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Husqvarna pair claim victory in gruelling marathon
Husqvarna riders Hadleigh Knight and Liam Draper have broken through to claim their first major cross-country victory.
Reporoa's Knight and Howick's Draper had been impressive at various New Zealand events and the two riders scored the outright win at the big annual Acerbis Four-Hour dirt-bike marathon near Taupo recently, snapping the win streak of race favourite Brad Groombridge in the process.
Motocross exponent Knight joined forces with multi-talented moto trials, enduro and cross-country ace Draper to dominate the race in forestry land north of Taupo. The gruelling marathon had been won the past two years by Taupo's Groombridge, the 25-year-old riding solo both times and also riding a 450cc four-stroke Suzuki machine. But Groombridge was comfortably beaten this time by Knight and Draper, who shared the riding duties on their smaller two-stroke Husqvarna TC250 and TC125 bikes respectively.
By tag-teaming one another for the four-hour duration, Knight and Draper were able to hit the track each time in a relatively fresh state, although they were also handicapped by being required to visit the pits twice as often as race favourite Groombridge.
Palmerston North's James Galpin (bike No.9) gets the holeshot at the start of the big annual Acerbis Four-Hour dirt bike cross-country marathon, but eventual co-winner, Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight (bike No.91) is already closing in. Photo / Andy McGechan
But it was a trade-off that did not favour Groombridge and, as the track became rougher and the day heated up, he faded from being second on the track at the halfway stage, and about three minutes behind the Knight/Draper duo, to eventually finish the race an unaccustomed fifth overall.
It was perhaps some consolation for Groombridge that he was the winner of the ironman class.
Knight and Draper finished the seven-lap race more than six minutes ahead of the eventual runner-up duo of Rotorua's Scotty Birch (Honda CRF450) and Tauranga's Peter Broxholme (Honda CRF250).
Meanwhile, Palmerston North's Adam Reeves (Yamaha YZ250) and Mokau's Adrian Smith (Yamaha YZ250FX) teamed up to finish third overall. Pahiatua's Charles Alabaster (Honda CRF450) and Whakatane's Mitch Rees (Honda CRF450) rounded out the top four.
Only these first four teams completed seven of the 28km laps in the four hours.
"We were in about fourth place when I ducked into the bush for the first time after the start," said 19-year-old Knight afterwards.
"But I was in the lead and with a two-minute buffer at the end of lap one, with Simon Lansdaal [the Morrinsville man riding solo on a Husqvarna TC250] behind me. Liam [Draper] took over from me and managed to extend our lead over the next lap.
"Brad [Groombridge] charged up to second place, but he slowed on lap five and we were able to push out our lead to six minutes."
Draper, a 19-year-old apprentice plumber, had maintained the team's pace when he passed the baton to Knight for the final lap.
It was a solid effort from Knight and Draper, fending off 300cc and 450cc riders as they outpaced more than 170 solo or two-rider team entrants.