This weekend will be Jackson Walker’s second journey into hostile territory this season, but it’s a trip he’s thoroughly looking forward to.
The South Islander (pictured above) is in a confident mood as he leaves the sanctity of his Nelson home to travel to Taranaki for the third round of four in the New Zealand Cross-country Championships on Saturday.
The racing, set for steep farmland near Eltham, is expected to test both man and machine to the limits of strength and endurance, but a superbly-fit Walker says that will suit him fine and he believes he can take advantage over his nearest rival for the national junior crown, Raglan’s Logan Shaw (Honda CRF250).
Shaw won the 90-minute junior grade race at the first round of the series near Huntly in February, while Walker crossed the line in third place, but it was Walker’s turn to shine at round two near Mosgiel on the first weekend of April, the Nelson rider taking his Yamaha YZ125 to victory while Shaw was forced to accept the runner-up spot.
With virtually nothing to separate the pair, Saturday’s racing at Glen Nui Station, about 25 kilometres east of Eltham, could determine the junior championship.
“I have been training very hard all year, with lots of mountain-biking, gym work and riding my Yamaha, and so I feel the fittest I have ever been,” said Walker, a year 12 pupil at Nelson Boys’ College.
“I’ve raced twice before in Taranaki, both times on an 85cc bike and both times I finished runner-up, but I’m a lot bigger and stronger now.”
Other riders to watch for in the junior race include Cheviot’s Sam McPherson, Tapawera’s Keegan Anglesey, Eketahuna’s Chris Dickson, Taumarunui’s Harris Gemmell, Blenheim’s Jack Dalton and Taupo’s Xavier McBrydie.
The seniors race later on Saturday, with Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Suzuki) the obvious favourite to prevail, having won the first two rounds this season, while Mokau’s Adrian Smith, the Yamaha ace a record four-time former national cross-country champion, is second overall in the standings and looking to make the most of racing on his home turf.
After Saturday’s event, the riders will head down to Nelson – back to Walker’s territory – for the fourth and final round on May 14.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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