If it’s true there is no rest for the wicked, then Howick’s Liam Draper is a very bad boy indeed.
The 2016 New Zealand Cross-country Championships wrapped up with the fourth and final round near Nelson on Saturday and, once again, Draper and his trusty Husqvarna FC250 were at the forefront.
A leading exponent on the national moto trials scene and also a pretty handy rider in the national enduro championships this season, Draper has been making waves in his debut season on the cross-country scene as well this year.
The 19-year-old apprentice plumber knew that overall honours in the national cross-country championships were already out of reach when he arrived at the venue near Nelson on Saturday – Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450) had been unbeaten at the earlier three rounds and he took the title with a round to spare – but the fight was still on for the minor placings and for individual bike class honours too.
Draper had been locked in a huge four-way battle for the No.2 spot overall with four-time former national cross-country champion Adrian Smith (Yamaha YZ250FX), from Mokau, Pahiatua’s Charles Alabaster (Honda CRF450) and Titirangi’s Callan May (Yamaha YZ250FX) , and it all came to a head on Saturday.
The mission began well for Draper on Saturday as he engineered a good start and was challenging for the lead right from the beginning, Draper eventually breaking through to take the lead from faster-starting May on the second lap.
Draper edged away from May, creating a 35-second buffer before he settled into a fast but steady pace.
But that’s when Groombridge started to make his presence felt, taking his 450cc bike to power through the pack and eat into Draper’s advantage.
Just as had been the case at the previous round in Taranaki last month, these two men were neck-and-neck as they began the final lap of the race.
Unfortunately for Draper, a small collision with a lapped rider midway through that final lap cost him dearly and Groombridge roared away and took the win.
By finishing the day runner-up, Draper clinch the No.2 position overall for the series and also claimed the under-300cc four-stroke class honours.
May finished third on Saturday and took the No.3 spot overall as well as clinching the over-200cc two-stroke class title. Groombridge had already snatched the over-300cc four-stroke class title.
Best of the women was Te Awamutu’s Jan-Maree Pool (KTM), who produced another strong ride to wrap up the women’s title overall.
While Groombridge dominated with his unbeaten run, Draper posted a 5-2-2-2 score-card for the series, a remarkable feat for a cross-country championships first-timer.
“The track was very rocky and I knew I had to get to the front as quickly as possible. When I was following other riders on lap one, a rock flew up and smashed my goggles. That made things difficult.
“But it has been a good year for me,” he said.
“I am also currently third overall and second in class in the (parallel) New Zealand Enduro Championships with two rounds left to run. There are only three points between the three of us and I’m looking forward to challenging for the overall title win at Waimiha (on June 4) and Tokoroa (on June 5).”
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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