Although this is the fifth round of the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship, it really feels like the first. A lengthy five-week break, which resembled the off-season in countless ways, has left riders and fans alike chomping at the bit for some form of on-track action. Those wishes will be granted over the next two days.
This Grand Prix is similar to the first, regarding the fact that there are plenty of unanswered questions. The pending duel between Antonio Cairoli and Tim Gajser is far from settled, as the latter reached new heights at the previous round and is now at a track that has been very kind to him in the past (although he has also experienced heartbreak in the tight confines of Mantova). Five weeks is a long time though, so what has changed in the last month? Are we going to see a much better Cairoli or an even stronger Gajser? It is quite easy to proclaim that every rider would have made gains in that time, but also naïve.
It is just as naïve to presume that the battles that were seen on this circuit three years ago will be recreated over the weekend. There are so many things that must break the right way in order for that to happen: The fact that both riders have to start at the front, similar to the Grand Prix of Trentino, is at the top of that list. Mantova boasts some of the same characteristics as Pietramurata, namely the fact that it is tight and rather difficult to pass on. Fans of the sport are cheering for that battle and some kind of race though, as that will further prompt title discussions and eagerness across the globe.
If Antonio Cairoli wins in a convincing fashion, it will be easy to label the victory that Tim Gajser secured at the Grand Prix of Trentino as a one-off and therefore the former will slip back into the spot of favourite for the title. If Gajser wins, on the other hand, belief will grow at a similar rate to the curiosity within the Red Bull KTM camp. No matter the scenario that plays out though, intrigue will hit new heights when the Grand Prix contingent reach Portugal next week. Gajser is expected to be good here, based on past performances, whereas his history at Agueda is not quite as bright.
It would arguably be a greater statement for Tim Gajser to go out and win next week, bearing that in mind, as it will reaffirm the fact that he has arrived and can contend on any surface. It really sounds ludicrous to say that about a former world champ, who has won countless Grand Prix, but this is still a rebuilding process and that should not be forgotten about. A lot of milestones have been checked off, such as winning a Grand Prix, but that should not cause one to revert back to treating him like they did in 2017. Winning at the fifth round of the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship would help tremendously though.
There is another element to consider that could cloud judgement at Mantova: The weather. Although those in the Grand Prix paddock basked in glorious sunshine whilst setting up on Friday, storms should roll in on Saturday afternoon and linger through the night. The mind boggles if that does happen and transform the sandy track into a quagmire. There is not a clear mud specialist in the premier class and the same goes for MX2, funnily enough, so where does that leave those locked in bench-racing discussions? The MX Manager players face just as much uncertainty as the clock counts down to the first moto on Sunday.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX