LOCAL STAR: Enduro rider Josh Murtagh has his sights set on a second consecutive top 10 finish at the Hattah Desert Race.

By MITCH RODD

FOR the past 12 months, local enduro rider Josh Murtagh has thought about his top 10 finish in the Hattah Desert Race while wearing the grin of a Cheshire cat.

To those who aren’t in the know, a ninth place finish may not seem like a huge deal. But to finish ninth outright from a field of 400 riders, plus facing professional factory riders, one can see how strong a result it actually is.

Since he was a boy watching the Hattah event each July, the now 27-year-old wanted to emulate his heroes and secure a top 10 finish. Now he wants to take it a step further.

In riding terms, Hattah is the pinnacle each year for Josh. The 2018 event, which takes place next weekend, will be his 12th ride.

The 2007 Junior outright winner will ride in the 500cc class for the second time, on his KTM 500 EXC, and feels his preparation has gone much better than this time last year.

“It wasn’t until the Monday before the race last year that I knew what bike I would be riding. I also had a sprained ankle, and a couple of months beforehand I had concussion of which the effects lasted six weeks,” he said.

“This year I’m feeling fit and injury free and ready to go.

“In 2016 I won the 250cc two-stroke class, but my goal was to always get up the outright rankings, and the 500 makes a huge difference to that.

“The power you can generate means it can go quick through the straights. It makes a big difference in the first few laps when the track is smooth. After three or four laps when it gets rough it comes down to how well your bike is set up, and your own fitness. It is hard work, I was on the bike for four-and-a- half hours straight last year.”

Josh said he’d only ever dreamt of a top 10 finish in the past before his 2017 personal best result.

“I never knew if it (top 10) would actually happen. I definitely want to be there again,” he said.

“Being involved in Hattah from a junior, you watch the pro guys and other top riders finishing in the top 10 and you want to be just like them. Then getting into seniors it was all about finishing the race. Now I’m at a point where I’m fighting for the top 10 and those top guys are my rivals.

“At the end of the day luck has to be on your side. Even just finishing the race is a challenge.

“Pretty much all those other guys in the top category are pros and have factory support, while I’m just there on my own with my own gear.

“The top guys are in a league of their own. I don’t think too much about what they’re doing, I prefer to focus on what I can do.

“I’ve thought about that result for the past 12 months. It feels great every time I think about it. You might mention to someone that you come ninth in a race and they don’t think much of it. When they realise it’s out of 400 people and you’re up against pro riders, they can see why I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

Josh, a massage therapist by trade, added that extra work riders put in before race day was vital in their preparations.

“While work has been busy I train with the guys at Crossfit Motion 136 five days a week and riding as much as I can on weekends,” he said.

“You also spend hours in the shed making little changes that most people don’t think about. If you’re going up against Factory riders, thinking ‘she’ll be right’ when it comes to setting up the bike won’t be enough. Everything needs to be up to scratch.”

The Senior Hattah Desert Race takes place next Sunday, July 8.