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JUNE 19, 2018: New Zealand boxes above its weight on an international motocross stage and this weekend's annual Battle of the Clubs event at Taupo is one of the reasons why that is so.

The country’s most talented motocross racers will put aside their traditional rivalries and brand allegiances when they compete at the ninth annual Battle of the Clubs (BOTC) motocross in Taupo on Saturday (June 23), on this occasion banding together under provincial or club colours.

It's all for a good cause, this event a fundraiser to help send a three-rider New Zealand team to contest the annual Motocross of Nations (MXoN) – the Olympic Games of motocross – this year to be held in the United States.

The format being used for racing at the BOTC in Taupo is similar to what the Team New Zealand trio can expect when they line up at the MXoN in Buchanan, Michigan, on October 6-7, where they will race against three-rider teams from all around the world.

The New Zealanders have faced exceptionally strong teams, from nearly 40 countries, every time they've raced at the MXoN and yet they have typically also managed to impress.

New Zealand has finished a remarkable third outright at the MXoN on three memorable occasions in the past – in 1998, 2001 and 2006 – incredible achievements for a country with such a relatively small population and for a team that typically has the furthest distance to travel.

Team New Zealand finished a respectable eighth overall when the MXoN was staged in France in 2015, Bay of Plenty riders Ben Townley, Cody Cooper and Kayne Lamont impressive at the event near Rennes.

A different trio – Cooper, Takaka's Hamish Harwood and Tauranga's Josiah Natzke – were chosen to go into battle when the MXoN was held in Italy the following year and again they finished among the top 20 nations, 17th overall.

Last year's effort was not a great one for the Kiwi trio – and again it was Cooper, Harwood and Natzke – the team on that occasion failing to qualify for the main races in the treacherously-muddy conditions in the UK. They were eventually credited with finishing 21st overall, a rare occasion that New Zealand has not ended up in the top half of the field.

France won the 2017 event overall, finishing ahead of The Netherlands and Great Britain, the fourth consecutive time they have won the MXoN.

These motocross "powerhouse" countries, along with Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, are favoured again this year, with the Americans also fancied to excel at home.

For New Zealand to have any chance at all, this year's team, which is yet to be named, first has to get there and it can be very expensive to send a team of three riders, their bikes, mechanics and everything else they need to compete, to the other side of the world.

It was with this in mind that the Taupo Motorcycle Club first came up with the BOTC fundraiser in 2010, a domestic equivalent of the MXoN.

"We want to thank in advance the motorcycling community for their support," said Taupo's Bevan Weal, the man who will again manage the Kiwi team at the MXoN.

"The entry fee from each of the clubs at the BOTC, plus donations from the hundreds of spectators expected to flood the circuit, and the proceeds from raffle ticket sales, will be a welcome boost for the team heading to the US," he said.

"The MXoN team's naming rights sponsors, along with support sponsors, will be announced at the BOTC event this weekend. Team supporters' apparel will also be on display and orders will be taken on Saturday for purchase by the public.

"The MXoN is the pinnacle for any rider chosen to compete. To ride for your country is a huge honour and fundraising from this weekend's event will also help to develop our participation into the future."

Saturday's racing at Taupo's Digger McEwen Motocross Park kicks off at about 10am.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,


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