaker at the awards ceremony. “You pretty much couldn’t make a lap without some help.”
It was true. There wasn’t a single competitor who finished that didn’t need assistance at some point during the race. The 2015 course, which consisted of back-breaking switch backs and steep rocky ravines, was the hardest in KOM’s four-year history. All over the course, riders came to the aid of fellow riders and helped them push and tow their bikes, so they could stay on course.
Haaker was no exception. Each time he went up “The Waterfall”—one of the steepest and rockiest sections in the middle of the course, competitors like Morgan Tanke, Rachel Gutish, Noah Kepelle and James King pushed the future King along.
How It Worked
The 2015 competition was divided into a morning lap of 27-miles, and an afternoon three-hour session. During the afternoon session, riders were given three hours to lap a 12.6 mile course as many times as they could. If a rider was lapped by the leader, he was not allowed to make any more laps. As long as he completed one lap, (even if lapped) he still earned a finish, though.
How Tough Was It?
79 competitors started the race. 56 made it to the afternoon session. 44 completed one lap. 11 completed a second lap. And only five completed a final third lap.
For most of the afternoon Haaker battled back and forth with Cory Graffunder, 27, an extreme enduro competitor who has competed at the legendary Erzberg four-times, and Max Gerston, 23, a former junior national endurocross champ. It wasn’t until halfway through the second lap that Haaker started pulling away from the two.
What was one of the hardest parts for Haaker? Navigation. Riders didn’t get to pre-run the course in 2015, and they didn’t get maps until the night before. Using GPS systems attached to their bikes, they not only had to overcome treacherous terrain, but first they had to find it.
During lap one, Haaker said every time he started to pull away from Graffunder, he would get lost and then, Graffunder would pass him. The two went back and forth like that for 12.6 miles, until Haaker got the lay of the land. Still, even on lap three, Haaker laughed, “I still got lost and I knew where I was going.”
While the top three competitors battled each other, everyone else was battling the terrain. Many figured out quite quickly that if they wanted to even finish the race, then they needed to be a team. No one demonstrated that mentality better than Rachel Gutish and Morgan Tanke–the only two women who made it to the afternoon session. While largely rivals on the endurocross circuit, the women, both 18, started helping each other at “The Waterfall” and stuck together for the rest of the race. Gutish and Tanke proved that a little companionship goes a long way. Just as the sun was setting, the two, who were also working with three other male competitors, crossed the finish line.
While a few select women have entered KOM over the years, none have ever finished. Sport organizer Jimmy Lewis was so elated when he saw them, he ushered them onto the stage and handed each a KOM plaque. When asked if she had anything to say, an exhausted Tanke, who had helped multiple competitors on the course, replied, “I really think I’m too tired to say anything.”
Overall, finishing King of the Motos meant something different to all who entered. For Haaker, it was the first time he had even finished an extreme enduro race. For Graffunder, it was the first time in four attempts he finished a King of the Motos’ race.
And for the ladies?
Well, as far as Gutish is concerned, she now has a valid excuse for her professors when she returns to classes at DePauw University in Indiana, which she is attending on an academic scholarship. When she’s asked what was she doing while she was supposed to be in school, she’ll have a valid excuse. She can tell them she was busy competing in this race – in the middle of the Mojave Desert in southern Calif. Maybe, someday they’ll hear about it, and it will be called Queen of the Motos.
Go Kevin Murphy! Amateur racers were given a 45-minute head start during the morning’s first lap, and sport organizer Jimmy Lewis claimed that if any amateur still beat the pros after the first lap, he would get a free entry into the pro class in 2015. A big congrats to Kevin Murphy then. Murphy not only finished the first lap almost nine minutes before the next competitor, but he placed an impressive 11th overall and was the only amateur to finish two laps in the afternoon.