Tough day at the office for reigning champ
It is never easy when you have the No 1 number board, but nobody expected it to be as tough as it was for national MX2 champion Scotty Columb at the weekend's 53rd annual New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville.
The Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team rider had to battle a brutal race track and all of New Zealand's elite MX2 (250cc) riders on Sunday, but that was entirely to be expected and usually he has no trouble dealing with both.
However, what he possibly had not counted on was having to wrestle with Lady Luck as well.
The 30-year-old Queenstown rider was one of the favourites to win the MX2 class at Woodville, his immaculate YZ250 bike crisp and, as always, ready to do his bidding.
But then things went spectacularly wrong in the first MX2 race of the day.
Columb was clipped from behind by another competitor as the riders rushed headlong into the first turn.
The accident sent Columb flying through the air and he cartwheel several metres before coming to rest outside the track.
He re-mounted his bike and started in last position, but bravely fought back through the 40-rider field to eventually finish 16th, although aware his hopes of winning the class this season were perhaps already dashed.
Battered and bruised, Columb finished fourth in the next race before turning on a stunning display of riding to hunt down the race leader, Mangakino's Kayne Lamont, in the day's final MX2 race and pass him for the win.
Columb's 16-4-1 results left him in an unaccustomed fifth overall and that's something he'll be keen not to repeat when his national title defence kicks off near Timaru in just over a week's time.
Altherm JCR Yamaha Racing Team boss Josh Coppins, of Motueka, was philosophical about the day's outcome.
"We'll be back another day," he shrugged.
"It was a tough day for all my riders for a bunch of reasons. Logan Blackburn (from Te Puke) could have won at least two of the 125cc class races if he hadn't struck problems of his own and lack of fitness seemed to be a problem with Billy [MacKenzie]."
This was Scottish rider MacKenzie's first serious outing of the new season and the former Grand Prix star was using the Woodville event merely as a warm-up for the four-round New Zealand Motocross Championships, which kick off at Pleasant Point, near Timaru, on February 8, with rounds to follow in Tokoroa (February 23), Pukekohe (March 9) and, finally, Taupo on March 22.
"It wasn't a great weekend for us but there were some positives," said Coppins.