Yamaha's May Has Taikorea In His Sights

This weekend's fourth round of seven in the popular NZXC cross-country series could be make or break time for a couple of riders with trophy-winning aspirations. Kiwi former international Paul Whibley created the NZXC Series two years ago, "cherry picking" from some of the best races from similar series and then stitching them together to form a separate but parallel competition.

The first three rounds of the Yamaha-backed 2017 series have been run and trophy contenders have begun to emerge, but this Sunday is the halfway point and it is also unique in that it's also the only round that does not share the billing with any other competition. Sunday's Taikorea 500 race is run on Whibley's own property and is the fourth round of the seven in the NZXC Series, but this means it's also an event that many riders will target as the "jewel in the crown". Being able to win at Taikorea takes something special, especially with land-owner and series founder Whibley also lining up to race there.

Whibley claimed when he founded the series that he didn't intend to win his own series, although he has a funny way of showing it – he's won all three rounds of the 2017 thus far (riding a Yamaha YZ125 at round one in May, riding a Yamaha YZ450FX at round two in June and then riding a Yamaha YZ250FX at round three last month). Whibley knows he is in serious danger of winning his own contest and that's not something he had planned to do. "I will not contest all of the seven rounds. This series has been created for others, not for my benefit." He said the NZXC Series is a competition that he created as "something that would assist young riders to properly prepare themselves for similar competitions overseas" and he says, to make it more likely he won't win, he will not be racing all of the remaining rounds.

It really comes as no surprise that Whibley is winning the NZXC – he has impeccable credentials. Whibley was a two-time outright winner of the Grand National Cross-country Championships (GNCC) in the United States (in 2009 and 2012) and a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series as well. He was also New Zealand cross-country champion in 2015 and, while he has nothing left to prove, he still likes to race occasionally and to win. With Whibley indicating that, after this weekend, he'll skip at least one of the remaining rounds, it turns the spotlight on fellow Yamaha men Callan May (from Titirangi) and Ashton Grey (from Cambridge), the riders currently second and third in the standings. May would like nothing better than to dominate at Taikorea on Sunday in the same fashion he did there last season, although he had an injury scare this week. "I hurt my wrist when riding in the Woodhill Forest at the weekend and I'm getting x-rays taken this week, but I'm not too worried," said May. "My wrist is a bit swollen, but otherwise fine. It's going to be hard work riding in the sand (at Taikorea), but I love the track there. "I've had a few good races lately ... I finished fourth overall at the Tarawera 100 (a 100-mile, 160-kilometre endurance race near Whakatane) just over a week ago and I was pretty pleased with that." Round five of the NZXC Series will be held at Matata on October 14, with round six in the Riverhead Forest on November 19, and it finally wraps up at Pahiatua on December 3.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan