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Champion Gets Title Defence Back On Track

Champion Gets Title Defence Back On Track

by Andy McGechan |
March 16, 2014

The Yamaha ace from Mokau battled to an unaccustomed fourth overall at the series opener in Taranaki last month, bravely fighting back through the pack after a shocking start, and knew he’d have to vastly improve if he was to have any hope of clinching his fourth New Zealand Cross-country Championships title this season.

Improvements don’t come much better than an outright win and that’s what the 28-year-old Smith (Yamaha YZ250) came up with at the second of four rounds in the series on steep hill country farmland at Waerenga, near Huntly, on Saturday, crossing the finish line one minute and 35 seconds ahead of Taupo’s Brad Groombridge.

It completely reshuffled the championship points with round one winner Ethan Bruce, the rider from Maruia also riding a Yamaha YZ250, forced to settle for fourth place overall on Saturday.

That means, with equal results, the two Yamaha men are locked together at the top of the standings, with Raglan’s Jason Dickey – who finished runner-up in Taranaki and third at Huntly – snapping at their heels with the series now at the halfway stage.

Groombridge finished only 30th at round one and must now rely on excellent results in the remaining two rounds if he is to threaten for the title.

“It was difficult for me because I had an injured thumb,” said Smith. “I lost feeling in it and couldn’t grip on the bike very well. But it seemed to come right in the second half of the race and I put on a bit of a charge.

“Brad was actually leading as we headed into the last lap but then he had a huge crash in front of me. He must have slid 30 or 40 metres down the track. I called out to him to ask if he was okay and he gave me a thumbs-up. It was certainly a bit of extra entertainment.”

The conditions were atrocious for the riders with Cyclone Lusi sweeping through the region and the race duration was shaved back from three hours to two because of safety fears in the worsening storm.

“It was very windy in place, especially along the ridge lines,” said Smith.

“Riding in cyclone conditions was not easy and I was leaning at 45 degrees in some places just to avoid getting blown off the bike.”

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Auckland KTM rider Jake Wightman won the earlier junior race – its 90-minute duration reduced by 15 minutes as the storm had started to brew – and he was followed closely by round one junior class winner Ben Fryer (Yamaha), of Waipukurau.

Rounds three and four of the national series will be held respectively in Westland (on Sunday, April 13) and Marlborough (Saturday, May 17).


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