Imagine celebrating your 31st birthday, sitting on your couch at home, and being told "you've just been declared national champion"?
That's what happened to Whanganui's Richie Dibben on Wednesday.
It had been a case of "hurry up and wait" for the nation's elite motorcycle riders, but now the waiting is over for these athletes, their sponsors and fans.
Three of five rounds of the 2020 New Zealand Superbike Championships had been run before the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic forced the final two rounds of the series to be postponed.
A nationwide lock-down was then imposed on the population and, while the competitors continued their training regimes as best they could behind closed doors, most of them anticipating a resumption of the series later in the year.
But an announcement went out via email and social media this week to report that the series had "been called".
So now, even with just over half of the scheduled the races completed, the New Zealand Superbike Championships have been declared and winners named for each of the championship categories.
It was especially pleasing news for Suzuki ace Dibben, the bike shop owner a comfortable leader anyway in his Supersport 600 class title chase, despite this year being his first full bid for the title.
"It came as a bit of a surprise, but was still a fantastic way for me to celebrate my 31st birthday," said Dibben.
"I thought the organisers would try to get the rest of the races run. This is not how I wanted it to end, but that's it wrapped up."
It's certainly no hollow victory for Dibben – the latest news really coming as mere confirmation that he was indeed the best rider in his class for 2020.
In all, the Suzuki star won five of the nine races – three races at each of the three rounds that were run – and he finished runner-up in each of the other four races. In addition to that, he qualified his Suzuki GSX-R600 fastest, therefore earning pole position, at two of those three events.
Dibben was a whopping 60 points clear of his nearest challenger, Upper Hutt's Rogan Chandler, after round three and this meant road-race "rookie" Dibben already had more than two races up his sleeve with just six more to come.
"I probably would have had to crash out of at least two of those remaining races for me not to take the title," said Dibben.
"Regardless of how the season was going to pan out, I had already decided that I will be in the (1000cc) superbike class for next season's nationals.
"It should be a good challenge. I have never even ridden a superbike before," Dibben laughed.
So is it optimistic and ambitious to jump up to a 1000cc Suzuki?
"Yes, but it's the same as for me racing the GSX-R600 this year. I never really knew whether I would feel comfortable with it to start with. It will just be a time thing to get used to another bike and try to go fast," said the amiable father-of-two.
Meanwhile, the champion in the Superbike class is Canterbury's Alastair Hoogenboezem – the Christchurch rider a meagre three points ahead of Taupo's Scott Moir after three rounds – while Whakatane's Damon Rees was third overall.
Rees won the first two rounds of the series before heading overseas to race at the end of January, while Moir won the superbike class at round three, at Hampton Downs on March 7-8.
All of the nine race wins were shared exclusively between this talented trio – Rees won five of the six races he contested before he left the country, while Hoogenboezem and Moir won two races apiece.
However, this class result is deemed provisional, with technical checks still to be conducted on a number of motorcycles.
Other class champions declared this week were Auckland’s Nathanael Diprose (Supersport 300, provisional only); Whangaparoa's Nathan Jane (650 Pro Twins); Taupo's Andy Scrivener and Tina McKeown (Sidecars); Invercargill's Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150) and Nelson's Tyrone Kuipers (GIXXER Cup 150).
Dibben is supported by Barracks Sports Bar, Totalspan, Bernard Racing, Garmac Engineering, David Jones Motors, Roger Crowley Solicitors, Mike Paul Building Inspectors, BikesportNZ.com and Steel It.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com