Submitted by Andy McGechan
Thursday, 7th July 2016
Viewed 683 times

CAPTION: Otago's Courtney Duncan (Yamaha), flying the New Zealand flag proudly overseas. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

MAY 21, 2016: The stars came out in Wellington on Saturday night.
Motorcycling New Zealand, the governing body for motorcycling in New Zealand, marked its centenary at a special awards night function at Te Papa, a key part of its annual conference weekend.

As a country, New Zealand motorcyclists have boxed well above their weight on the world stage and literally dozens of Kiwi riders have won at the ultimate level of their chosen codes and command enormous respect internationally.

The function in Wellington on Saturday night unveiled five new inductees into the MNZ Hall of Fame Christchurch's John Britten and Burt Munro (both posthumously), as well as Tokoroa's Sean Clarke, Palmerston North's Tim Gibbes and Lower Hutt's Paul Treacy before the celebrations at Te Papa switched the spotlight to the current crop of motorcycling super heroes.

The 2016 NZ Motorcycle Awards recipients were Otago's Courtney Duncan (best up-and-coming off-road rider); Hamilton's Jacob Stroud (best up-and-coming road rider); Hamilton's Josiah Natzke (male rider of the year); Orewa's Avalon Biddle (female rider of the year) and Christchurch's Wendy Ashmore (service to motorcycling).

A better rider than most Kiwi boys her age, 20-year-old Duncan has long been respected by her rivals in both the senior men's and women's ranks. She became the first female to win the Grand Prix title in the senior MX2 class at the big annual New Zealand Motocross GP at Woodville at the start of the year, before embarking on her debut Women's Motocross World Championships campaign in Europe.

She won three of the first four races in the world series, before falling victim to a freak crash at the German GP, when she collided with a photographer who should not have been standing on the track. Seriously injured, she returned home for surgery and to recover. She hopes to resume her world championship campaign as soon as possible, although her title prospects have now dimmed considerably.

A rookie at senior level, the 17-year-old Stroud impressed in the superlites class in the 2016 superbike nationals, winning the title on debut. He also finished runner-up in the 250cc production class, behind Ashburton's Lewis Dray, and demonstrated that he has the potential to follow in the wheel-tracks of his famous father, Andrew Stroud, a record nine-time New Zealand Superbike Champion.

The 17-year-old Natzke became New Zealand's youngest senior motocross champion when, at age 15, he won the 125cc class at the nationals in 2014. He successfully defended his title in 2015.

He tackled the European 125cc Motocross Championships last season and, remarkably, he finished a close runner-up overall on debut, behind Spain's Jorge Prado.

He finished runner-up in the MX2 class, behind Duncan, at the 2016 New Zealand Motocross GP at Woodville before flying out to Europe again and he is currently midway through his European 250cc Motocross Championships campaign.

Road-racer Biddle set the inaugural FIM European Women's Cup Championships ablaze in 2015.

By the end of the year, the 23-year-old from Orewa had won six of her eight races and so convincingly won the title ahead of Estonia's Anastassia Kovalenko.

That same season she also became the 450cc Superlites class champion in the New Zealand Superbike Championships.

It was an abbreviated domestic campaign for her this season she contested the final round only of the 2016 New Zealand Superbike Championships at Hampton Downs in March, finishing the weekend sixth overall in the 600cc Supersport class and she then flew off again tackle the European Women's Cup.

Based in Germany, Biddle leads the 2016 series after two of eight rounds and her title defence looks well on track.

"In what is now my fifth season racing here in the Northern Hemisphere, I'm constantly blown away by the moral support I have received over these years as I've sacrificed everything to achieve my racing goals, proving what women can achieve in this sport, making our country proud and aiding in creating pathways and connections for more Kiwis to race internationally in the future," said Biddle from her European base.

"I hope this achievement can inspire other females into the sport of motorcycling."

Operating mostly behind the scenes, Ashmore has been tireless with her work around motorcycling activities in her region and, although there can be only one award recipient, she represents an enormous workforce of unpaid volunteers that bless the sport in New Zealand.

"Our annual awards and conference is the industry event of the year and a fantastic opportunity to sing the praises of our many outstanding athletes," said MNZ general manager of operations Vicky Hicks.

"An organisation that has survived 100 years is worthy of celebrating and we wanted also to acknowledge the clubs and volunteers who have been involved over the years."

The awards and centenary weekend was supported by principal sponsor Mike Pero Real Estate, with a number of category sponsors also backing the event.

The categories and sponsors are: Female rider of the year (Bike Rider Magazine, Dirtrider Downunder); Service to motorcycling (Crombie Lockwood); Best up-and-coming off-road rider (Precise Print & Design); Best up-and-coming road rider (Suzuki); Male rider of the year (Mike Pero Real Estate). Supporting sponsors: BikesportNZ.com, Gibson Sheat Lawyers, Spark New Zealand.

Credit: Words by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

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