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Smith On Track To Make It Title No.5

 

FEBRUARY 15, 2015: It is perhaps too early to be making bold predictions, but Mokau's Adrian Smith is certainly on target to make it national cross-country title No.5 this season.

The sheep and beef farmer made it look easy when he won the first of four rounds of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships in Central Hawke's Bay on Saturday, Smith crossing the finish line more than three minutes ahead of fellow Kiwi international Paul Whibley - now permanently back in New Zealand after 12 years' racing overseas - with Rotorua's Scott Birch coming home third overall, two minutes and 21 seconds behind Whibley.

Whibley led for a few kilometres soon after the start, until he opted to "play it safe and back off a bit", the course much more open and faster than he had been accustomed to racing in the United States over the past few seasons.

"Those other guys seemed pretty excited to go faster than me, even with rocks, tree stumps and other obstacles hidden in the dust and long grass. Put it this way, Adrian (Smith) and Scott (Birch) wanted to go a lot faster than I was prepared to go. The pace was completely nuts."

Smith stretched out his lead and, by the end of the first 36-kilometre lap he was a minute ahead of Birch, with Whibley about 15 seconds further back.

However, once into a rhythm, Whibley gobbled into the advantage that Birch had over him and swooped to take second spot midway through the third lap.

But there was no catching Smith, who continued to stretch his legs in front, the 29-year-old well out of sight and range of Whibley by the time the chequered flag came out.

"When Paul gets used to the Kiwi cross-country scene again, he'll be pushing me a lot harder and so I am obviously thrilled to get this one in the bag," said Smith.

Meanwhile, Kotemaori's Reece Lister won the 90-minute junior race staged earlier in the day, leading Waimauku's Jake Wightman and Hamilton's Luke Taylor across the line.

Lister's win was made all the more remarkable because he suffered a flat front tyre three laps from the end of the race.

He was eventually the only rider to complete seven laps after he arrived at the timing zone before the 90 minutes had elapsed and was forced to continue back out on to the track for an extra circulation of the 16-kilometre junior course.

Round two of the series is set for Mosgiel, near Dunedin, on Sunday, March 15, followed by round three near Nelson on Sunday, April 19 and, finally, it all wraps up near Pahiatua on Sunday, May 17.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com