He has been unbeatable in a major pre-season warm-up series and Mokau's Adrian Smith hopes that momentum will continue as the nationals kick off on his home turf tomorrow.
The 27-year-old Smith took his Blackwood BikesportNZ.com Yamaha YZ250 to win the third round of four in this season's Bel Ray cross-country championships near Cambridge last weekend, wrapping up the trophy with a round to spare and sending a warning shot to his national championship rivals in the process.
Te Kuiti teenager Sean Kelly (Kawasaki KX125) did exactly the same thing in sealing the junior division.
Even with only three of the four rounds counting towards the Bel Ray series victory, both Smith and Kelly have now done enough to clinch their respective classes without needing to even attend the final round on March 8.
Smith's win last weekend came as little surprise to those who have been following his racing career - he is a three-time former and the current national cross-country champion and, having won the first two rounds of the Bel Ray series, it was certainly a no-brainer that he would be heavily favoured to win at Cambridge.
And that's exactly what happened, although Smith did have to work for it with 130 riders lining up for the shotgun start.
"I started off behind Taylor Rae [Hamilton] and then Jason Dickey [Raglan] passed me and that's where I stayed for the first couple of laps," Smith said. "I was happy to sit there and just learn the course. Then, on about lap three, I switched on and pushed through to the front. After that I just checked out really.
"It was a great track and I really enjoyed it. It had a bit of everything . . . off-cambers, tree roots, fast sections and it was nice and flowing."
Smith finished the two-hour, six-lap race three minutes ahead of Dickey.
Third overall was Rotorua's Scott Birch (Honda).
Kelly led home Taupiri's Andrew Barr (KTM) and Auckland's Jake Wightman (KTM) in the 90-minute junior race.
With 1-2-1 results for the three rounds thus far, Kelly now can't be overtaken by his main rival, Barr, who has finished 6-5-2 in the series so far.
Smith now switches his focus tomorrow and the start of his defence of the national cross-country crown.
The first round of four in the New Zealand cross-country championships is set for Taranaki farmland.
The three rounds that follow are in Huntly, Westland and Marlborough and Smith will be hoping he can make it three national titles in a row this season after romping to title wins in 2012 and 2013.
Smith is actually already a three-time former national cross-country champion after also having won the New Zealand cross-country crown in 2006.
Tomorrow's venue for round one is at 3403 Tarata Rd, Purangi, between Inglewood and Stratford.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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