It could be regarded as “business as usual” after defending national champion Brad Groombridge convincingly won the opening round of the 2018 New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Huntly on Saturday.
But the 27-year-old Taupo locksmith was made to work hard for his victory and the eventual winning margin of nearly two minutes in no way reflected the serious challenge that had been thrown down early in the muddy two-hour-plus race by Hamilton man Phillip Goodwright.
Goodwright (Husqvarna FX350) led the race soon after the start and stayed in front for the first three of five laps, the 36-year-old dairy farmer well aware that Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450), who had been stuck in traffic at the start, was on a charge through the field.
“I’ve always liked riding in the mud and I think I was about third round the first corner,” said Goodwright afterwards.
“I knew on the first lap that Groombridge was coming. He wasn’t too far behind me even at that stage. I didn’t have any problems but, once he was in front, he was pretty hard to haul back.”
Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha YZ250FX), Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XCF) and Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig (KTM 300XC) rounded out the top five positions in the senior race.
Best of the senior women was Te Awamutu’s Rachael Archer (Husqvarna TE150), who finished 27th overall.
A total of 77 hardy souls – 54 seniors and 23 juniors – braved the atrocious conditions, but all seemed to enjoy the race action despite the junior race being reduced from 90-minutes to one hour and the senior race being cut back from three to 2.5 hours.
The junior race, held earlier in the day, went right down to the wire.
The eventual winner was Cambridge rider Callum Paterson (Yamaha YZ125), with runner-up Adam Loveridge (Eltham, Husqvarna TE150) crossing the finish line just 30 seconds behind Paterson.
Napier’s Bryn Codd (Yamaha YZ125), Raglan’s Coby Rooks and Eltham’s Josh Loveridge (Husqvarna FE250) rounded out the top five.
Best of the junior women was Palmerston North’s Hannah Rushworth, the multi-talented rider who is also an international moto trials exponent finishing 21st overall against the boys on Saturday.
Round two of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships is set for farmland at Ormondville, in Central Hawke’s Bay, on March 18, with round three near Taupo on April 8 and, finally, it all wraps up near Mosgiel on May 12.
Only three of the four rounds are counted towards the championships, with riders to discard their one worst score, but there is a stipulation that riders attend the final round and this means the battle for national glory could last right until the final lap.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan