This season’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships is shaping into a battle between two equally-talented men from Taupo.
In spectacular form recently, it was probably just a matter of time before Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XC-F) celebrated his first national cross-country championship race win and that moment finally arrived on Sunday, the 25-year-old Taupo electrician leading fellow KTM riders Sam Greenslade and Jason Dickey to the podium at the third round of four in the series near Taupo.
That result was enough to boost Tesselaar to the top of the series standings, his 4-3-1 score-card for the series thus far giving him a serious chance of winning the title overall, to be decided at the fourth and final round near Mosgiel on May 12.
However, with only three of four rounds to be counted as riders discard their one worst result, it means defending champion Brad Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450), with his 1-1-9 score-card, is still the favourite to take the crown.
“I was inside the top 10 or so after the start and managed to pull back a few places before we headed out of the start paddock,” Tesselaar explained.
“Then I just played it safe, stayed out of trouble and managed to keep moving up. I was so nervous on that final lap, just trying to do the basics right and not make any mistakes.”
Groombridge had led the championship chase heading into the weekend, but he ran out of fuel while leading Sunday’s three-hour race and so it means the series will go down to the wire at Mosgiel, with Tesselaar, Groombridge, Dickey (0-2-3) and perhaps also Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright (Husqvarna, 2-5-7) all in title contention.
For Sunday’s runner-up, Coatesville man Greenslade (KTM 250 EXC-F), it was his first ride in the series, after only recently arriving back in the country after a year spent in the United Kingdom, and so he is not a realistic contender for the national title this season.
“This was my first ride in about six months,” said the 27-year-old Greenslade. “I felt like I was dying out there.”
The 22-kilometre farmland circuit, just north of Kuratau, proved a testing venue, with the track catching out even the most experienced of riders.
Wairoa’s Reece Lister (KTM 250SX) held the lead as the field came back into view at the end of the opening lap on Sunday, until disaster struck just a few hundred metres from the timing zone, the young man losing control of his bike and hurtling into a farm fence.
It took him ages to extricate his bike from the fence batons and wire and he was almost last when he eventually rejoined the race.
In an inspired ride, Lister powered through almost the entire field, claiming sixth overall at the finish and giving him the over-200cc two-stroke class win. He is now second in the series standings for this class, just three points behind Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig (KTM 300 EXC).
Meanwhile, in the 90-minute junior grade race held earlier in the day, Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson (on his Winger Hamilton-backed KTM 250 SX-F) was the runaway winner, crossing the finish line 20 seconds ahead of Napier’s Bryn Codd (Yamaha YZ125), with Cambridge’s Michael Henry (KTM 250 XC-F) claiming third, just eight seconds further back.
“I got the holeshot but then I crashed in a little creek crossing on lap one and dropped back to about fourth,” said the 16-year-old Richardson, an apprentice builder.
“I got back into the lead with about four laps to go and then just checked out.”
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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