Bike throttles will be twisted to the stops in the Central Hawke’s Bay region this weekend as the four-round 2019 New Zealand Cross Country Championships blast off.

The nation’s dirt bike elite will converge on farmland at 782 Ahiweka Road, Flemington, about 22 kilometres east of Norsewood, for round one of the series on Sunday (February 10) with all riders knowing a good result is essential if their respective bids for glory are to bear any fruit.

Points from three of the four rounds only are counted towards New Zealand titles in the various categories, with riders to discard their one worst score, but that still doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

Outright senior winner last season was Taupo’s Brad Groombridge and he will be expected to rate among the favourites again this time around, especially considering his sharp performances at the parallel-but-separate New Zealand Motocross Championships, that series having just completed its opening round in Taranaki last weekend.

Groombridge was solid in his cross-country campaign last season, registering a 1-1-9-2 score-card over the series, and this was easily enough for him to edge out Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar – who had a 4-3-1-3 score-card for 2018 – for the outright series win, the third consecutive year that Groombridge had taken the title.

Groombridge will of course be chasing title No.4 this year, although he knows to expect tough challenges from rivals such as Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade, Eketahuna’s Charlie Richardson, Titirangi’s Callan May, Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright, Bombay’s Richard Sutton, Stratford’s Josh Hunger, Raglan’s Brandon Given and Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig.

The talent pool is deep in the senior grade, with riders such as Raglan’s Jason Dickey, Te Awamutu’s Daniel White, Stratford’s Karl Roberts, Wairoa’s Reece Lister, Palmerston North’s James Galpin, Whanganui’s Seth Reardon and Cambridge pair Seton Head and Ashton Grey also likely to feature near the front.

In the junior grade, Eltham’s Adam Loveridge will be aiming to hold onto the title he won last year, although Napier’s Bryn Codd, the series leader early on in the 2018 series, will be looking to snatch back the ascendency.

Riders such as Cambridge’s Callum Paterson, Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson, Raglan’s Coby Rooks, Dannevirke’s Ben Paterson and Cambridge’s Michael Henry might have an influence on proceedings too.

“The venue on Sunday is a great track and should be pretty testing,” said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth. “It’s a property we have used in the past and about 25 kilometres in length. It features a bit of everything. It will be physically demanding, with steep rock ridges that will take some concentration from the riders. A few of the rider who were juniors last season may have decided to move up to the senior ranks and we just won’t know which individuals have done that until the day of the race. A few of the other juniors from last year will have remained in the junior ranks ad they are entitled to do that until aged 17, when the jump to senior grade in compulsory.”

The series is supported by The Dirt Guide, Oakley goggles, Bel Ray oils and Michelin tyres.

NZ Cross Country Championships calendar 2019:

Round One: Sunday, February 10 – Central Hawke’s Bay MCC
Round Two: Sunday, March 24 – Mosgiel District MCC
Round Three: Sunday, April 14 – Marlborough MCC
Round Four: Saturday, May 25 – Taupo MCC

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

For more information on this event, click over to http://motoevents.nz/nz-cross-country-championships-2019/

The number 121 is emblazoned on the front and sides of Cody Cooper’s motorcycle, an unprepossessing digit that hints at nothing more than the fact that he is not the reigning New Zealand Motocross Champion.

But that could be set to change this season as the man from Mount Maunganui launched his bid for top honours in the premier MX1 class at the first of four rounds for the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships in Taranaki on Sunday.

Coincidentally, those same digits were also the same ones that could be used to register his results at the Barrett Road Motocross Park, on the outskirts of New Plymouth, Cooper finishing the day with a 2-1-1 score-card, enough to give him a three-point edge over his nearest threat, defending champion Kirk Gibbs.

Australian visitor Gibbs finished the day 1-2-2 to settle for the runner-up position, while Mangakino’s Kayne Lamont chimed in with three third placings and he took the third step on the MX1 podium. Lamont is just nine points behind Gibbs.

Cooper is a six-time former New Zealand MX1 champion and did not take kindly to losing his crown to Gibbs last season, something he is determined to rectify this year, his performance in Taranaki on Sunday certainly setting him on the right path to achieve that.

Cooper is in hot form at the moment – he won the MX1 class at the annual Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville a week ago.

But what Cooper craves most is winning the national title and there is actually still a long way to go before he can relax, with another three tough events (and nine races) to survive in the coming weeks.

“I was trying to tippy-toe around the track today, to not make any mistakes,” said Cooper. “There are parts of this Taranaki track where you can be pushing and feel good and then suddenly it all lets go. As long as I was in the hunt for the title when I left here today I would be happy and I’m actually leading the way, so that’s even better.”

Meanwhile, West Aucklander Hamish Harwood is on target to make it a fourth consecutive MX2 (250cc) class title win this season after he finished 2-2-1 in the three MX2 races on Sunday.

That score-card put him nine points ahead of another visiting Australian, Wilson Todd, while Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis equalled Todd’s points tally, but settled for the third step on the MX2 podium thanks to the count-back rule.

Ironman Harwood also took charge in the 125cc class, winning all three races there on Sunday, with Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly and Ngatea’s Ben Broad completing the 125cc podium.

Harwood is nine points clear of Connolly, with Broad six points further back in third.

The MX2 class battle-within-a-battle for under-19 honours went to Purvis, with Australian Morgan Fogarty and Hamilton’s Reef Wheki rounding out that podium.

Round two of the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships is set for Rotorua in just two weeks’ time (on February 17). Round three follows at Pukekohe on February 24 and, finally, the nationals wrap up at Taupo on March 10. 

Round one of the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships was additionally supported by Mach 1 Yamaha, while Patterson O’Connor Motorcycles supports round two, Ebbett Pukekohe supports round three and Yamalube supports round four.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Mount Maunganui’s Cody Cooper took top honours in the premier MX1 class after round one of the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships at the weekend, ahead of Kirk Gibbs and Kayne Lamont. 

It could well be that a fourth New Zealand Motocross Championships title heads the way of West Auckland’s Hamish Harwood before the season is out … maybe even two titles.

The former Takaka man, who now lives and works in Royal Heights, Auckland, took his CML Makita KTM Racing Team bikes to dominate both the MX2 (250cc) and 125cc classes at the first of four rounds for the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships in Taranaki on Sunday.

The 23-year-old builder finished runner-up to Mangakino international Maximus Purvis in the first of three MX2 races on Sunday and was runner-up again in the next outing, this timer behind current Australian MX2 champion Wilson Todd. 

But it was Harwood all the way in the deciding third race, the KTM man finishing 1.7 seconds ahead of Todd, with Purvis settling for third.

Harwood’s 2-2-1 score-card for the weekend shot him to the top of the rankings, nine points clear of Todd (8-1-2) and Purvis (1-6-3), who were equal second, with Taupo’s Brad Groombridge fourth, a further nine points adrift.

In the 125cc class battles, it was another three-rider tussle, with Harwood this time dominating completely, scoring a hat-trick of wins, while Tauranga’s Brodie Connolly and Ngatea’s Ben Broad fought over the No.2 position. 

Connolly eventually took the overall runner-up spot, nine points behind Harwood, with KTM’s Broad settling for third on the day.

“It was a great day. I still need to sort out my starts, because I am not happy with them … which is kind of funny to say that because I grabbed a couple of holeshots today. I have the strength and the fitness to come through the pack when I start poorly and I made a lot of good passes early in the races, but I just really need to ensure I’m up front from the start. By the time I came through the field in the first two races, either Purvis or Todd were too far gone for me to both catch and overtake. I had a couple of nibbles at them, but not enough and it was pretty sketchy on this track, slippery and rough. I feel I’m stronger than I was last year. Me and Brodie had a couple of good battles, and passed each other a few times, but it was safe.”

Round two of the 2019 Fox New Zealand Motocross Championships is set for Rotorua in just two weeks’ time (on February 17). Round three follows at Pukekohe on February 24 and, finally, the nationals wrap up at Taupo on March 10. 

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

West Auckland’s Hamish Harwood (CML KTM 250), top dog in two championship classes after round one of the 2019 New Zealand Motocross Championships at the weekend.

Scheduled for the 29th to the 31st of March, 2019, registrations are open once again for the Tussock Buster, held in the massive expanse of Waiouru’s Military training area. Utilising about half of the 63,000 hectares, with almost 300km of marked riding trails, most of which are bulldozed and graded annually by the Offlimits team. Suitable for all ages and all levels of rider ability, the Tussock Buster is the largest trail ride event in Australasia and is regarded by many as being the best event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Each event is different, meaning a wholely new experience for riders year to year. You really have to attend to see how different it is to other events!

There are tracks for all levels of competency, with designated kids tracks for bikes under 85cc. There are also a number of short trails ranging from 10 to 35 kilometres in length. These are rideable on bikes 85c and larger. Approximately 90% of the trails are graded as ‘easy’, with about 10% which are regarded as being a steep up or downhill. These would be easily navigated by intermediate or expert riders, but would be difficult for novice or younger riders. The organisers kindly ask riders to be observant of the signs posted for the more difficult loops – your fuel tank capacity might not be sufficient!

Parents are asked to accompany all young children on the open tracks and assist them when they encounter difficulty. The longer tracks can be over 75 kilometres in length and are not technically difficult (apart from the signposted ‘expert only’ trails) but they do go to higher altitudes.

Camping is provided on Friday and Saturday nights for approximately 900 people by the Waiouru Rugby/sports fields, including hot showers, portaloos, and the rugby club bar. Hot meals are available from the Waiouru community shop on site.

Tussock Buster is a two-wheeled only event, and fire extinguishers are compulsory for all riders over the age of 12-years. (The Honda service tents will have 0.3kg fire extinguishers available for purchase at the event should you forget!) No open fires are permitted in the campsite.

The organisers will have a tanker based refuel station in the training area for bikes to complete the longer loops. Using a token system for fuel has worked well in the past, so will be implemented again this year.

Prices vary depending on how early you register, and registrations will be available on the day, but if you are keen you need to get in quick to secure a great discount on entry fees.

Being a Military training ground, the event may be rescheduled or cancelled due to any weather or fire risk, or for military requirements.

For more information and to register, check the Tussock Buster website: https://www.offlimits.co.nz/project/tussock-buster/
or our own MotoEvents page: http://motoevents.nz/tussock-buster-2019/

Online pre-registrations will close at 8pm on Tuesday the 19th of March.

The Red Bull KTM star, who won 17 from 19 Grands Prix in 2018, suffered the injury Friday afternoon while training at the Albaida circuit in southern Spain. Herlings immediately flew back to Belgium that day and underwent a procedure with renowned surgeon Dr Claes to fix fractures in his right foot. Thankfully the 24 year old did not sustain damage to his ankle and the whole operation took place swiftly and with success.

Herlings had planned to race the Hawkstone Park International in the UK on February 16th but will now focus entirely on his rehab. He will change his cast next week and is scheduled for a consultation with medical staff in six weeks to determine the full extent of the recovery time, making his participation in the opening round of the FIM Motocross World Championship in Argentina on March 3rd unlikely.

Jeffrey Herlings“I landed strangely from a jump and was at an angle when I went too close to the track ‘wall’ of dirt at Albaida. I got my foot caught between the bike and the mud. I knew we were in trouble, and we had the operation as soon as possible when we saw the foot was starting to swell. This is obviously not the best way to start 2019 but we’d been riding and preparing well and we have to work now to get back to that level. The good news is that Dr Claes and his team were really happy with how the operation went and I don’t have any more pain or swelling. In six weeks time we’ll know more and it all depends how the bone heals. Thanks for all the messages from the fans. We’ll be back strong!”

Dirk Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager & Technical Co-Ordinator, Red Bull KTM“This is obviously a disappointing situation for Jeffrey and the team and also for fans of MXGP because we all want to see the guys fit, healthy and ready to go for a new season. It is a shame the way the crash happened and if it hadn’t been for that part of the track then maybe he would have escaped without a problem. Jeffrey had some first class treatment by Dr Claes in Belgium to fix the breaks in what is a tricky part of the body for injury. Everything went well though and there is nothing wrong with his ankle or anything else that could have made the injury more serious. Now he’ll look to recover again and come back to MXGP close to the form we saw in 2018.”

MXGP World Champion Jeffrey Herlings is hoping for a swift and comprehensive rehabilitation period after surgery last Friday evening to repair a broken right foot.