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Massive Battle Between Two Yamaha Stars


MAY 15, 2015: It will be a Yamaha 1-2 finish to this season's New Zealand Cross-country Championships - nothing on earth can alter that now - but which of the two contenders will take the main prize?

That's the important question that will be answered this Sunday afternoon when the fourth and final round of the series is staged at Waitawhiti Station, at the end of a back-country drive from Pahiatua, heading towards the Pacific coastline.

Pahiatua's former Kiwi international Paul Whibley is one of the two favoured riders and four-time former and defending national cross-country champion Adrian Smith, from Mokau, is the other.

Both men are determined to claim the No.1 spot.

The 36-year-old Whibley took his Freedom Moto Yamaha YZ450F to win the third round of four in the series near Nelson last month, making it back-to-back wins for the Yamaha star.

But Smith (Yamaha YZ250FX) won round one and then finished runner-up at the next two rounds, so there is still virtually nothing to separate these two men in the championship chase, especially considering that riders must discard their one worst score.

It has really been a two-horse race between these men this season, as it was on Sunday, with Whibley and Smith a long way in front.

Though they both laugh and joke with each other before racing begins, friendships go out the window when championships are at stake, at least for the three-hour race duration, and a fierce fight between the two is predicted.

The mathematics is chillingly simple - if Smith wins the final round and Whibley finishes runner-up, the two men will be level on points and the count-back rule applies.

That means that, after they each presumably discard a runner-up result, they will both have two wins and one runner-up result to their credit and so the rider who finishes highest at the final round wins the championship.

Smith knows what he must do.

"Paul and I will finish 1-2 in the championship, nothing can change that now. We have also both wrapped up our respective class titles already (Whibley winning the over-300cc four-stroke title and Smith claiming the under-300cc four-stroke title)," said Smith.

"We were on top of one another all day (at round three near Nelson last month) and I think the biggest gap between us might have only been 20 seconds, but he was the better man on the day.

"It is definitely going to be tough to beat Paul at Pahiatua ... that's his home turf too. But I've been in tough spots before and I think I can find a way to get the job done."

As it stands, one of these two men will be crowned champion on Sunday and no other rider is in a position to change that.

Riders to watch out for behind Whibley and Smith include Nelson's Ethan Bruce (KTM), Hamilton's Andrew Charleston (Honda), Rotorua's Scott Birch (Honda) and Raglan's Jason Dickey (Kawasaki).

Both leading riders Whibley and Smith are supported by Yamaha-Motor New Zealand, and Workshop Graphics.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan,