Sam Fox has never been better positioned to claim a national mountain bike title.
The Trevallyn 20-year-old has been to two junior world championships, won an Australian all-schools champs, is fresh off claiming a major mainland title from a top-quality field and will have the benefit of home advantage with Maydena hosting the titles this week.
Also the reigning Tasmanian champion, Fox is a regular medallist at the event but has been repeatedly kept off top step of the podium by South African-born duo Matt Dinham and Cameron Wright, who now represent NSW and Queensland respectively.
"I've been doing nationals since the second year of under-15s so this will be my eighth and I've come second or third behind those two almost every year," he said.
"I think I've done all the right preparation, I've trained pretty hard, my legs are feeling good and home turf should be an advantage with locals cheering me on, that always helps.
"Maydena has been my main focus since I came second last year. It's been at the forefront of my mind in every race and training ride because I've always wanted that title and it's eluded me every year so hopefully I can get it this year."
Competing on the road as part of his training, Fox recorded a top-10 finish in the under-23 national criterium race and was planning to ride the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic before COVID forced its cancellation and left the former Trevallyn Primary, Riverside High and Launceston College student stuck in lockdown.
After five frustrating days on a home trainer, he headed down the Great Ocean Road and swapped bikes to be crowned King of the Otways.
In the 100km Otway Odyssey between Apollo Bay and Forrest, Fox came second to triple Olympian Dan McConnell in a field featuring national marathon champ Brendan Johnston and numerous elite road riders.
The following day another second behind Tasman Nankervis in the Great Otway Gravel Grind earned Fox the prestigious overall title.
I've always wanted that title and it's eluded me every yearSam Fox
"That was really cool," he said. "Getting second on the first day was probably more important having the biggest name in cross-country riding in Australia in the race and it was the first time I've actually ridden against him which was great and I enjoyed it. And to get the overall title was excellent.
"I came second last year but there were much faster riders this year which made it quite challenging."
Many of those riders will have followed Fox across Bass Strait as the nation's best mountain bikers head to the relatively-new trails at Maydena.
With two years left at under-23 level, Fox has opted to take on his regular nemeses rather than a rematch with McConnell in the elite race.
"It would be great to take an elite national title one day but I've got lots of years ahead of me and I want to beat Matt and Cameron.
"The under-23 guys are riding really well and there's a real possibility that they can lap faster than the elites.
"I've spent a few weeks down there. They are still working on the course we'll use but based on the other track it should be really challenging and will hopefully help separate the field.
"I've got a really good support team that I'm riding for, MarathonMTB.com, that have put a lot of time and money into helping me and I've put a lot of preparation into how I want to run the bike and hopefully those minimal gains will add up to a consistent ride."
Fox, who will ride the team relay on Wednesday and under-23 cross-country race on Saturday, is expecting plenty of competition from his home state.
"There will be quite a few Tasmanians.
"Liam Johnston, of Lilydale, stepping up from under-19 to under-23 and won the 50km Otway Odyssey and under-23 Victorian state title so will be one to watch.
"Alex Lack (Wyena) has had a quieter year but is always one who can pull a result out of the bag. Ben Bradley (Hobart) is always pretty quick and came second behind me at state champs which were also in Maydena in December."
Launceston's Izzy Flint leads the home-state charge in the women's under-23 race.