NZ cross-country elite ready to fire
New Zealand's elite cross-country racers will be back in business this weekend and, after a 2020 season ruined by a pesky virus, the 2021 series is sure to be a ripper.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced organisers to write off the 2020 Yamaha-sponsored New Zealand Cross-country Championships, just a week after the competition had kicked off in the Rangitikei region last February and, with the country now under only Level One restrictions, riders will be eager to make a welcome return to the exact same venue for the start of the 2021 series this Sunday.
The four-round series kicks off on farmland near Marton on Sunday, with a line-up that's likely to be packed with talent, including several riders who are expected to travel up from the South Island.
There will be a couple of big names absent too, but this sport is rich with talent and so the racing should be no less exciting without them.
Reigning senior champion is 26-year-old Raglan farmer Jason Dickey, the outright winner when the series was last held in 2019, but he is currently sidelined with an ankle injury and unable to defend his crown.
Likewise for Taupo's three-time former champion Brad Groombridge, sideline with a knee injury after he crashed during the motocross nationals event near Rotorua on Sunday.
However, Whanganui's Seth Reardon (pictured above, photo Andy McGechan), the championship runner-up in 2019, is expected to line up on Sunday, alongside Palmerston North's 2015 national champion Paul Whibley, Wairoa's Tommy Watts, Pahiatua's Charles Alabaster, Raglan's Brandon Given, Hamilton's Phil Goodwright, Hamilton's Andrew Charleston, Te Kauwhata's Jacob Brown and Rotorua's Callum Dudson, to name a few.
Napier's Reece Lister makes his return to the sport and he'll be one to watch for after his scintillating performances in the parallel-but-separate motocross championships.
Drury's Richard Sutton, Glen Murray rider Sam 'Charlie' Brown Pukekawa's Jim Orton, Toko's Karl Roberts and Taupo's Hadleigh Knight could also be battling near the front.
Sunday's racing is set for Smith's Holly Farm, 235A Galpins Road, RD2, Marton with all riders knowing a good result is essential if their respective bids for glory are to bear any fruit.
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 course at Marton will offer a bit of everything ... a ravine, open farmland, tight native bush, gorse and pine trees," said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth.
"We have a non-championship class this year too – the Under-19 development class. This is where the riders of the future may come from," he said.
The 90-minute junior race kicks off at about 9am on Sunday, with the three-hour senior race to follow at about 11.30am.
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, Flemington
Round Three – Saturday, April 17 – Gore & Districts MCC, Gore
Round Four – Saturday, April 18 – Mosgiel District MCC, Mosgiel