Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
It was a case of riding sensibly for Taranaki's Adrian Smith on Saturday as he cruised to victory at the fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-Country Championships at Cheviot, north of Christchurch.
Heading into the weekend, Smith had been the runaway favourite to wrap up the senior class title in the Suzuki-sponsored series, with only three of the four rounds to be counted - riders able to discard their one worst result - and he had already notched up outright wins in two of the three previous rounds, a sixth placing at round one his likely discard.
But the 26-year-old Mokau farmer was taking nothing for granted in the three-hour off-road motorcycle marathon on Saturday, with Whakatane's Lance O'Dea mathematically within strike range should Smith encounter problems on the challenging farmland course.
In the end it was a comfortable win for Smith. He worked his way through traffic at the congested start to take his 250cc four-stroke to the front and never looked back from there.
However, as he crossed the line at the end of lap five, he passed the timing zone with time still left on the clock and was sent out for an additional lap. Smith backed it off to cruise mode and eventually took the chequered flag after three hours and 39 minutes.
Runner-up was Hamilton's Sam Brown, who finished his afternoon at the three-hour two-minute mark, but a lap down on Smith.
O'Dea finished fifth on Saturday, just enough to edge out his elder brother, John O'Dea, for the runner-up spot in the championship, with Brown and Raglan's Jason Dickey rounding out the championship top five.
"The laps were quite long ... but enjoyable," said Smith afterwards. "There had been quite a bit of rain earlier in the week and so there were some bogs and slippery off-cambers to deal with. It was fast in places and tight in others. The circuit featured a bit of everything.
"It was a huge feeling of elation when I crossed the finish line. I'm pretty stoked with the win."
The racing was much tighter at the top of the junior ranks with three riders arriving at Cheviot level on points.
Maruia's Ethan Bruce, Raglan's Mathew Quirke and Pahiatua's Scott Sowry had each scored a first and a second placing at the earlier events and it came down to the wore for them in Saturday's final 90-minute junior race.
In the end it was a fresh winner, Richmond's Dylan Waghorn, who won the junior race on Saturday but a runner-up result for Bruce was easily enough to give him the title. He also won the junior class last season.
Quirke finished third on Saturday and, with that, he claimed the No.2 spot for the season, while Sowry crossed the line in fourth on Saturday and settled for the No.3 spot in the championship standings.