It’s not over until the fat lady sings, or so the saying goes, and, although she’s sung one tune already, there are still several more waiting to be heard and the man they call “Sideshow Bob” is hoping he has the final say.
Outright honours in this season’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships have already been settled – Taupo’s Brad Groombridge wrapping up the main prize last month, the 25-year-old locksmith taking the title with a round to spare – but there is still plenty of drama to come in the fourth and final act of this “motorcycling opera” near Nelson on Saturday (May 14).
Points are to be counted from only three of the four rounds in this championship, with riders to discard their one worst result, but Suzuki rider Groombridge has won all three rounds thus far and he is therefore unbeatable in terms of outright glory.
But the fight for the runner-up spot is still very much alive, along with the battle-within-the-battle for individual class honours.
And that’s where record four-time former national cross-country champion Adrian Smith is extremely keen to shine.
The Mokau sheep and beef farmer lost his No.1 position to fellow Yamaha ace Paul Whibley, of Taikoroa, last season.
And so Smith – the man the fans call “Sideshow Bob”, because of his similarity to The Simpsons cartoon character – now has to settle for being off the top step of the podium for a second consecutive season and that’s hard for the 30-year-old to accept.
“I like to win. Anything less is not acceptable. But this year I have had to battle on with injuries and it’s been tough,” said Smith, who won the title outright in 2006, 2012, 2013 and 2014, before giving it up to Whibley in 2015.
“I injured myself, cutting my hand while working on the farm, just before the opening round this season and then I hurt myself again when I crashed over the handlebars while in the lead at round two of the series. It was totally my own fault and I have nobody to blame but myself.
“I had hurt my wrist in that crash and that meant it was hard for me to hang onto the bike. I kept losing my grip on the handlebars on the steep downhills at round three,” he explained.
“But I’m close to 100 percent fit now and feeling really good again.
“The track at Nelson is my favourite venue. It’s not on the same farm as last year, but it’s the same sort of terrain, so I think I’ll do well.”
Smith is third in the series standings and locked in a tight battle for the runner-up spot and also for the under-300cc four-stroke class honours with the same two man, Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna).
Draper is currently second in the overall championship standings, but unless he beats Smith at Nelson, his 5-2-2 score-card from the earlier three rounds may not be enough to prevail over Smith’s 2-4-5 tally, especially when considering the count-back rule, where the rider with the higher placing at the final round will get the nod.
It’s extremely tight for class honours too, although Smith admits the pressure is mostly on him.
“I need to win on Saturday to give myself the best chance of championship success. I have been doing a lot of training and feel very strong, but I really need to beat Liam (Draper) at Nelson.”
Fourth overall is Pahiatua’s Charles Alabaster (Honda), and it is also mathematically possible for him to nip in and take the No.2 spot.
Groombridge rides a 450cc bike and is therefore not a factor in the battle between Draper and Smith for the under-300cc class crown.
“I can’t win overall, but I want to finish second outright and take the class win. That’s important to me,” said Smith. “It’s a winner-takes-all final round as far as I’m concerned.”
The action will be tight also in the junior grade, with another winner-takes-all scenario between series leader Logan Shaw (Honda), from Raglan, and Nelson’s Jackson Walker (Yamaha), while Tapawera’s Keegan Anglesey and Eketahuna’s Chris Dickson (Yamaha) might also fancy their chances.
The 90-minute race for the juniors will start with a shotgun blast at about 9am, with the three-hour senior race set to follow at about midday.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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