NZ Cross-Country Champs tight at halfway stage
To say it's tight at the top of the 2021 New Zealand Cross-country Championship standings would be an understatement of massive proportions.
The four-round 2021 Yamaha-sponsored New Zealand Cross-country Championships kicked off near Marton just over two weeks ago and on that occasion it was Napier-based former Wairoa rider Tommy Watts who stole the spotlight, with Palmerston North's Paul Whibley (pictured above) in his shadow, finishing runner-up in the three-hour senior race that day.
But wind forward to round two near Dannevirke on Sunday and the roles were reversed, Whibley on the top step of the podium and Watts standing in his shade in the No.2 position.
That means that, with the series now at the halfway stage, Whibley and Watts have an equal share of the points lead and it's now all to play for as the riders now head across Cook Strait for back-to-back rounds in the South Island next month.
It could so easily have been a different story, though, with the man who finished third in Marton – Napier-based former Wairoa man Reece Lister – the early leader at Dannevirke on Sunday and looking comfortable as he charged off into the distance and built a healthy advantage.
But, though he looked capable, the win wasn't going his way as his bike tyre's mousse inner disintegrated and forced him to withdraw from the race.
Raglan's Brandon Givens was then in front, although he had Watts for close company.
Meanwhile, Whibley had crafted a decent start to the race and was slowly chipping away and moving in on the lead position, which he eventually took with about three laps left to run.
Whibley eventually won by just over three minutes from Watts, with Given holding on to claim third spot, finishing about 90 seconds further back.
"I had a slicker fuel stop and that's what helped me into the lead," said Whibley. "After I was in front, I pushed hard to try to open up a gap on the others. Tommy (Watts) was chasing hard, but it was comfortable for me in the end."
The 90-minute junior race held earlier in the day was again won by Wil Yeoman, the Taupo teenager finishing ahead of Eketahuna's Luke Brown, with Cambridge's Bailey Morgan taking the final podium spot.
With two wins from two starts now, Yeoman has a comfortable lead in the junior grade, ahead of two-time runner-up man Brown, with Morgan moving up to third overall for the championship.
Best of the junior 85cc bike riders at Dannevirke was Masterton's Max Williams, a repeat of the result he achieved at Marton.
"The track was perfect, dust-free after there'd been rain on the property earlier in the week," said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth.
"It was a pretty demanding course though. I guess, for Reece Lister, it's a case of 'to finish first; first you must finish', but I'm sure he'll be a feature again at the rounds coming up.
"It's pretty exciting to have two riders sharing the lead at the halfway stage in the senior grade. It's really anybody's title to win in the top three or four positions."
Points from only the best three results from the four rounds will be counted towards the championship titles, with riders to discard their worst result. This also allows competitors the option of having to make only one trip across Cook Strait.
The New Zealand Cross-country Championships series is supported by Yamaha NZ, O'Neal apparel, The Dirt Guide, Oakley goggles, Bel Ray oils and Michelin tyres.
2021 NZ Cross-Country Champs
Round One – Sunday, February 28 – Bush Riders MCC, Marton
Round Two – Sunday, March 14 – Central Hawke's Bay MCC, Dannevirke
Round Three – Saturday, April 17 – Gore & Districts MCC, Gore
Round Four – Saturday, April 18 – Mosgiel District MCC, Mosgiel