Throttles will be pinned to the stops at the third round of four in the 2018 New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Taupo this weekend.
With just 12 points to separate the top three senior riders and just seven points to separate the lead trio in the junior ranks after round two near Ormondville last month, it means there’s no margin for error and the slightest mistake could prove costly for those seeking a podium finish to the championship.
Defending champion in the senior grade, Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450), simply picked up where he left off last season when he won the opening two rounds of the 2018 series and he will again be hard to beat this Sunday, particularly with him racing so close to home.
But Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright (Husqvarna FX350) and Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XC-F) are both within catching distance, these two men locked together at second equal in the standings at this halfway stage to the competition.
Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig (KTM 300XC) and Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna FX350) are fourth equal and also in a mood to move up.
However, if the relentless progress of Groombridge can’t be stalled this weekend, then it’s likely he’ll wrap up the 2018 with a round to spare on Sunday, earning him a third consecutive national cross-country crown.
In the junior grade, Eltham’s Adam Loveridge (Husqvarna TE150) has taken charge so far, finishing runner-up at the series opener near Huntly and then backing that up with a solid win at round two near Ormondville.
Raglan’s Coby Rooks (Honda CRF250) and Napier’s Bryn Codd (Yamaha YZ125) are within striking distance of Loveridge, second equal and just seven points behind.
Meanwhile, Cambridge’s Michael Henry (KTM 250 XC-F), Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson (KTM 250 SX-F), Dannevirke’s Ben Paterson (Yamaha YZ125) and Eltham’s Josh Loveridge (Husqvarna FE250) must also fancy their chances, these four riders in a tight battle for fourth overall and separated by just two points.
Racing on Sunday is on farmland at 6204 Western Bay Road, Waihaha, west of Lake Taupo.
The fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships is set for farmland 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 a coveted podium result could last right until the final lap at Mosgiel.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan