Enduro X: Spotlight on Colton Haaker

ESPN/Wilhelm

Colton Haaker just missed the podium last year in Austin. He plans on not letting that happen again.

In late February, EnduroCross rider Colton Haaker was practicing at home when he botched a foot-plant 360. He lacerated his spleen and broke three ribs. "I basically pasted the ground from way up," he says.

The laceration was three millimeters, making it a Stage 3 of 5. Simply put, if Haaker had another big impact he risked losing his spleen. His usual, aggressive motocross-like riding style would have to change, at least for a few weeks. "I didn't want to give up points," he says of his decision to keep riding. "I didn't want to give up the championship."

So two weeks later, he was at the start line of the season-opening AMA EnduroCross event at Daytona on March 6. Haaker was prepared if anything went wrong, and he minimized risks as much as possible. "I knew if I could ride clean I would be okay. I can control that," he says.

It was a good time to remember his trials roots and slow down. It worked. He opened the season with a second place in Daytona and another second place in Salt Lake City two weeks later. Things got even better at Las Vegas on May 1: He won.

Haaker enters X Games Austin 2015, where he'll compete in men's Enduro X on Friday, June 5, leading the AMA points race and a favorite for X Games gold.

Just a couple of years ago, Haaker was driving himself to races, paying his own way and working on his own bikes. Good team support eluded Haaker earlier in his career. His results were inconsistent and his riding style erratic. In 2012, he won his first career EnduroCross final, but then he failed to crack the top five the rest of the season.

Now, he's a support member of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team. He's switched from a 450 four-stroke to a 350 four-stroke and he loves the bike and team. These days, the 25-year-old has a top five AMA EnduroCross streak that dates to the first race of 2013 -- 19 total.

"I see a career now," he says. "Before, it was always year to year."

At X Games, gold has been tantalizingly close for Haaker. In 2014 in Austin, he caught Taddy Blazusiak on lap eight, banged wheels with him and pulled alongside. But at the beginning of lap nine, they both faced a downed rider in the rocky U-turn. Blazusiak was briefly hung up, which caused a backup. By the time Blazusiak got through, Haaker was tangled with the lapped rider and lost two positions, ending up just off the podium in fourth place.

"I was the fastest rider," Haaker says of recent X Games. "I proved that both years [2013 and 2014]." In 2013, Haaker had chances for gold at both X Games Los Angeles and Barcelona, but mistakes late in the race cost him. In LA, the firewood tripped him up while leading. In Barcelona, he had settled for second on the last lap and slowed down. Eventual winner Mike Brown faltered in the rocks but Haaker was no longer close enough to take advantage. "I don't feel like bronze is going to make me happy," he says of X Games 2015. "Last year was mine. This year I don't think I'm going to let it go."

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