Patrick Smage laid the groundwork for a third-straight national trials title by taking a pair of wins at the opening two rounds of the AMA/NATC National Trials Series in Nehawka, Nebraska. However, fellow Sherco rider Cody Webb, Gas Gas USA’s Will Ibsen and Beta’s Keith Wineland were not far off Smage’s pace at the two-day event and left town confident they are still very much in the championship hunt with six rounds left on the schedule.
During Saturday’s event, on sections that rewarded precision over boldness, Smage considered himself lucky to have taken the win after a series of unforced errors left him considerably behind Ibsen and Webb at the end of lap one. Another five on the second section of lap two put Smage in an even deeper hole; however the Wisconsin native kept his composure and was within striking distance when both Ibsen and Webb faltered during the late stages of the event.
After starting the event with several impressive rides, Ibsen took the early lead, holding a five point advantage over Smage and a three point advantage over Webb at the end of the first lap of competition. But Ibsen tightened up on lap two, and the college freshman doubled his first lap score, giving Smage just the opening he needed to take control of the trial. Webb also faded and Smage went on to win the event by a two-point margin over Webb with Ibsen finishing third another point back.
At the end of the day, Smage was pleased with the outcome but not with his performance.
“It was a big surprise, I had no idea I had won,” said Smage. “I had two stupid fives, one in section 10 and another in section two. They were pretty stupid and I knew it was close but I thought I would be in the bottom half of the group. I’m really glad I was able to pull it off and come back from the mistakes but I think the sections could have been harder. It looks good on paper but I definitely wanted to rider better.”
Smage’s win on Sunday was more clear-cut, and he led from the start after Ibsen began the day with a five in the very first section after he broke a ribbon. Another five in section eight dropped Ibsen even further down the order and at the end of lap one it was Smage leading with six points followed by Webb and Wineland with 10.
Smage increased his lead on lap two after cleaning every section but the notoriously difficult mud-hole section which claimed the maximum points from all riders through the first two laps.
On lap three, Wineland and Webb turned in spectacular rides in the mud-hole section (both riders took ones becoming the only riders to even see the end cards), but it was not enough to catch the error-free riding of Smage, as Smage claimed his second-straight win with a total of 16 points, while Webb took second with 20. Wineland rounded out the podium with 27 and Ibsen was fourth with 35.
“I’m still not pleased with my riding at this point but I am pleased with having the lead in the series standings,” said Smage. “I know now what I need to work on between now and Tennessee and hopefully I can improve on things before then.”