The national title was actually won six weeks ago, but the champagne was kept on ice until just the right moment and that moment came on Saturday afternoon.

Raglan dairy farmer Jason Dickey (KTM 350XC-F) proved untouchable throughout the first three of four rounds for the 2019 New Zealand Cross-country Championships and, with points from only three of the four rounds to be counted towards the championships and each rider to discard their worst result, it meant Dickey was in an unassailable position before the fourth and final round on Saturday, the title in the bag with a round to spare.

Though he did not need to, the 24-year-old Dickey showed up anyway at the track on Saturday –  laid out on farmland between Taumarunui and Kuratau – with all the pressure off, nothing left to prove and the national title already in his possession. So he wasn’t at all daunted when several of the sport’s ‘big guns’ decided they’d try to steal away with a little bit of his thunder; former Kiwi internationals Ben Townley and Hadleigh Knight respectively making their series debuts on Saturday.

With farm work so demanding of his time, Dickey had not raced his bike in the six weeks since the previous round of the series, in Marlborough in April, and he knew that fatigue might play a part in the day’s outcome, but initially at least, he was certainly on the pace. Dickey was quickly in front after a shotgun blast signalled the race start just before midday and he led throughout the opening lap.

As the gruelling race wore on, however, Dickey eventually succumbed to pressure from Townley, Knight and Whanganui’s Seth Reardon, but was nonetheless satisfied to finish the day fourth overall and let that be his “throw away” result.

Fellow KTM riders Nathan Tesselaar (from Taupo) and Glen Murray’s Sam Brown rounded out the top six on Saturday.

As well as winning the series outright in the senior ranks, Dickey also won the battle-within-a-battle for over-300cc four-stroke class honours, while Reardon won the under-300cc four-stroke class.

Pukekawa’s Jim Orton (KTM 300XC) and Dunedin’s Richard Mason (KTM 150XC) respectively won the over-200cc and under-200cc two-stroke class titles.

“I have not done much riding lately, so was just having a bit of fun today,” said Dickey afterwards, “I suffered from ‘arm pump’ today. First lap I felt good but then it started hurting. I couldn’t run the same pace as the leaders today. I just rode to survive. I will be back to defend my title next year.”

Other class winners this season were Auckland’s Charlotte Russ (women’s class); Waipukurau’s Stephen Sergeant (veterans’ 35 to 44 years); Stratford’s Karl Roberts (veterans’ over-45 years); Raglan’s Coby Rooks (junior over-200cc four-stroke class); Eltham’s Adam Loveridge (junior under-200cc two-stroke class) and New Plymouth’s Josh Houghton (junior 85cc class).

Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM 450XC-F), outright senior title winner in this year’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

 

Raglan’s Coby Rooks knows how to add drama to his day, leaving it until the final minutes to snatch glory at the cross-country motorcycling nationals.

This year’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships were something of a mixed bag, with the senior title wrapped up well before the final round, but it was far from settled in the junior ranks with Rooks locked in a tense battle with friend and rival Adam Loveridge. Honda rider Rooks led defending national junior champion Loveridge by a scant five-point margin as competitors arrived at the rolling farmland course, halfway between  Kuratau and Taumarunui, for the fourth and final round of the series on Saturday.

Only three of the four rounds were to be counted, with riders dropping their one worst result, so it meant that, after they’d each discarded their “dud” race, there was actually just three points between Rooks and Loveridge. It was simple mathematics – whichever of these two riders finished in front of the other on Saturday would claim the national crown for 2019 and, with a brutal 90-minute race in store, anything could still happen.

Rooks took his Honda CRF250 into the lead at the start on Saturday, but Loveridge snatched the advantage from him soon afterwards and that set the tone for a thrilling see-saw battle between the dynamic duo. Trouble with a bog section on lap two cost Loveridge the lead and Rooks was quick to capitalise, quick to stretch his legs out front.

However, Loveridge quickly recovered and the back-and-forth battle at the front between the pair continued over the following laps, with Loveridge back in front as they began the seventh and final lap. However, once again Loveridge came unstuck in the tricky bog and Rooks grabbed the lead, which he held until the end, eventually winning the race – and the national title – by just four seconds, one of the closest results in many years.

Taupo’s Wil Yeoman finished third in the junior race on Saturday and also claimed third overall for the series. Tauranga’s Jack McLean and Morrinsville’s Liam Calley rounded out the top five juniors for the series.

“It wasn’t easy, but when Adam (Loveridge) got stuck in a swamp on the last lap, that opened it up for me. I simply managed to avoid the mud,” said the 16-year-old Rooks, a Year-12 boarding pupil at New Plymouth Boys’ High School, “I was pushing it a bit at the end to stay in front. This was my last race in juniors and I’ll be hoping to continue on and maybe get a top-10 in the senior ranks next season.”

The three-hour senior race that followed was won by Tauranga’s Ben Townley, finishing ahead of Atiamuri’s Hadleigh Knight and Whanganui’s Seth Reardon. Raglan’s Jason Dickey finished fourth in the senior race on Saturday, but, after winning the senior race at all three of the previous rounds, Dickey already had the senior title in his back pocket.

Raglan’s Brandon Given (Honda CRF450) finished eighth overall in the senior race on Saturday, but this became his ‘throw away result’, enabling him to finish the championship third overall, behind Dickey and Reardon.

Various class winners this season were Dickey (over-300cc four-stroke class); Reardon (under-300cc four-stroke class); Pukekawa’s Jim Orton (over-200cc two-stroke class); Dunedin’s Richard Mason (under-200cc two stroke class); Auckland’s Charlotte Russ (women’s class); Waipukurau’s Stephen Sergeant (veterans’ 35 to 44 years); Stratford’s Karl Roberts (veterans’ over-45 years); Rooks (junior over-200cc four-stroke class); Loveridge (junior under-200cc two-stroke class) and New Plymouth’s Josh Houghton (junior 85cc class).

Raglan’s Coby Rooks (Honda CRF250), outright Junior title winner at the final round of the 2019 New Zealand Cross-country Championships on Saturday.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

It’s time once again to dust off the dirt bike, strap on your helmet, grab a few mates and head into the bush.

The 2019 Dirt Guide Cross-Country Series kicks off next weekend (June 1), again promising to be anything the riders want it to be … a serious competition for New Zealand’s elite dirt bike racers, a challenging afternoon’s ride in the bush or just a leisurely cruise along leafy forest pathways. It will appeal to all-comers and nobody should be fooled by the varied skill-level aspect of the series, because it is precisely events such as this that have created, inspired and nurtured Kiwi cross-country racing talent over the years before setting some of our brightest young talent on pathways to top-level international competition.

Several Dirt Guide race winners from the past, riders such as Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade, Titirangi’s Callan May, Manawatu’s Paul Whibley and Howick’s Liam Draper, to name a few individuals, have all raced internationally and they can each trace their beginnings to dirt bike competitions such as this one. Ararimu’s Richard Sutton was outright winner of the Dirt Guide Cross-country Series last season – sensationally beating the many 450cc campaigners with his 125cc bike – and he will perhaps rank among the favourites again this time around, although he recently injured himself and will be at less than 100 percent at round one.

This three-round series for 2019 kicks off at Ohakuri – about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo – on Saturday, June 1, and it is sure to attract riders from both ends of the aptitude and competitiveness spectrum. Round two is set for the same course just three weeks later, on June 22, and the third and final round of the series on August 24, also at the popular Ohakuri venue. That final round doubles up as round two of five in the parallel-but-separate NZ GNCC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island and set to kick off in the Woodhill Forest on July 28.

The popularity of The Dirt Guide Series has grown steadily since its inception in 2008 and, with separate trails and several different grades incorporated into the day’s racing, catering for all levels of confidence and ability. Each of these events is also an ideal opportunity for the lesser or novice riders to learn from masters such as 2017 Dirt Guide Series winner Whibley, a two-time former champion in the United States.

“We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding,” said Dirt Guide Series promoter Sean Clarke, of Tokoroa. “With riders getting older every year, we are really keen to provide an experience to entice the younger riders to come along and ride. There are classes for riders as young as seven. Only a few people ever win races like this, so it’s not really about the winning, but about participation.”

The talent runs deep at the sharp end of the competition, with riders such as Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna), Whitianga’s Blake Wilkins (Husqvarna), Wellington’s Jake Whitaker (KTM), Tokoroa’s Jake Wightman (KTM), Te Awamutu’s Kevin Archer (KTM), Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM), Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha) and Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha), to name just a few, among those worth watching and learning from over the course of the two-hour senior race.

The central North Island location of the Dirt Guide event virtually guarantees a good-sized entry list. In addition to the expert grade riders, the series caters also for junior riders and for intermediates, veterans and women as well.

The forest venue is signposted from Atiamuri on SH1, midway between Tokoroa and Taupo, with the 90-minute junior race set to kick off at 9.30am, while the two-hour senior race will start just after midday.

The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura and Forest Trail Events.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna TE300), sure to be among the leading riders at Ohakuri, near Tokoroa, next weekend.

Raglan’s Jason Dickey may now be just one race away from clinching the New Zealand cross-country crown for 2019.

The KTM 350XC-F rider has been unbeaten in the series thus far, making it back-to-back wins on Sunday as Mosgiel hosted the second of four rounds for the championship.

With only three of the four rounds are to be counted, riders to discard their worst result of the four, it means Dickey already perhaps has one hand on the trophy.

A top-three result at the next round of the series, in Marlborough on April 14, means he may not even need to line up at the final round, near Taupo on May 25.

Dickey dominated proceedings at the series opener near Norsewood in February, charging through the field to take victory by nearly a minute ahead of fellow KTM rider Sam Brown, from Glen Murray, but it was an even bigger winning margin for Dickey at the course near Outram on Sunday, Dickey this time crossing the finish line nearly two minutes clear of runner-up rider Seth Reardon, from Whanganui.

Another Raglan rider, Brandon Given, claimed the third podium spot on Sunday, finishing just 15 seconds behind Reardon.

Brown had to settle for a sixth place finish at Mosgiel and he has therefore slipped from second to third in the overall championship standings, albeit just three points adrift of Reardon.

The 90-minute junior race, held earlier in the morning, was won by Eltham’s defending national junior champion Adam Loveridge, with the round one winner from Raglan, Coby Rooks, this time forced to accept second place.

Rooks still tops the junior standings, but now just two points ahead of Loveridge.

Dickey was quick to blast of the start line on Sunday and, although he was amongst the traffic exiting turn one, he was into the lead just 400 metres later.

“I pulled a massive gap and just maintained that until the end,” said the 24-year-old dairy farmer. “I had a couple of big crashes on Sunday, one when I hit a clump of tussock grass and was flung off the bike, but I was far enough in front that I could recover myself and not lose my position. It was quite slippery on the short grass sections and hard to stop the bike. I got tangled in some fence wire on another occasion and lost about 20 seconds getting free, but it was nothing major and again I didn’t lose my lead. After that, I was just trying to stay focused and not make any more mistakes. One good result now at the next round should give me the title,” he smiled. “I just have to keep calm and carry on.”

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

Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM 350XC-F), now with back-to-back wins to his credit in the 2019 New Zealand Cross-country Championships.

Twice as much race time on his bike is translating into multiple successes for Whanganui Yamaha ace Seth Reardon.

The just-turned 21-year-old is currently running with the leaders in two very different bike disciplines and, with races still to be run in both the separate competitions, he fancies his chances of tasting even more glory before the year is out. 

Reardon took his 2019-model Yamaha YZ250FX to finish overall runner-up at the second round of four in this year’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Mosgiel on Sunday and that result, added to his fourth placing at the series opener near Norsewood in February, has boosted him into the No.2 spot in the title chase.

And, riding the same bike, the apprentice engineer is a also running fifth overall in the New Zealand Enduro Championships after the first of seven rounds in Whangamata just over a week ago, that series sponsored by Yamaha.

But it is Raglan’s Jason Dickey who leads the cross-country nationals and, with only three of the four rounds to be counted – riders to discard their one worst result – it means there is really only a slim chance that Reardon can snatch then title.

All the same, Reardon reckons he’d be thrilled with an overall runner-up finish in the cross-country nationals – it would be a career-best result for him.

He attributes his recent successes to hard work.

“It’s been looking good for me this season,” said Reardon. “I have been training very hard this year and it’s paying off. I’m in the gym every day and spend lots of time on the bike, riding Wednesdays and at the weekends. I don’t know why I’ve been going so well… I’ve had no problems; the bike is awesome, so reliable; my fitness is the best it’s ever been; I’ve been practicing my starts a lot … it all helps. I got a good start at Mosgiel on Sunday. I was in about third position into turn one, but then eight riders cut me off at the third marker peg, cutting the course, and that dropped me back. It was a bit of karma just after that because a bunch of them got stuck in a mud bog and I just chose a better line and scooted back past them again and was up to third place. I had a great battle with (Raglan’s) Brandon Given throughout the race as we fought over the runner-up spot… Jason Dickey was long gone by then. Dickey is on fire at the moment, but I was happy to finish second. That’s my best result at the nationals.”

The 90-minute junior race at Mosgiel on Sunday was won by Eltham’s defending national junior champion Adam Loveridge, with the round one winner from Raglan, Coby Rooks, this time accepting second place.

Taupo Yamaha rider Wil Yeoman completed the junior podium at Mosgiel.

There will be little rest now for Reardon especially, the double championship campaigner preparing now for round two of the enduro nationals on the Kapiti Coast on Saturday, April 6, and then round three of the cross-country nationals in Marlborough on Sunday, April 14.

Words and Photo by Andy McGechan

Whanganui’s Seth Reardon (Yamaha YZ250FX), on fire in two separate bike codes this season.