Wairoa's Reece Lister was one of six riders to have a stint at the front at the opening round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Norsewood on Sunday, but it was Raglan's Jason Dickey who was in front when it mattered, at the end of the three-hour senior race.

It was possibly the closest and most fiercely-fought cross-country races in years as first Hamilton's Caleb Richardson, making his senior debut, took the lead right after the shotgun blast signalled the start of the senior race. But then Lister suddenly snatched it away from him just 200 metres later.

However, by the end of the first of what would eventually become a race lasting eight 23-kilometre laps, it was Glen Murray's Sam Brown who was in the lead, with Lister bumped back to second and Dickey in third, while Richardson had slipped back to 14th.

Meanwhile, Taupo's defending national cross-country champion Brad Groombridge had to deal with the tragedy of finding himself dead last when he crashed soon after the start, but he was soon on the charge and up to 17th by the end of lap one. After four laps, Groombridge was up to seventh and still charging, while Brown continued to battle with Lister and Dickey.

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By the final lap Dickey had taken over the lead and had established a healthy lead and Lister had been forced to withdraw after a previous ankle injury began to cause fresh problems for him, leaving Brown to continue the fight.

When the chequered flag flew, Dickey had it in the bag, winning by nearly a minute from Brown, with Groombridge claiming the third podium spot, albeit three and a half minutes further back.

Whanganui's Seth Reardon finished fourth overall and Raglan's Brandon Given rounded out the top five.

"I had a terrible start. I was last off the line ... the bike just didn't fire first time," said the 24-year-old Dickey.

"I still managed to catch up and pass half the field in the first paddock, just holding the throttle pinned right around the outside of the bunch.

"Then I went off the track and dropped back a few places again. When the leaders pitted I snatched the lead and managed to hold it from there."

In the 90-minute junior race staged earlier in the day, it was Raglan's Cody Rooks in front at the end, following a tense battle for the lead earlier on between Rooks, Napier's Bryn Codd and Eltham's defending junior champion Adam Loveridge.

Codd, who proved he had recovered from a recent ankle injury, was forced to settle for runner-up spot, with Loveridge third and Taupo's Wil Yeoman and Morrinsville's Liam Calley rounding out the top five.

The 15-year-old Rooks put his win down to "staying consistent".

"I just kept pushing myself. When I caught up to Adam [Loveridge] I really put my head down. I didn't have to pit at all for fuel because I've got a 12-litre tank on this bike. That was the difference for me really."

Motorcycling New Zealand cross country commissioner Chris Smyth had praise for the host Central Hawke's Bay Motorcycle Club.

"They ran an awesome event. The track was very demanding, probably more demanding that the course they laid out there last year, but it was well marked and also good to see a fresh face winning it.

"I felt sorry for Reece Lister, though, who had to pull out because of his painful ankle injury. He was riding so well."

Mosgiel will host round two in the series on March 24, Marlborough will host round three on April 14 and Taupo the final round on May 25.