Racing became a lottery in axle-deep mud at the fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships in northern Taranaki on Saturday.
Bell Block's Robert Newton was the surprise winner on the day at Urenui, while the fastest man at the Suzuki-sponsored event, Mokau's Adrian Smith, was left to rue what might have been after he failed to finish, despite having built a massive lead just before the halfway mark of the three-hour marathon.
After two of the 30km laps, Smith had stretched his lead out to 15 minutes and looked on target to clinch the series outright, as well as win his under-300cc four-stroke class.
But his bike seized in the mud, midway through lap three on the steep Urenui farmland, and his day was done, handing the overall victory to defending champion Adam Reeves, of Palmerston North. When Smith was joined on the side of a steep hillside by dozens of other riders, none of them able to reach the summit in the treacherously slippery conditions, the organisers opted to divert the stranded riders around the obstacle, effectively ending the race as a valid competition.
The race was declared settled at the two-hour mark, despite the fact that many riders were still on the course well beyond the prescribed full three-hour duration. Some riders completed their final lap only as darkness was setting in.
With the results rolled back to the two-hour standings, Newton found himself the surprise winner, even more of a shock since he was not in the championship proper, but contesting only the lesser two-hour non-championship segment of the event.
"I had obviously hoped to do well," said the 26-year-old Newton. "But this was a bit of a surprise. Perhaps I'll do the whole series next year, and also enter the championship class."
The outright series win went to Reeves, despite the fact he was only in 28th position at the two-hour mark. Because only three of the four rounds count towards the championship, with riders to discard their one worst result from the series, Reeves ditched his result from Saturday and his 3-1-2 scoreline from the previous rounds gave him the overall victory. This made it the third consecutive year that the 28-year-old Massey University business studies student had won the national title.
Smith still managed to win his under-300cc four-stroke class, albeit by just one point, from Te Awamutu's Mark Penny. Other senior class winners were Ohope's Brandon Given (over-200cc two-stroke); Taupiri's Mark Fuller (under-200cc two-stroke); Reeves (over-300cc four-stroke), Toko's Karl Roberts (veterans' 35-44 years) and Taupo's Mark De Lautour (veterans' over-45 years).
Huntly's Ryan Hoskins won Saturday's 90-minute junior race, although Raglan's Jason Dickey had already wrapped up the junior title by winning all three of the series' previous rounds. The 16-year-old Dickey finished 18th overall on Saturday when his drive chain snapped on lap two, while he was leading the race. Dickey won the over-200cc four-stroke class, while other junior class winners were Hamilton's Andrew Charleston (under-200cc four-stroke); Raglan's Matthew Quirke (over-100cc two-stroke); Pahiatua's Campbell Murdoch (under-100cc two-stroke) and Auckland's Phoebe Hill (junior women).