Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig, sure to be among the frontrunners at the Husqvarna Hard X event in the Kinleith Forest, near Atiamuri, on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan

It could be New Zealand’s ultimate of extreme cross-country race, but don’t be frightened off by the event’s daunting title, because it will appeal to all levels of ability.

The Husqvarna Hard X event in the Kinleith Forest, near Atiamuri, this Saturday is a four-hour cross-country race that will “feature all the great trails and hard bits of a Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro, but on a compact course, with hard sections deemed suitable for the grade that the rider enters”.

Organiser Sean Clarke said the event, from 11am until 3pm, would have mass appeal.

“This is the first time we have held a Hard X event,” said Clarke, who has previously run the difficult Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro Events in the same area of the country.

“This Hard X event is to show riders what the three-day hard enduro is like but in a compact way,” he explained. “It will be a lot easier to enter and ride. Riders don’t need a GPS device on their bikes, they don’t need head lights or tail lights and they don’t need to be concerned with the thought of six hours of gruelling riding, like what they might encounter at a hard enduro.

The course is approximately 25 kilometres in length, that riders will traverse several times during the four hours, and it will feature a “good mixture of single trail, firebreaks and a few hard bits thrown in for good measure”.

Riders classify themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze grade competitors and the course they’ll face will hopefully reflect that level of proficiency.

“Entries are still open, although riders may still enter on the day if they are waiting to see what the weather is going to do, but it is looking like it will be fine, with maybe just a few showers.

“Everyone is probably thinking it’s going to be a psycho-hard event, but it’s not.”

Clarke said the Bronze class would be about the same level as a hard section at a trail ride, with the Silver and Gold class courses will be just a little bit harder than that.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig and New Plymouth’s Tony Parker are among the leading riders so far entered.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury, who won the Husqvarna Hard Enduro last October, is currently sidelined with injury.

“If you have ever thought what the world-renowned Romaniacs enduro (in Romania) is like to compete at, well the Gold class at this event is about the same as the Bronze class over there. So we call for riders to come and give it a go,” said Clarke.

“It will also be an awesome event for spectators because there is plenty to see that is handy to the pit area, which is an old quarry.”

Saturday’s venue will be signposted on State Highway 1, 30 kilometres south of Tokoroa.

The Husqvarna Hard X cross-country race is supported by Husqvarna New Zealand, Satco NZ Ltd, Michelin Tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine and Forest Trail Events.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Brad Groombridge Destroys The Competition In Six-Hour Race

Two-time former and reigning national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge, who is also currently leading the 2018 national cross-country series, was again in scintillating form at the weekend as he won the annual Scott Six-Hour race at Matata.

What made it more remarkable was that the Suzuki ace rode Saturday’s event solo, while most of the competitors chose to form up as two-rider teams.

The 27-year-old Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450) finished the gruelling marathon nearly a minute ahead of Rotorua two-rider team Callum Dudson and Ethan Harris, with another two-man pairing, Hamilton duo Phillip Goodwright and Phil Singleton, took the third podium spot.

The second best of the solo riders was Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig, who finished the race a creditable 13th overall.

Bay of Plenty’s former motocross world champion Ben Townley, who teamed with Taupo rider Nicolette Epps, had the lead at the start, but Groombridge was on the charge after exiting turn one in about fifth position and was soon closing in.

“It was the first time I’d raced the 2018-model RM-Z450 at a cross-country event, but I was loving it,” said Groombridge, who took over the lead on lap two of what would eventually become 13 trips around the challenging course.

“I opened up a bit of a gap and I knew a couple of teams were about a minute behind me, but they never got closer to me than that.”

“In the end I was able to cruise to the finish.”

Groombridge now switched his focus back to racing the same bike at the New Zealand Motocross Championships, the third round of four in Hawke’s Bay this Sunday.

He is currently running seventh overall in the MX1 standings at the motocross nationals and, riding a RM-Z250 in the MX2 class, he is currently in the runner-up spot, behind defending national MX2 champion Hamish Harwood, from West Auckland, and head of Australian former GP racer Jay Wilson.

The versatile combination of Groombridge and his RM-Z450 will then change tack again a week later to tackle round two of the cross-country nationals at Ormondville (on March 18), a busy schedule that would surely sap the energy of anyone but this superman rider.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Taupo’s race winner Brad Groombridge (right) and runner-up rider Phil Goodwright, from Hamilton, after their gruelling battle on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

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

Brad Groombridge is hot favourite to make it three national cross-country titles in a row this season. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

NEW ZEALAND’S DIRT BIKE ELITE READY TO HEAD ACROSS THE COUNTRY

The New Zealand Cross-country Championships kick off in the Waikato region this weekend and perhaps only one question is being asked?

Who can beat Bay of Plenty’s two-time and current national cross-country No.1 Brad Groombridge (Suzuki) over the four rounds of the series this year?

The 27-year-old Taupo locksmith certainly holds the keys to the trophy cabinet after dominating the sport over the past two seasons and he is clearly top among those favoured to win.

The series kicks off on farmland on Hetherington Road, west of Huntly, on Saturday (February 10), with round two to follow at Ormondville, in Central Hawke’s Bay, on March 18; 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 ensures the battle will go down to the wire.

With Manawatu’s former United States and New Zealand cross-country champion Paul Whibley (Yamaha) recently sidelined with injury and Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna) currently racing overseas, it takes some of the pressure off Groombridge, although he should still expect riders such as Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (KTM), Eketahuna’s Charlie Richardson (Husqvarna), Wairoa’s Reece Lister (KTM), Palmerston North’s James Galpin (KTM) and Cambridge pair Seton Head (KTM) and Ashton Grey (Yamaha) to be among those challenging him for the crown. 

There is plenty of depth in the cross-country talent pool, with riders such as Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM), Stratford’s Karl Roberts (Yamaha), Hamilton’s Andrew Charleston (Honda), Hamilton’s Phillip Goodwright (Husqvarna), Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM), Te Awamutu’s Daniel White (Kawasaki), Glen Murray’s Sam Brown (KTM) and Raglan’s Brandon Given (Kawasaki) also capable of surprising.

South Island enduro exponents Angus, Hamish and Mitchell Macdonald, from Christchurch, should be respected too.

“The course on Saturday features a bit of everything,” said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth, from Dannevirke.

“I believe it is a track we have used before, but that was maybe 10 years ago, so a lot of the current riders won’t be familiar with it.

“It is a good, open and flowing course and more farmland than bush. There are a few creek crossings, but, depending on how the riders attack them, they shouldn’t be too tough.”

The New Zealand cross-country nationals have for long been a good breeding ground for talent, with many Kiwis such as Whibley, Glen Eden’s Chris Birch, Titirangi’s Callan May and Wellington’s Rory Mead, among others, going on to impress in overseas competitions.

 Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Paul Whibley put another win under his wheels at the weekend. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It was two missions in one that former Kiwi international Paul Whibley managed to complete near Raglan at the weekend.

The 39-year-old took his Yamaha YZ450FX to win the popular annual Raglan Rocx four-hour cross-country race on Saturday, riding it solo but crossing the finish line nearly 14 minutes ahead of several two-rider teams, and he also celebrated seeing his young protégé from the United States, Illinois rider Cody Barnes, enjoying success in his first major Kiwi race.

Barnes (Yamaha YZ125) also raced the event solo, finishing sixth overall, just one place behind the ironman class runner-up, Stratford’s Karl Roberts (Yamaha YZ450F).

Raglan pair Jason Dickey and Brandon Given teamed up to finish overall runners-up, with the Andrew Charleston/Phillip Goodright pair, from Hamilton, and the Cambridge duo of Beau Taylor and Mackenzie Wiig crowding the top four positions.

A shotgun blast signalled the start to the dirt bike marathon and Taikorea’s Whibley was quickest to react to the Le Mans, run-to-the-bike format, immediately taking the lead.

Straight away he had Kiwi rising star Liam Draper on his tail, the 21-year-old from Howick keen to taste another win before he shortly heads to the United States to race in the Grand National Cross-country Series (GNCC) there.

The battle for the lead between these two men was fierce.

“The lead was swapped a few times as we continued the cat and mouse game to see who would crack first,” said Whibley.

“Unfortunately for me, I was the first to run into trouble. While leading at about the two-hour mark, I had some fencing wire wrap around my rear brake, foot peg and boot and it dragged my foot into the back wheel.

“The wire tightened and locked my boot to the foot peg and wound its way around the wheel and locked up the rear end.

“Luckily I stopped and didn’t tip over. Liam (Draper) rode past and off into the distance. I managed to inch the bike back and get enough slack to get my boot free, then I was able to unwind the wire from the wheel. After getting back into the race I was a long way behind. Liam was out of sight.

“I pushed hard though and slowly I began to reel him in. Then I caught a glimpse of him and the adrenaline kicked in.

“I pushed pretty hard and closed in, then quickly made a pass. I kept my pace going and soon had opened a gap. I had enough of a lead going into the last lap that I couldn’t see Liam. I rode the (tenth and) final lap at a safe pace, taking the win.”

Unfortunately for Draper, he had suffered a flat tyre and eventually dropped back to finish 13th overall, fifth in the ironman class.

Whibley was a two-time outright winner of the GNCC series in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series as well, before returning home to New Zealand at the end of his 2014 season in the US to immediately win the New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015.

It is the skills Whibley honed over the years to achieve those successes that have brought Barnes halfway around the world in a bid to enhance his chances of winning a GNCC title later this year.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan