New Zealander Paul “The Axeman” Whibley won yesterday’s Can-Am Grand National Cross Country race at the legendary Unadilla Valley Sports Center, his fourth win of the year. Through his consistency, the GEICO Monster Kawasaki rider has opened up a solid points lead as his FMF Suzuki rivals Charlie Mullins and Josh Strang ended up fourth and fifth. Whibley is getting close to his first GNCC Title, so let’s get to know more about him.
Raced and trained and tested a lot.
You don’t ever have a break, do you?
My break is over the winter in New Zealand. There I’m just racing for fun.
But you’re still racing.
Still racing, yeah (Laughs).
Did you actually feel better by now than you did when the GNCC series began?
Yeah, I was feeling good, the bike is good, everything is really gelling.
How tough was it to get to this point? This is basically a brand-new team, with GEICO and Kawasaki racing at this level.
It actually fell into place reasonably easy. Our team manager, JT (Bennett) is a pretty laid back guy and a fun guy to work with. Plus he has raced a lot himself so he knows what it’s like to be out there pushing hard. So it’s a fun group of guys to work with.
You have spent years racing around the world, kind of doing your own thing anyway. So did this work pretty well for you?
Yeah for me it might actually be better, to kind of be on a smaller team and do a lot of my own stuff. I know what needs to be done and I just make it happen.
What type of testing do you do?
I did some suspension testing back home in New Zealand, working with RG3 to get it all down, and now I’m running the Ohlins shock which has been good. As far as the motor, there’s so much there you don’t really need to do much, sometimes we will just try to smooth it out with the Vortex ignition or the G2 Throttle Cams, depending on the track.
I pretty much ride three to four days a week, and then after that I will do some cycling, some gym work, technical stuff, you train to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
You’re known as the strong man of the tour, it seems like you really like training, instead of just training because you have to. Have you ever even worked with a trainer or is this just what you’ve learned through the years?
I enjoy getting out there and sweating and working hard during the week. That’s all part of this and I like it. But back home I started working with a guy named Justin Hickey, he’s a sports science guy in New Zealand, and I’ve been working with him for seven years now. He basically makes life hard on me when I’m back there!
You mentioned strengths and weaknesses, and you really have improved. You were like a top seven guy four years ago, then top five, you won a race, now you’ve become a real title threat. What have you worked on to do it?
Just learning the racing and the tracks here. It’s different than Europe and New Zealand. This is the way I’ve always done it, I’ve never come into a series and just won right away, I’ve always just slowly gotten better and better.
One of your weaknesses used to be starts and arm pump early in the races. How did you fix that?
I was actually scheduled to get arm pump surgery, but last year I was talking to Kurt Caselli, and he told me about wrapping my arms before the races. So I tried it and it worked, I had really tried everything so it was good. I didn’t need the surgery and the arm pump has basically gone away. Some of us still get arm pump, but it’s nothing like it used to be.
How much easier is it to race from the front with good starts instead of having to wait for your arms to go down and come back from tenth?
(Laughs) Oh it’s so much easier! So much. Plus, the Kawasaki 450, it starts very quickly, so that helps a lot.
No, it works good.
Talk about today’s race, it was one of those old-school races where anyone could win.
Yeah it was good! Early on Jimmy [Jarrett] was up there, you had Nate [Kanney], Charlie [Mullins] and Josh [Strang], Thad [DuVall] was up in front of me for a while. It was good, we were charging up the hills and changing positions, getting into lappers and changing positions, it was really fun racing. Then down toward the end of the race, Nate and I kicked out a little bit, it came down to the two of us.
Do you ever lose your cool out there? We never really hear of the big crash from Whibley, or you getting stuck bad, or not making a hill, or taking people out. You just seem steady.
I really try not to ride over my head. I lose my cool a little bit when you get stuck behind lappers sometimes, I know they’re out there trying to have fun in a race of their own, but I definitely can’t keep my cool out there sometimes!
Last lap, you against Kanney for the win. How did you do it?
Just rode the best I could and didn’t make mistakes. I think maybe he was trying a little bit harder, and he was putting pressure on, but maybe he made mistakes, and the lappers got between us. I was able to pull just enough of a gap, and then I could ride within my comfort zone and not make mistakes.
The title picture is starting to come clear now, how long have you been chasing this goal of a GNCC Title?
It’s hard to say how long I’ve even thought that I could do it. It started just a few years ago, I was riding Hondas with help from Scott Summers, and I won my first race here. But with that, I really had just realized that I could have a future in this and even make a real living at it! So now it’s all working out. But yeah, really, it’s always been a dream of mine to come to the U.S. and compete for this championship.
Yeah, close! But we have three more races.
Finally, they call you the axe man, and is that because you worked in the New Zealand forest service?
Yeah I did. I was a logger back home, so that’s why they called me the axe man at the races. Riding in New Zealand, it’s really just for fun, you can’t make any money doing it, so I would just race on weekends and work during the week. I would work from seven to five, and then try to ride when I was home, but it was a good, physical job, and I would be so tired after logging that I couldn’t even ride much when I was done. I really didn’t even train back then!
And the theory is, you want it more now as a racer because you know what it’s like to have to work a regular job.
Yeah, what we’re doing here is pretty special. We get to race bikes and make a living doing it. That’s not something that comes around very often, so when you get it, you need to make the most of it.