Taupo's Brad Groombridge is back in action, a man on a mission once again.
Groombridge was blighted with injuries last year, but, with remedial surgery completed in the off-season and the 29-year-old now fully recovered and back to his best, there's plenty of reason to rate former champion Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450) as a title threat in 2020.
The multi-talented dirt bike racer kicked off his New Zealand Motocross Championships campaign in the South Island two weeks ago and this weekend he's switching focus to begin his national cross-country championship title bid in the Rangitikei region.
The 29-year-old locksmith finished the day fifth overall in the premier MX1 class at the first of four rounds in the senior motocross nationals at Balclutha on February 1 and now he'll take the same bike, his potent Kea Trailers-sponsored Suzuki RM-Z450 machine, to tackle the first of four rounds in this season's cross-country national near Marton on Sunday.
Groombridge is versatile and, thankfully, so is his bike, the two motorsports codes similar but also, in many ways, very different too.
"I raced a total of about three and a half hours at the motocross at Balclutha and that track was rough. That was a good indicator for me regarding my fitness," said Groombridge.
"The speed and intensity of motocross is greater than a cross-country race, so I figure my fitness is really good now for the start of the cross-country nationals.
"My hands held up well too ... no problems with blisters ... so I'm good to go this weekend," said the Suzuki man, the New Zealand cross-country champion for three consecutive seasons, in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
"I think that getting a good start will be the key on Sunday. It's probably going to be dusty, so I need to get out in front of the pack.
"My fitness is only going to improve as the season wears on."
He knows he'll be up against some tough opposition, including the man who won the title last year, Raglan's Jason Dickey, and a slew of equally-fast dirt bike heroes, noted riders such as Whanganui's Seth Reardon, Manawatu's 2015 national cross-country champion Paul Whibley, Raglan's Brandon Given, Rotorua's Ethan Harris, Hamilton's Andrew Charleston, Hamilton's Phillip Goodwright, Glen Murray rider Sam' Charlie' Brown and Bay of Plenty brothers Nathan and Hayden Tesselaar, to name a few.
The venue for Sunday's racing is Smith's Holly Farm, 235A Galpins Road, RD2, Marton.
Points from only the best three results from the four rounds will be counted towards the championship titles.
The 90-minute junior race kicks off at about 9am on Sunday, with the three-hour senior race to follow at about 11.30am.
Groombridge's strength, stamina and overall fitness, along with the legendary reliability of his Suzuki, will be tested more than most over the coming months as he battles in two parallel but separate national competitions – motocross and cross-country – but he firmly believes he can excel at both, just as he has done in the past.
Groombridge was also national enduro champion in 2016 and 2018, on both occasions campaigning a similar Suzuki RM-Z450 bike.
2020 NZ Cross-Country Champs:
Round One – Marton, Sunday, Feb 16
Round Two – Flemington, CHB, Sunday, March 22
Round Three – Marlborough, Sunday, April 26
Round Four – Taupo, Saturday, May 23
2020 NZ Motocross Champs:
Round One – Balclutha, Saturday, Feb 1
Round Two – Rotorua, Sunday, Feb 23
Round Three – Hawke’s Bay, Sunday, March 1
Round Four – Taupo, Sunday, March 15.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ