Suzuki rider Brad Groombridge has simply picked up where he left off last season.
The 27-year-old Taupo locksmith powered his way to a solid victory at round one of the 2018 New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Huntly on Saturday, the perfect start to his title defence.
Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450) won his first national cross-country title in 2016 and swiftly followed that up by defending that crown last year.
Now he’s already on track to make it three title wins in a row after he conquered both the steep and muddy farmland circuit and a more than 50-rider field of New Zealand’s elite off-road racers at this first of four rounds of the series.
But the 27-year-old Taupo locksmith didn’t make it easy for himself.
He found himself in about 15th position as the riders exited turn one, soon after the shotgun blast had signalled the run-to-the-bikes start.
“It wasn’t a great start for me, that’s for sure,” acknowledged Groombridge afterwards.
But he wasted no time and it wasn’t long before Groombridge started closing in on fast-starting Hamilton man Phillip Goodwright, the 36-year-old Husqvarna rider who had taken the lead soon after the start and who had continued to enjoy fresh air out in front for the first three laps.
By lap four, Groombridge was ready to pounce, choosing wisely when a lapped rider crossed in front of the leading pair, Groombridge finding the space to make a clean pass.
“Would have liked to be up the front from the start and not have had to suffer from mud-caked goggles. I was actually able to see and go quicker without goggles. I came in for fresh goggles and fuel after two laps, but ended up taking the goggles off again pretty soon afterwards because of the low-lying mist in the hills that made them fog up.
“It was tough in the mud because you had to make sure you didn’t overshoot any turns. It was very slippery.
“Once I got past Phil (Goodwright) I just relaxed a bit and got into a groove to maintain the gap. I rode well and it was good to start the series off on a high note.
“I definitely wanted to get round one signed, sealed and delivered. In that way it reduces the pressure on me. If I can win the next two rounds it means I can have a nice, fun day at the last one.”
Saturday’s gruelling senior race had been cut back from three to about 2.5 hours and Cambridge’s Ashton Grey (Yamaha YZ250FX), Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XCF) and Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig (KTM 300XC) rounded out the top five positions.
Round two of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships is set for farmland at Ormondville, in Central Hawke’s Bay, on March 18, with round three near Taupo on April 8 and, finally, it all wraps up near Mosgiel on May 12.
Only three of the four rounds are counted towards the championships, with riders to discard their one worst score, but there is a stipulation that riders attend the final round, although, in his current form, the final round could be a mere formality for Groombridge.
If Groombridge also dominates rounds two and three, his performance at round four could be largely irrelevant.
Meanwhile, the multi-talented Groombridge is also currently racing his Suzuki RM-Z450 in the MX1 class in the New Zealand Motocross Championships and, as well as that, he is racing a Suzuki RM-Z250 in the MX2 class in the same competition.
After the previous weekend’s first of four rounds of that parallel-but-separate motocross competition, Groombridge is seventh overall in the MX1 class and overall runner-up in the MX2 class. The next round of that series is set for Rotorua in just over a week’s time (on February 25).
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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