Tarawera 100 Cross-country marathon

Winning the Honda Tarawera 100 is a huge honour indeed and Bay of Plenty’s Ben Townley is determined to rule again at this iconic annual event near Kawerau this weekend.

Former world and national motocross champion Townley celebrated a winning debut at the Honda Tarawera 100 cross-country marathon in 2013 and he sensationally made it two outright wins in a row last season, but now he wants to celebrate a hat-trick.

The Tauranga 30-year-old may be easing into the twilight years of his racing life after wrapping up his international career in March 2013, but he showed his race craft was still as sharp as ever when he took his Honda CRF450 to again win the great race last July.

Townley heads again to the hilly, farmland venue, on the outskirts of Te Teko, west of Whakatane, for the 38th annual running on Saturday in a confident mood, although the former motocross world champion can take nothing for granted, with his victory last year an extremely tight affair that could so easily have eluded him.

Townley snatched the holeshot as a shotgun blast signalled the 10am start to this event in 2014 and he was never headed in the gruelling 140-kilometre race (the distance that gives the Tarawera 100, a 100-mile marathon, its name).

He finished ahead of fellow motocross exponents Brad Groombridge, of Taupo, and Rhys Carter, of Mount Maunganui, with Auckland’s Sam Greenslade and Waitakere’s Ethan Martens rounding out the top five.

“I kept an eye on where the riders were behind me and just stayed steady and kept them there for the first lap because I didn’t want to push too hard when I was leading on a fresh track. I just had to be patient,” said Townley.

“But then I put the hammer down on laps two and three and then just tried to survive after that.

“To be honest, though, I couldn’t have held Brad at bay for another lap. I didn’t realise he was coming so fast.

“I thought I always had the race under control and just did what I needed to do.

“I’m a lot fitter this year and now have calluses on my palms too, so my hands are a lot tougher.

“Brad (Groombridge) will be tough to beat again and I know he fancies his chances after he gotta sniff of the win last year, but I will probably also have to be concerned about (national cross-country experts) Paul Whibley and Adrian Smith.”

Pahiatua’s Whibley and Mokau’s Smith battled throughout the New Zealand Cross-country Championships that wrapped up in May and finished the series 1-2.

“I know that Whibley and Smith will be fast starters and that’s really one of the keys to winning the Tarawera 100,” said Townley.

“There is still a lot of race to go after the start but a good starts puts a rider in control.”

In addition to winning outright, Townley was also credited with the over-300cc four-stroke class win at the Tarawera 100 last time around, while fellow Honda star Scott Birch (Honda Hamilton CRF250), of Rotorua, won the under-300cc four-stroke class.

Other class winners last year were Auckland’s Chris Power (over-200cc two-stroke class); Auckland’s Liam Draper (under-200cc two-stroke class); Thames’ Natasha Cairns (women’s class); Maruia’s Ethan Bruce (under-19 open class); New Plymouth’s Tony Parker (veterans’ 35-39 years); Whakatane’s Darren Capill (super veterans, 40-49 years) and Auckland’s Stephen Major (mega veterans, over-50 years) and it’s fair to say these individuals should count among the leading contenders again this time around.

Morrinsville brothers Hayden and Nathan Tesselaar shared a bike to win the new two-man, one-bike class last season, while Hamilton pair Aaron Jones and Andrew Charleston combined on separate bikes to win the new two-man, two-bike class.

The race programme allows for these configurations again this year, so perhaps the Tesselaar siblings, Jones and Charleston could also conjure up repeat wins on Saturday.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan – www.BikesportNZ.com