The 2015 NZ Cross-country Championships

 

SMITH CAN EXPECT A BACKLASH

CAPTION: Mokau’s Adrian Smith (Yamaha YZ250F), with a narrow lead in the New Zealand Cross-country Championships after round one. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

MARCH 10, 2015: Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley wrapped up the international phase of his cross-country motorcycle racing career and returned home to find that the domestic scene is just as tough as anything he’d encountered during his 12-year stint in Europe and the United States.

The 36-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker, affectionately dubbed “The Axeman” on the motorcycling scene, twice won the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the US – in 2009 and 2012 – before packing everything up just before Christmas and returning to settle back in New Zealand.

He was never planning to retire from the sport, just to ease back into some New Zealand competition, but being beaten to the chequered flag at the opening round of the 2015 New Zealand Cross-country Championships in Central Hawke’s Bay last month came as something of a shock to Whibley.

There was certainly no disgrace in finishing runner-up that day to Mokau’s Adrian Smith, a four-time former and current national cross-country champion, but it is certainly something he’d like to rectify at round two in the South Island this weekend.

Smith knows he can expect a backlash from Whibley when the two friends and rivals line up to compete again, alongside the rest of New Zealand’s cross-country elite, in the three-hour race near Mosgiel, this Sunday (March 15).

Riders will count the points from just three of the series’ four rounds, discarding their worst score, and Whibley clearly hopes his second placing in Central Hawke’s Bay will be his worst.

Meanwhile, while the focus may be on defending champion Smith and returning Kiwi international Whibley, they should take nothing for granted with any number of riders quite capable of stealing their thunder.

Rotorua’s Scott Birch, Hamilton’s Andrew Charleston, Raglan’s Jason Dickey, Maruia’s Ethan Bruce, Eketahuna’s Daniel Christie and Palmerston North’s Charles Alabaster must all fancy their chances of winning on Sunday, and perhaps heaping more misery on Whibley.

The junior riders will have their 90-minute race earlier in the day, with round one winner Reece Lister, from Kotemaori, near Wairoa, perhaps the favourite.

Other junior riders to shine at round one included Waimauku’s Jake Wightman, Hamilton’s Luke Taylor, Taupiri’s Andrew Barr, Nelson’s Jackson Walker, Marton’s Josh Pilet, Wanganui’s Seth Reardon and Otaki’s Jake Wyman and any one of these individuals could easily be celebrating victory on Sunday morning instead of Lister.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com