Final showdown to decide Motorcross titles
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A competition that remains undecided until the final throw of the dice, or until the final card has been dealt, is perhaps the best contest of all.
And that's the situation as this season's New Zealand Motocross Championships head to Taupo for the fourth and final round on Saturday.
On many occasions in the past, one rider has so dominated that, by the final round of the series, the only talking point has been about who might finish second or third.
But this year's nationals will go down to the wire in all three bike categories.
The premier MX1 class is on a knife-edge, with defending national champion Cody Cooper, of Mt Maunganui, in second position, but just one point behind visiting Australian Dean Ferris.
Cooper had led the series after the first two rounds, but Ferris came on strong at round three at Himatangi two weeks ago, wiping out Cooper's 13-point advantage and snatching away the top spot.
These riders have expressed a liking for the sand and pumice-based Taupo track, so a fierce final showdown is expected.
Two more top Australians, Todd Waters and Luke Styke, are third and fourth in the standings, with the first of the Kiwi privateers, Mt Maunganui's Rhys Carter, in fifth. Those three riders are capable of winning a race, the overall for the day or even the MX1 title on Saturday.
Australian Dean Ferris (Yamaha), hoping to clinch the New Zealand MX1 crown in Taupo this weekend. Photo by Andy McGechan
Local riders Kayne Lamont and Brad Groombridge, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, will appreciate any home-turf advantage offered and they are separated by just five points.
This battle-within-a-battle between Mangakino's Lamont and Taupo's Groombridge could be worth Saturday's admission price alone.
The 125cc class is tight at the top, too, with Taihape's Hayden Smith and Karaka's Kurtis Lilly sharing race wins throughout the series.
Smith leads Lilly by eight points, with the third-ranked Hayden Wilkinson, perhaps too distant in the points, 51 behind Lilly, to hope for an upset.
The only category that could be viewed as slightly uncertain is the MX2 (250cc) class, where Takapuna-based defending champion Hamish Harwood enjoys a relatively safe 11-point margin over his nearest challenger, Christchurch's Dylan Walsh.
If Walsh wins every MX2 race at Taupo on Saturday and Harwood finishes runner-up each time, as happened at the previous round at Himatangi two weeks ago, Harwood will retain his title by just two points.
And this means, even though Harwood holds the biggest advantage of any of the class leaders, he's still not able to relax.
Plenty of other competitors in this class beside Walsh could spoil Harwood's party, too, with riders such as Waitakere's Ethan Martens, Te Puke's Logan Blackburn and Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight always impressive, although the smart money is probably still on Harwood to bring the title home.
Racing kicks off at Taupo's famous Digger McEwen Motocross Park on Saturday at about 10am.