Monday, April 23

SMITH BATTLES THROUGH THE DUST

Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

Conditions were extremely testing but former champion Adrian Smith played it smart and celebrated victory at the third round of four in this season’s New Zealand Cross-country Championships in Marlborough on Sunday April 22.

Palmerston North’s defending national champion Adam Reeves won the first of four rounds in the Suzuki-sponsored series near Pahiatua in February and Mokau’s Smith won the day at round two near Huntly last month, meaning this year’s championship was rapidly shaping up as a battle between the two Central North Island friends as the series headed south for racing near Blenheim on Sunday.

But dust clouds settling over the dry Marlborough country-side had reduced rider and spectator visibility to a minimum, so bad in fact that Reeves withdrew from the race, explaining he was “making a stand over safety concerns”.

Smith, meanwhile, was naturally very pleased with his weekend.

“That’s two wins in a row for me,” said Smith. “I only finished sixth at the series opener, while I was on the comeback from injury, but I’m in a very strong position now to win the title.”

Only three of the four rounds count towards the championships and, as it stands, Smith will discard his sixth placing.

“I got a top-six at the start today and managed to catch up to the frontrunners and take the lead from Brandon Given (of Ohope) near the end of lap one,” said Smith, a 26-year-old sheep and beef farmer.

“Then I built a lead of about four minutes and just held it at that. It was pretty comfortable in the end.”

Runner-up was Woodville’s Ben Exeter, with Hamilton’s Sam Brown, Whakatane’s John O’Dea and Onewhero’s Jim Orton rounding out the top five.

Whakatane’s O’Dea is perhaps the biggest threat to Smith, although, even if O’Dea wins the fourth and final round near Christchurch on May 12, a top-five result from Smith should be enough for him to clinch the title he last owned in 2006.

O’Dea had finished 2-3 in the two North Island rounds.