New Zealand’s Paul Whibley is on the charge.
The 33-year-old from Pahiatua has won the latest round of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States and is starting to close in on the series leaders.
Yamaha’s Whibley started the weekend third in the championship standings and remains in that position despite winning the seventh round of 13 at Millfield, Ohio, at the weekend.
But, significantly, the Kiwi hero has shaved nine points off the lead and is now just 32 points shy of the top spot, currently held by the defending champion, Australian Josh Strang.
Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) has now recorded more race wins than any other rider, with three victories from seven starts, while the two men ahead of him in the standings, Strang (Suzuki) and American rider Charlie Mullins (KTM), each have just two wins to their credit.
The Ohio race had a dramatic finish, with Whibley launching his bike off a huge double jump to fly past KTM’S Kailub Russell and snatch victory within sight of the finish line.
Whibley had taken the early lead at the start, claiming the $250 holeshot award in the process, and then proceeded to lead for most of the three-hour contest.
However, heading into the final hour, Russell caught right up to Whibley, as the two became locked in a battle that would see them trade the lead several times over the following two laps.
Russell held the advantage heading into the circuit’s motocross section for the final time, the high-speed section which made up last few hundred metres of the course.
However, with two turns to go before the finish, Whibley made his move with the spectacular pass.
“I was putting pressure on him there at the last and we both were riding as hard as we could,” said Whibley.
“He didn’t jump that double at the finish and I did and I was able to get around him just before the chequered flag. It was an all-or-nothing kind of deal.”
Russell came from a long way back to catch Whibley with two laps to go, but he was obviously spent at the end and admitted that he had nothing for Whibley when the Yamaha rider challenged him on the final jump. “There was no way I could hold on there at the end and I knew there was no way I could make that jump,” said Russell.
Third overall was Strang, with Mullins fourth and KTM’s Cory Buttrick rounding out the top five.
Another Kiwi in the race, Taupo’s Rory Mead (Honda), finished the race in 10th spot overall but eighth in the XC1 class.
Despite contesting just three of the seven rounds thus far in his rookie GNCC season, Mead finds himself 17th overall in the XC1 championship standings.
The competition now takes a mid-summer break, resuming with round eight at Unadilla, near New York, on September 11.
1. Paul Whibley (Yam)
2. Kailub Russell (KTM)
3. Josh Strang (Suz)
4. Charlie Mullins (KTM)
5. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
6. Thad DuVall (Yam)
7. Nate Kanney (KTM)
8. Rory Mead (Hon)
9. Russell Bobbitt (KTM)
10. Nick Fahringer (Hsb)
1. Josh Strang (174/2 wins)
2. Charlie Mullins (160/2 wins)
3. Paul Whibley (149/3 wins)
4. Nate Kanney (111)
5. Cory Buttrick (110)
6. Kailub Russell (109)
7. Chris Bach (80)
8. Mike Lafferty (64)
9. Jimmy Jarrett (60)
10. Thad DuVall (58)
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com