It was trees and rocks, gravel and boulders versus glass, tar seal, aluminium, concrete and steel.
It was motocross versus trials, enduro versus cross-country.
It was international riders versus New Zealand’s elite.
The contrasts could not have been more extreme.
This was the inaugural Red Bull City Scramble in downtown Auckland on Sunday afternoon and it was Whitby’s Rory Mead who celebrated most, “earning his wings” by beating them all.
The dream-child of Kiwi international Chris Birch, the Red Bull-sponsored KTM bike rider bringing his sport – one that is more typically staged in the deep, dark bush of the countryside — to the masses in the nation’s most heavily-populated and most cosmopolitan of cities.
What’s more, Birch emerged as the early favourite, setting the fastest time in qualifying around the man-made off-road circuit, set up in the car park area of Britomart Square, near the bottom of Queen Street.
But it was not to be, with national enduro championship rival Mead (Yamaha) snatching the best possible start in the feature final and riding virtually unopposed to victory.
Birch settled for runner-up spot, with German visitor Andreas Lettinbelcher finishing third.
Birch was philosophical in defeat.
“I achieved what I set out to do, bringing my sport to mainstream New Zealand. I didn’t win but, in a way, I still did. Enduro racing is typically carried out a long way from any population base. Today was very different.
“I was just too tired to make a race of it with Rory in the end. I made a wrong decision soon after the start (of the final) and got caught up in a barrier. I pushed hard to catch up but ran out of energy.”
The prize package for Mead includes an all expenses-paid trip to the annual extreme enduro at Erzberg in Austria.
And Erzberg is where Mead will once again come up against his old friend/foe Birch, an extreme event at which Birch finished eighth last year, one of only 27 men to finish the race that had started with 1500 of the world’s elite dirt bike riders.
“So it looks as if I’m off to Erzberg,” said a stunned Mead afterwards, the enormity of his win slowly sinking in.
“I only rode this event in Auckland for a bit of fun. I didn’t expect this,” he said.
Now the race is on for Mead to get himself organised to race in Austria. He is expecting to fly out of New Zealand on Friday and the race itself is June 11-14.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
Full story and more photos in your next issue of KIWI RIDER magazine.