‘Accidental champion’ gives back to the sport
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CROSS-COUNTRY CHAMP STAYS HOME TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND’S NZXC ROUND
Manawatu’s Paul Whibley is on to a winner, tapping into the abundance of great events around the country to “cherry pick” from the best and form his own separate competition.
The former United States and New Zealand cross-country champion from Taikorea, just outside Palmerston North, created the NZXC Cross-country Series last year and, from those humble beginnings, it has developed into a premier contest in its own right.
Now expanded from five to six rounds, the 2016 edition of the Yamaha-supported NZXC Cross-country Series reaches the halfway point this Sunday with an event called the Taikorea 500. It is a stand-alone affair as well as being a part of the NZXC series and will be held on Whibley’s property near Himatangi.
After two rounds of the NZXC series so far, it is Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (KTM) who tops the standings, his 2-3 results at rounds one and two enough to give him an edge over Waimauku’s Jake Wightman (KTM, 7-4), Morrinsville’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM, 5-6), Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha, 4-9) and Rotorua’s Bradley Lauder (KTM, 9-7).
Round one was won by Titirangi’s Callan May (Yamaha), but tyre problems at round two last month prevented him finishing the day. Whibley did not enter round one, but he comfortably won two and so he and May share sixth equal spot on the points table.
Only the best five out of six rounds in the NZXC series are counted, with contestants discarding their worst score, so anything can still happen.
It was, not unexpectedly, a huge talking point last season when Whibley won his own inaugural NZXC competition “by accident”.
“This series was not created for my benefit ... it’s for others,” Whibley said, embarrassed at collecting his own trophy last year.
“I did what I could to make sure I didn’t win last year.
“ I sat out of two of the five rounds and rode a Yamaha YZ125 in one round, too, thinking the smaller bike would handicap me ... but I won the race that day, too,” he shrugged.
“I still wanted to ride a few races, just for the fun factor, but I also didn’t race the final round, thinking that one of the two riders who were closest behind me in the points, Adrian Smith and Adam Reeves, would easily do enough to take out the series overall.”
But Palmerston North’s Reeves (Yamaha), a three-time former national cross-country champion, was a no-show at the final round and Mokau’s four-time former national cross-country champion Smith (Yamaha) failed to finish.
This meant that Whibley had earned more points in three rounds than many of the other riders had in five, and so the trophy went to the man providing it.
“I didn’t want people to think I’d just made up a series for me to win. That was never my intention. It’s for other riders to enjoy and gain recognition from,” said Whibley.
Although Whibley has also this year been racing in the series he created, he still claims his aim is not to win it for himself, although it’s not hard to imagine he will be among the favourites anyway, especially after his convincing win at round two in the Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, recently.
Whibley had initially had a fight on his hands with Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna) at Woodhill, but the 38-year-old Whibley simply wore the younger man down.
“Liam got off to a flyer, but I soon got into the flow of it and caught him. My pit crew told me I was only 10 seconds behind him and so I pushed hard to get him back in sight.
“I followed him for a bit and could see he was making mistakes. Once I passed him, I opened up a bit of a gap. I didn’t realise I was so far in front and it was really an easy win.
“My fitness was better that I thought it would be. I have not been riding a lot lately, but I still felt pretty good at the end.
“It’s good to see a different rider leading the series. It makes it more exciting,” said Whibley, who describes himself as a “part-time motorcycle racer, bike park operator and dad.”