April 24, 2023:Even if you think you’ve had a tough day at the office and you’re totally spent as you head home after work, you really still have no idea just how gruelling an eight-hour shift can actually be.
Sunday’s inaugural Forestland Eight-Hour Cross-country race, held on steep and waterlogged farmland at Oparau, near Kawhia, was perhaps the ultimate test of man and machine, with more than 260 of New Zealand’s elite off-road motorcycle riders battling one another, brutal terrain and the clock in a bid to become the first champion in this new marathon contest.
Bridgestone Kawasaki Racing Team rider Cody Cooper (Kawasaki KX450X), who co-rode with Whyteline Kawasaki ace Brad Groombridge to win the inaugural Forestland Cross-country race near Kawhia on Sunday. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
To cut a long story short, it was the two-man pairing of Taupo’s Brad Groombridge and Papamoa’s Cody Cooper who reigned supreme at this Maxima Racing Oils-sponsored event, the two Kawasaki riders alternating to complete 15 arduous laps between them in the eight hours – one of only two teams to do so.
The race duration for Groombridge and Cooper was actually eight hours, 24 minutes and 12 seconds by the time the chequered flag was finally shown.
Runners-up and the only other pairing to complete 15 laps were Operau brothers James and Cooper Scott, who crossed the finish line just over eight minutes behind the victorious Groombridge/Cooper combo.
Wairoa’s Tommy Watts and Taupo’s Wil Yeoman teamed up to finish third overall, a lap behind the leading two teams, while New Plymouth’s Sam Parker and Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury co-rode their way to fourth overall and Kawakawa Bay’s Ryan Hayward and Oparau’s Hunter Scott shared riding duties to claim fifth spot overall.
Despite the impressive winning margin, the 32-year-old Groombridge and 39-year-old Cooper didn’t have an easy time of it.
“I had the job of riding first for us,” said Groombridge. “And I managed to get a fairly good start. I was in about 15th at the beginning of the opening lap, but got my way up to third by the end of that lap. Each lap took us about 34 minutes to complete,” he said.
“We remained in fourth throughout most of the first half of the race. It was very tough because there were lots of ruts and it was very bumpy. Visibility was also an issue because it was drizzling in places and my goggles were a mess.
“Our plan had been to race two laps each time we changed over riders but, because of the tough conditions, we decided to go one-for-one for the first six laps or so, before we then changed to each of us doing two-lap stints.
“I suffered two big crashes on our fifth lap … my third lap … and that cost us a lot of time,” Groombridge explained. “I was somersaulted off the bike in one of those crashes but, thankfully, I wasn’t really hurt.”
However, team-mate Cooper was hurt during his first time out in the track, the team’s second lap.
“I pulled my groin and was in a bit of pain after that,” Cooper revealed.
“The elements were difficult to deal with, but it all worked out for us in the end. I took some painkillers and rode a little tentatively, but I managed to get into a rhythm and got the job done.”
“It was a long day, and I was feeling pretty sore afterwards.”
Groombridge snatched the lead for the Kawasaki duo on the eighth lap – about halfway through the race – and they steadily built on that to create what became a winning buffer.
As Groombridge remarked after Sunday’s marathon race “you really couldn’t find a better duo than Cody and me” to tackle this event.
Groombridge is a three-time former national cross-country champion (winner in 2016, 2017 and 2018) and he also twice won the national enduro crown (in 2016 and 2018) and has multiple Acerbis Four-Hour crowns to his credit, most of them achieved while riding solo.
Cooper is a multi-time national 125cc, MX2 (250cc) and MX1 (450cc) motocross champion, having just last month taken a Kawasaki KX250 to clinch the national MX2 title for 2023. Cooper is also a record five-time former winner of the fabled Tarawera 100 cross-country marathon near Kawerau.
Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com