It has been so near yet so agonisingly far for the outstanding Otago motocross rider Courtney Duncan, in her the quest to become world champion.

A form slip in Holland followed by some bad luck involving other crashed riders during the final round in France last month saw the 21-year-old finish third overall.

Duncan - who also struck bad luck in 2016 when she collided with a stray photographer - admitted to being "devastated" as she finished two points adrift of winner Kiara Fontanesi from Italy in the six-round championship.

The young Josh Coppins Racing Yamaha rider is based at Lommel in Belgium, the centre of European motocross.


That's where we caught up with Duncan, as she recovers from major knee surgery. She chats about her dreams, where it all began, and what happens when she races against blokes back home.

Are you over the disappointing end to the season?
It was devastating - you set high goals, work so hard to become the champion, and to come so close...if I was younger it would have hurt more. I've been through enough already to not let it bring me down. I've come so close to things in the past and not quite reached them, been down with injuries, had months off the bike. It can be disheartening but you learn how to overcome it. I'm going to bring the title home one day.

Tell us about the knee injury...
It happened in an earlier round at a corner when I put my leg down and it hyper-extended. I ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament...the recovery time is four to five months. I'm still laid up on the couch. I'll be home for Christmas - there will be a lot of rehab with my physio at home, cycling, swimming, gym work. I'll be pumping that hard, building up fitness and strength.

Are injuries part of the deal?
I've had a few head knocks, a few big injuries...two previous knee operations. A head knock was the biggest one when I was 17, racing in America. It was a big race I really wanted to win in Tennessee. It knocked me out of contention and I was really down. I wouldn't say I lost the plot or it made me scared, but it does affect you mentally.

Where did motocross start for you? Tell us about your upbringing.
I come from Palmerston, just north of Dunedin. My parents had a little lifestyle block. It was a rural life, everyone had bikes, lived on farms. My step dad bought me a bike when I was seven, and at the time all my friends were riding. That's what we did on weekends and after school. I had a track at home - my step dad built the jumps and my friends would come over. Even as a kid I loved the challenge. I'd ask him to make the jumps a bit bigger or a section of the track more technical.

Did you have any childhood heroes?
(American) Ricky Carmichael. I watched a lot of videos of American and European racing. He was obviously the man at the time, so it was hard to look past him. I thought his attitude was pretty cool - to be the king like that yet keep a level head and be so humble. I also looked up to (Kiwi) Josh Coppins who was racing in Europe and has become my coach. I'd run up with the other kids and get his autograph at races. It's hugely important to me the way we gel - we get along really well. Looking up to him as a kid has helped with that.

Your career highlight?
My first ever New Zealand junior title was a big thing for me, a dream and goal of mine. It was pretty cool at the time, knowing no other girl had done it. There were no other girls in the field. Winning the MX2 in Palmerston North against the men when no one expected it was also a highlight.

How do the men react when you win?
I don't think they like it so much, especially these days when I'm up against men, not boys. At the same time, they are kind of used to me now. But would you like a girl to beat you? No one has ever said anything but if I was a boy and a girl beat me, I can't say I'd like it so much.

Courtney Duncan -
Courtney Duncan - "If I was a boy and a girl beat me, I can't say I'd like it so much." Photo / Andy McGechan.

Do you make friends with opponents in Europe?

You make friends with people at the track who you aren't racing against but not the competitors. You are there to do a job, beat them. So I don't socialise with them. The sport used to be like that (more sociable) but nowadays it is pretty competitive.

Have you got any advice for aspiring motor racers?
Enjoy what you are doing, set no limits. That's important. Don't ever doubt yourself. If you want to achieve something, work hard and it will be possible. I was always going to be a motocross racer - I never had another option in life. That kind of helped me succeed.

What are your main goals?
To be the world champion. That is my only big goal, which I've had from day one. I have no doubt it could happen next year. It is not going to be easy but I am capable of doing it.