Battle for Dirt Guide Cross-country honours
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A serious competition for New Zealand's elite dirt bike racers, a challenging afternoon's ride in the bush or just a leisurely cruise along leafy forest pathways -- the Dirt Guide Cross-country Series is whatever you want it to be.
The 2017 edition of this three-round series kicks off at Ohakuri (about halfway between Tokoroa and Taupo) on Sunday and it is sure to attract riders from both ends of the aptitude and competitiveness spectrum.
Ohakuri doubles as the opening round of the parallel-but-separate NZXC cross-country series, that competition piggy-backing onto select major events throughout the North Island.
The popularity of The Dirt Guide Series continues to grow rapidly and - with separate trails and several different grades incorporated into the day's racing -- it caters for all levels of confidence and ability.
Sunday's event is an ideal opportunity for novice riders to learn from masters such as last year's Dirt Guide Series winner Sam Greenslade, of Coatesville, Kiwi international Callan May, of Titirangi, or Manawatu's former United States and New Zealand cross-country champion Paul Whibley.
Last year was the second time Greenslade won the Dirt Guide Series, having clinched the expert grade title also in 2014.
Howick's Liam Draper had been Greenslade's toughest opponent in the series last season, but injury will force him into the role of spectator on Sunday.
"We want all dirt bike owners to come and have a go at bush riding," said Dirt Guide Series promoter Sean Clarke.
"With riders getting older every year, we are really keen to provide an experience to entice the younger riders to come along and ride. There are classes for riders as young as 7," he said.
"Only a few people ever win races like this, so it's not about the winning, but about participation."
The talent runs deep at the sharp end of the serious part of the competition, with Rotorua's Bradley Lauder (KTM), Wellington's Jake Whitaker (Husqvarna) and Te Awamutu's Kevin Archer (KTM) among those worth watching and learning from over the course of the two-hour senior race.
The fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships will be staged near Cambridge just 24 hours earlier than the Dirt Guide series. Taupo's Brad Groombridge has already secured that title with a round to spare a fortnight earlier, so he will not be under any pressure to win on Saturday and it's likely he will arrive in reasonably fresh condition to race the Dirt Guide Series on Sunday, too.
With Cambridge just a short drive from Ohakuri, it is expected the nationals competitors will make the most of their weekend by racing on Sunday as well.
It is likely that other leading cross-country riders such as Atiamuri's Hadleigh Knight, Taupo's Nathan Tesselaar, Waimauku's Jake Wightman, Helensville's Tom Buxton, Te Kauwhata's Jacob Brown, Raglan's Jason Dickey and Cambridge's Ashton Grey will also be contenders to win the expert grade on Sunday.
In addition to the expert grade, the series caters also for junior riders, intermediates, veterans and women. Thames rider Natasha Cairns will be the firm favourite to win the women's grade, although Te Awamutu's Rachael Archer will also be a stand-out.
The forest venue is signposted from Atiamuri on SH1, midway between Tokoroa and Taupo, with the 90-minute junior race kicking off at 9.30am, while the two-hour senior race will start at about 12.30pm.
Round two of the Dirt Guide Series is set for Tar Hill, about 20km south of Tokoroa, on June 25, with the third and final round back at Ohakuri again, on July 9.