The Valkenswaard circuit will be the first true sand race of 2019 and, with the venue just a stone’s throw away from most of the teams’ workshops, it also serves as a second home and training ground for many riders.
Reigning and six-time Women’s Motocross (WMX) World Champion Kiara Fontanesi (Yamaha) will be unable to defend her crown due to health complications, but long-time rivals such as New Zealand’s Courtney Duncan (Bike It DRT Kawasaki) and Nancy Van de Ven (Yamaha) are eager to start the new season in winning form.
The 23-year-old Duncan has been a major protagonist in the series since her debut three years ago, claiming an amazing seven GP victories and 14 moto wins from just 15 starts within that short space of time.
Twice the Otago woman was denied the world title through injury and lost the title by just two points on the other occasion. More determined than ever to finally achieve her goal, Duncan made the decision to join the highly-experienced British-run Dixon Racing Team (DRT) Kawasaki squad.
Duncan, who will possibly never enjoy the advantage of racing a WMX event on her home turf, had consistently defied the odds to lead the world championships on so many occasions, but an injury to a bone in her right foot and then further damage to the ligaments that surround it, forced her to withdraw from last year’s title chase and she ended up ranked world No.4.
She’s now fully fit again and more determined than ever to clinch the crown.
Maybe this season it will be fourth time lucky for the young woman from Palmerston.
Duncan finished third overall in 2017 after a contentious jury decision denied her the title when the second race was stopped at the final round in France, while she was leading.
Duncan had also been leading the series during her WMX debut season in 2016, but was forced to the sideline with injury when she crashed into an errant photographer, who had been standing on the race track at the German GP.
Although at that stage the “new kid on the block”, Duncan stamped her authority and won five of the 14 races in 2016, more than any other individual that year, and this was even after her “run-in” with the photographer.
Perhaps she’ll be uplifted this weekend by the knowledge that so many Kiwi fans at home will be cheering her on.
Meanwhile, the EMX125 class will also hold its season-opening round at Valkenswaard with 100 entries fighting for a chance to make it into the top 40 before racing for wins.
In the MXGP category, it is Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Antonio Cairoli who has taken the first two overall victories of the season, winning three of the four races thus far.
Cairoli has also won at this Dutch venue on six prior occasions and, with the last coming in 2014, he will be shooting to exchange his second overall finish from last year to first for the seventh time.
Team HRC’s Tim Gajser looked menacing at the last round however and the former MXGP and MX2 World Champion from Slovenia was the only rider able to take on Cairoli so far this year.
Had it not been for a massive crash in Great Britain, Gajser may have very well taken the win. Gajser has never seen much success at Valkenswaard though, with his best finish being a third in the six times he has raced the circuit.
While Cairoli and Gajser may be the most fancied for wins this weekend, many other top competitors are starting to find their flow as the season gets underway. One potential winner is Monster Energy Wilvo Yamaha Official MXGP’s Gautier Paulin who made his way to the podium last week and won his last GP at the same venue in 2017. Paulin was on the podium at this venue in 2015 and 2018 as well with the stop in 2015 being a GP overall win.
Also worth considering for a top showing are the Belgian sand specialists, Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team’s Clement Desalle and Honda SR Motoblouz’s Jeremy van Horebeek. Desalle has raced this event 12 times throughout his career but only finished on the podium twice, 2nd in 2012 and 3rd in 2015. Van Horebeek has also been on the podium twice but raced there 10 times with 5 being in MX2 and the rest in MXGP as opposed to Desalle’s 12 all in the premier 450 category.
The MX2 class ran without defending champion and round one winner Jorge Prado from the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team in Great Britain after a training crash.
The Spaniard’s void left the door open for a new protagonist and the rider stepping up to the plate to make the most of last week was Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Thomas Kjer Olsen.
Kiwi race fans will no doubt be keen to track the progress of Team DIGA Procross Husqvarna’s Dylan Walsh, the New Zealander eighth overall at the British GP and currently 13th in the series standings.
© Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
Find BikesportNZ.com on FACEBOOK here
MXGP Championship Top Ten Standings:
1 Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 97 points; 2. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 89 p.; 3. Gautier Paulin (FRA, YAM), 74 p.; 4. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, HON), 66 p.; 5. Clement Desalle (BEL, KAW), 65 p.; 6. Arminas Jasikonis (LTU, HUS), 56 p.; 7. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, YAM), 50 p.; 8. Max Anstie (GBR, KTM), 39 p.; 9. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 39 p.; 10. Tommy Searle (GBR, KAW), 38 p.
MX2 Championship Top Ten Standings:
1 Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN, HUS), 94 points; 2. Henry Jacobi (GER, KAW), 78 p.; 3. Calvin Vlaanderen (NED, HON), 71 p.; 4. Tom Vialle (FRA, KTM), 65 p.; 5. Ben Watson (GBR, YAM), 63 p.; 6. Jorge Prado (ESP, KTM), 50 p.; 7. Davy Pootjes (NED, HUS), 50 p.; 8. Mitchell Evans (AUS, HON), 49 p.; 9. Jago Geerts (BEL, YAM), 45 p.; 10. Michele Cervellin (ITA, YAM), 41 p.