Taikorea’s Paul Whibley came “close but not quite close enough” to winning the big annual Acerbis Four-hour cross-country race near Taupo at the weekend.
The two-time former outright winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series as well is now settled back in New Zealand and scaling back on his racing activities.
But, after winning the New Zealand cross-country championships in 2015, he showed he was still a potent force to be reckoned with and, even at age 39, he commands huge respect on the national cross-country scene.
Tipped as one of the favourites to win the Acerbis Four-hour on Saturday, Whibley did not disappoint when he grabbed the lead soon after the shotgun blast had signalled the start to the race.
“I ended up having a race-long battle with current national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge (of Taupo) and it ended up with Brad taking the win.
“My build-up to the event had not been ideal but, at the conclusion of the race, I was pretty satisfied with my performance.
“Obviously, as a racer, I’m never happy with second place, but I’ll take it this time. I was on a new Yamaha YZ450FX that I’d only just picked up a week ago, but I’m not using that as an excuse,” he said.
“I grabbed a good start and lead the first lap. Drizzle and long grass made conditions pretty sketchy. Brad (Groombridge) took the lead as we started the second lap and he set a fast pace.
“I felt a little more comfortable as my arm pump faded and the long grass was mostly rolled down, exposing all the pig rooting and undulations that pumped me up so much that first lap.
“I was able to keep Brad within reach and on the third lap, a mistake by him handed the lead back to me. For the next few laps, the cat and mouse game played out, with Brad and myself locked in our own private race for the win.
“The drizzle continued to make conditions slippery and horrible for goggles. I think I was faster than Brad in the tight sections, but he had an edge over me on the fast bits and his familiarity with the track obviously helped.
“At the end of the second-to-last lap, I lost a bit of drive trying to negotiate a lapped rider and Brad jumped on the opportunity and grabbed the lead. A quick splash of gas and we both entered the last lap together with Brad just in front.
“I took my shot at retaking the lead among the tree roots in the pine forest section near the start but it didn’t quite come off. Brad rode a great race to claim the win.
“I felt good at the end of it all, with no blisters or too much muscle fatigue, which is pretty good considering I have not raced much, except on the YZ125 in the United States recently.”
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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