It didn't quite go according to plan for defending champion Brad Groombridge, but it was perhaps good enough.
The Suzuki rider from Taupo began his national cross-country title defence at the first of four rounds of this season's New Zealand championship series on steep and rugged farmland at Flemington, near Norsewood, on Sunday with a podium finish, third overall for the day.
He was naturally disappointed that he wasn't on the top step of the rostrum and that has always been his aim, but the points he gained on Sunday may prove to be crucial in the final analysis.
Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450), had a massive problem to overcome on Sunday, the 28-year-old a long way back in the field after he'd crashed early on the opening lap, little more than 400 metres into the first of the eight 23-kilometre laps.
"I was trying to pick my way through traffic when I hit an uphill bump, my legs were thrown off the foot-pegs and I went over the handlebars. I blame myself really. I was in such a hurry to get to the front, to avoid being choked in dust."
He picked himself up and battled through almost the entire field to clinch third overall at the finish of the gruelling three-hour race – crossing the line behind Raglan's Jason Dickey (KTM 350XC-F) and Glen Murray's Sam Brown (KTM 450XC-F) – Groombridge satisfied to at least salvage valuable points and give himself something positive to build on over the months to come.
It was a rare set-back for Groombridge, who has dominated the cross-country nationals for the past three seasons, but he has vowed to be back on top at the next round, near Mosgiel in six weeks' time.
"I was using a bigger 12-litre on the RM-Z450 and really only needed to take one fuel stop in the three hours, but I still came in for a 'splash and dash' top-up before my final lap, just to be safe," Groombridge said.
"I was having problems at that stage too with my rear tyre. All the knobs had been ripped off by the hard-pack terrain. I should have chosen different compound tyres. That was my mistake there.
"I guess I made the best of a bad situation. They say championships are won on your bad days and that was a bad day for me, but I still finished third."
Groombridge's next assignment is round two of the New Zealand Motocross Championships, at Rotorua this coming Sunday, where he will again race a Suzuki RM-Z450 in the MX1 class and also a Suzuki RM-Z250 in the MX2 (250cc) class.
The tough-as-nails rider is currently running fourth overall in both those classes at the motocross nationals.
NZ Cross Country Championships calendar 2019:
Round One: Sunday, February 10 - Central Hawke's Bay MCC
Round Two: Sunday, March 24 - Mosgiel District MCC
Round Three: Sunday, April 14 - Marlborough MCC
Round Four: Saturday May 25 - Taupo MCC
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com