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CAPTION: Hamilton rider Phil Singleton (Husqvarna FE350), who rose to the challenge in winning the opening round of the new Xtreme Off-road Championship series in the Thames Valley on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan,

AUGUST 29, 2018: It was brutal, it was tough, relentless and unforgiving ... just as the organisers had promised.

Motorcycling New Zealand's latest competition initiative – the inaugural NZ Xtreme Off-road Championship series – kicked off near Whangamata on Saturday and pushed the nation's elite dirt bike riders to the limit.

In the end, it was Hamilton's Phil Singleton who coped best with the extreme terrain at this first of four rounds in the Taungatara Forest, winning the premier Gold Grade by more than two minutes from Aucklander Tausten Gibbs, with another Auckland rider, Mitchell Gallagher, claiming the third podium spot, finishing another 10 minutes further back.

MNZ enduro commissioner Justin Stevenson had said before the weekend's series opener that the racing would be "a little tougher than a normal national enduro, but not impossible" and, for the hardiest souls at least, this was true.

"It was supposed to be a brutal event. We don't want to scare people off, but it was meant to be tough," he said.

"In saying that, though, there is quite a big step up from the Bronze Grade course to what the Gold Grade riders faced and individuals could choose for themselves how much of a challenge they wanted.

"The feedback I've received is that they all enjoyed it. I believe the riders come to events like this with a different mentality anyway. They know what to expect. Even the guys who didn't manage to finish said they enjoyed the day.

"It was an awesome start to the series."

The top three finishers in the Silver Grade were Te Awamutu's Kevin Archer, followed more than 16 minutes later by Auckland's Carl Steadman, with Aucklander David Steen completing the podium.

Best of the Bronze Grade riders was Whitianga's James Kerr, with Hastings' Brett Gunson and Auckland's Ben Hastie not too far behind.

The series continues now with round two at Moonshine Valley, on the, Kapiti Coast, not far from Porirua, on September 23. The remaining rounds are in Hawke's Bay and then at Oxford, near Christchurch.

Only two of the three rounds of the NZ Xtreme Off-road Championship are to be counted, with riders to discard their two worst scores, while double points are offered for the final round in the South Island.

The 2018 NZ Xtreme Off-Road Championship calendar:

Round one: August 25, Taungatara Forest, Whangamata.

Round two: September 23, Moonshine Extreme, Bulls Run Rd, Porirua.

Round three: November 3-4, Over The Top, Hawke's Bay.

Round four: November 16-17, Nut Buster, Oxford, Christchurch.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,

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