It was a real clash of champions when the 2017 New Zealand cross-country nationals wrapped up near Cambridge on Saturday.
Taupo's Brad Groombridge has already successfully defended his senior title, the 26-year-old wrapping it up at the penultimate round in Marlborough two weeks earlier, but there was still plenty to fight for with Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450) keen to make it a clean sweep of wins similar to the unbeaten run he enjoyed in the same series last season.
In addition, there were also the individual class titles and the overall junior crown still to be decided on Saturday.
With three wins from three starts and only three of the four rounds to be counted, as riders discard their one worst result, it meant Groombridge could not be beaten for the senior crown on Saturday, but, with Tauranga's former world motocross champion Ben Townley turning up on his own Suzuki RM-Z450, it was never going to be easy for him to make it a clean sweep of victories this time around.
Mokau's four-time former national cross-country champion Adrian Smith was also in attendance, bringing his Yamaha YZ250FX to the party, and also staking his claim for final round bragging rights.
And that's how it ended up, Townley breaking free from a fight with Smith to take the chequered flag, winning the three-hour marathon by one minute and 39 seconds, with Groombridge battling back through traffic after a massive crash on the second of eight laps to eventually claim the third podium position for the day.
With Townley a non-starter at any of the earlier rounds, he had no hope of winning the title outright, but, remarkably, his one race win was enough for him to claim 13th overall for the series.
The 32-year-old Townley said he really enjoyed the rare outing.
"I had so much fun today, but I am feeling quite knackered. I suffered a bit of cramp at one stage today, but managed to shake that off."
In finishing runner-up on Saturday, Smith boosted himself from eighth overall in the series at the start of the day to an eventual final ranking of fourth.
Coatesville's Sam Greenslade finished 10th overall on Saturday and this became his one race to discard, his three runner-up finishes at the previous rounds already ensuring he finished the championship runner-up to Groombridge.
Taupo's Nathan Tesselaar compiled at 3-3-4-6 score-card over the four rounds, earning him third overall for the series, four points ahead of Smith.
Groombridge won the over-300cc four-stroke class title; Smith won the over-200cc two-stroke class; Raglan's Brandon Given won the under-200cc two-stroke class; Kotemaori's Reece Lister won the under-300cc four-stroke class; Stratford's Karl Roberts won the veterans' 35-44 years' class; New Plymouth's Dougy Herbert won the veterans' over-45 years' class and Otorohanga's Jan-Maree Pool took the women's class honours.
Meanwhile, there was also plenty of interest in the 90-minute junior cross-country race that was held earlier in the day.
There were perhaps as many as four or five riders in contention for the outright win, but, in the end, it came down to a battle between Te Awamutu's Daniel White and Raglan's Logan Shaw.
Whomever finished best on Saturday out of these two riders would claim the crown and Shaw had been looking the likely winner until, on the final lap, he crashed, sensationally handing the title to White.
Saturday's junior race was won by Oparau's James Scott, who finished ahead of Cambridge's Seton Head and then White, but, like Townley, Scott was a non-starter at the series' earlier rounds and so was never in contention for the title.
As well as winning the junior grade overall, White won the over-200cc four-stroke class; Eltham's Adam Loveridge won the over-100cc two-stroke class and Dannevirke's Ben Paterson won the under-100cc class.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com