Heading into the MXGP of France, set for the undulating circuit of Villars-sous-Écot this weekend (May 20-21), it’s time to look back at some of the winning French riders from the past.
Eight Frenchman have tasted championship champagne at the end of a MXGP season in past years as they were each crowned motocross world champion.
The French have picked up 13 titles in total, as many of their world champions scored more than one championship in their careers.
Back in 1986, Jacky Vimond became the first ever French rider to win a FIM Motocross World Championship. He did so in the 250cc class, and while Vimond was the pioneer of success for French riders, it was Jean Michele Bayle who won 125cc and 250cc titles in 1988 and 1989 and started a frenzy of interest in the success of the riders flying the French tri-colour flag.
It didn’t come straight away though and, while names like David Vuillemin, Stephane Roncada and Mickael Pichon looked to become the next J.M. Bayle, it wasn’t until the summer of 1996 that another amazingly-talented Frenchman stole the hearts of the motocross world.
When a 16-year-old Sebastien Tortelli picked up the 125cc Motocross World Championship ahead of British rider Paul Malin, a new era in French motocross was born.
Tortelli added the 250cc Championship in 1998 after a season long battle with Stefan Everts and this opened the floodgates for French success.
Soon to follow came World Titles for Frederic Bolley in the 250cc class in 1999 and 2000, Pichon also in the 250cc class in 2001 and 2002, Mickael Maschio in MX2 in 2002, and Marvin Musquin and Jordi Tixier in the MX2 class in 2009 and 2010 and 2014.
More recently it was Romain Febvre who won the MXGP title in 2015, a success followed by Tom Vialle and Maxime Renaux in the MX2 class in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
France have also won the FIM Monster Energy Motocross of Nations on six occasions, in 2001 at the famous Namur, Belgium circuit, Kegums, Latvia in 2014, Ernèe, France in 2015, Maggiora, Italy in 2016, Matterley Basin in England in 2017 and again in 2018 at the RedBud circuit in America.
You can be guaranteed that when the Grand Prix of France fires up this weekend, the always large crowd will be standing as close as possible to the circuit to cheer on their local heroes, and you can be sure the French riders will be wanting more than anything to pay their countrymen back with a victory come Sunday night.
French women too will be worth looking out for this weekend as round four of 2023 Women’s Motocross World Championships will also be staged at Villars-sous-Écot this weekend.
Leading French women such as Mathilde Martinez and April Franzoni may be expected to feature this weekend, but they will have their work cut out trying to find a way to beat the championship leader from New Zealand, Otago’s Courtney Duncan, the three-time former world champion who currently holds a solid 10-point advantage at the top of the WMX standings.
Words by Geoff Meyer
© Photo (from the MXoN in 2015) by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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