It has been long overdue, but Reporoa's Hadleigh Knight has grabbed his first major cross-country victory.
Knight, 19, and Husqvarna teammate Liam Draper, 19, of Howick, won their first major cross-country victory in Taupo at the weekend.
Both Knight and Draper have been impressive at various New Zealand events over recent months and it would have surprised nobody when they scored the outright win at the big annual Acerbis Four-Hour dirt bike marathon near Taupo on Saturday.
Motocross exponent Knight joined forces with multi-talented moto trials, enduro and cross-country ace Draper to dominate the race, held in forestry land just north of Taupo.
The gruelling marathon had been won the past two years by Taupo's Brad Groombridge, the 25-year-old riding solo both times and also riding a 450cc four-stroke Suzuki machine.
But Groombridge was comfortably beaten to the finish line this time around by Knight and Draper, who shared the riding duties on their smaller 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.
But it was a trade-off that did not favour Groombridge this time around 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 finishing the race an unaccustomed fifth overall.
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, with Pahiatua's Charles Alabaster (Honda CRF450) and Whakatane's Mitch Rees (Honda CRF450) rounding 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," Knight said. "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, an apprentice plumber, maintained the team's pace and was well positioned when he passed the baton to Knight for the final lap. It was a solid effort from Knight and Draper, who outlasted and out-paced more than 170 entrants.