Who can beat Bay of Plenty’s two-time and current national cross-country No.1 Brad Groombridge (Suzuki) over the four rounds of the series this year?
The 27-year-old Taupo locksmith certainly holds the keys to the trophy cabinet after dominating the sport over the past two seasons and he is clearly top among those favoured to win.
The series kicks off on farmland on Hetherington Road, west of Huntly, on Saturday (February 10), with round two to follow at Ormondville, in Central Hawke’s Bay, on March 18; 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 and this ensures the battle will go down to the wire.
With Manawatu’s former United States and New Zealand cross-country champion Paul Whibley (Yamaha) recently sidelined with injury and Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna) currently racing overseas, it takes some of the pressure off Groombridge, although he should still expect riders such as Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (KTM), Eketahuna’s Charlie Richardson (Husqvarna), Wairoa’s Reece Lister (KTM), Palmerston North’s James Galpin (KTM) and Cambridge pair Seton Head (KTM) and Ashton Grey (Yamaha) to be among those challenging him for the crown.
“I’ve got a new bike this year and I’m not quite happy with the set-up just yet,” said Groombridge, this comment perhaps offering a glimmer of hope to his rivals.
“I’ll be fine by the weekend,” he laughed.
“My aim is to get a reasonable start and move forward from there. I expect I’ll be as fast, if not faster, than last year. My fitness is very good at the moment,” said Groombridge, who is also riding two classes in the New Zealand Motocross Championships series, which is also underway.
He is second overall in the MX2 class and seventh overall in the MX1 class after the first round of four in the motocross nationals in Taranaki last weekend.
“I want to put some good points in the bank (at the cross-country nationals) this weekend, so that it takes some of the pressure off me for the rest of the cross-country series,” said Groombridge.
There is plenty of depth in the cross-country talent pool, with riders such as Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM), Stratford’s Karl Roberts (Yamaha), Hamilton’s Andrew Charleston (Honda), Hamilton’s Phillip Goodwright (Husqvarna), Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM), Te Awamutu’s Daniel White (Kawasaki), Glen Murray’s Sam Brown (KTM) and Raglan’s Brandon Given (Kawasaki) also capable of surprising.
South Island enduro exponents Angus, Hamish and Mitchell Macdonald, from Christchurch, should be respected too.
“The course on Saturday features a bit of everything,” said Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth, from Dannevirke.
“I believe it is a track we have used before, but that was maybe 10 years ago, so a lot of the current riders won’t be familiar with it.
“It is a good, open and flowing course and more farmland than bush. There are a few creek crossings, but, depending on how the riders attack them, they shouldn’t be too tough.”
The New Zealand cross-country nationals have for long been a good breeding ground for talent, with many Kiwis such as Whibley, Glen Eden’s Chris Birch, Titirangi’s Callan May and Wellington’s Rory Mead, among others, going on to impress in overseas competitions.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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