There is perhaps no looking past Yamaha’s Paul Whibley as the man most likely to win this season’s Dirt Guide Cross-country Series title.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t several other riders extremely capable of knocking the Kiwi legend off his perch at the third and final round of the popular dirt bike competition this weekend.
Manawatu man Whibley has won both rounds of the 2017 Dirt Guide Series thus far, although fellow Yamaha riders Ashton Grey and Callan May are not too far behind in the overall points analysis.
A small slip-up by Whibley at the forestry venue of Ohakuri, about halfway between Taupo and Tokoroa, on Sunday afternoon could see either of these young men swoop in and steal away the main trophy.
The two-hour senior grade race on Sunday also doubles as round three of the parallel-but-separate NZXC cross-country series and so that’s two reasons why winning this weekend will be so important to many of the riders.
With points to be applied towards both contests, the outcome of the marathon dirt bike battle on Sunday could be pivotal on several counts.
A flat tyre, a crash or a small miscalculation with re-fuelling are just three ways that Whibley could come unstuck on Sunday, not to mention the fact that Cambridge’s Grey and Titirangi’s May, along with several other top riders such as Helensville’s Tom Buxton (KTM) and Te Awamutu pair Kevin Archer (KTM) and Daniel White (Kawasaki), are all capable of beating Whibley without any such “lottery ticket” being dealt out.
Cambridge teenager Grey is in the best position to challenge Whibley’s dominance, having finished third at round one in May and then fourth at round two last month. These results have Grey second in the series standings, just 12 points behind Whibley, and so anything is still possible.
“I have looked up to Paul (Whibley) for a long time,” said the 17-year-old Grey. “But I’m sure he can be beaten.
“He’s a hero of mine and helped to train me this year. I truthfully don’t think I’d be able to stay with him in a close battle though. I think he’s a lot fitter than me,” said the 17-year-old, who works at Blackwood Yamaha in Cambridge.
Grey was only aged about eight or nine when Whibley was winning major titles internationally, but he has developed over recent years and is now himself a regular front-runner on the national scene.
Meanwhile, the Dirt Guide Series has wide appeal and also caters for the sport’s junior and mini riders.
Many eyes will focus on the exploits of Whibley, Grey, May and company in the senior action on Sunday afternoon, but perhaps just as many will be interested in witnessing the outcome of the 90-minute junior race that is to be staged earlier in the day.
Cambridge’s Beau Taylor leads the junior competition after two rounds thus far, with fellow Cambridge rider Callum Paterson and Tokoroa’s Nick Wightman chasing him hard.
The junior race begins at 9.30am, with the senior race to follow at 12.30pm.
The Dirt Guide Series is sponsored by Michelin, Bel Ray, Renthal, O’Neal, DRC, Zeta, Kiwi Rider magazine, Oakley, TCX boots, Yoshimura, Forest Trail Events and SatCo Logging Equipment.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com