Intriguingly, the Thunder Valley track located in Colorado presents the riders and teams with a unique challenge, as the facility is located a mile above sea-level. Obviously, this does have an impact on both the riders’ fitness and machines; the altitude makes the bikes a lot slower than usual, which was evident from watching the on-board footage. It was interesting to see how the riders tried to combat this. Despite the challenging conditions, the same riders rose to the top of the pack.
It is no secret that the 450 class is stacked with talent; the depth in that premier division was even more extreme at Thunder Valley, as Clement Desalle and Kevin Strijbos (of the Rockstar Energy Suzuki MXGP team) tackled the second round of the Lucas Oil Pro National series as a couple of wildcards. Although it is slightly unusual to see the contenders from the FIM World Motocross Championship head over to the USA on their weekend off. In the past Desalle has done it with some success, which undoubtedly motivated the teams’ decision. Obviously the reason that you do not see too many riders do this is that the risk factor is quite high.
Why is the risk factor high? Whilst racing the intensity level is unique, you cannot replicate it anywhere else, as a result the risks are much higher than usual. However, some would argue that a rider runs the risk of getting hurt, no matter where they are riding. Maybe these races will help the pair when they return home? Personally, I do think that the intensity over in the USA is much higher; if they return, and apply this to the FIM Motocross World Championship they may reap the benefits. But before that, the Rockstar Energy Suzuki duo need to through the second outing of their two-race American tour.
What were my expectations of the pair going into Thunder Valley? I presumed that Clement would be in the top five no matter what and that Kevin Strijbos would finish around tenth. It turned out that the pair did exactly that. In my opinion Strijbos was the most impressive out of the two, as he rode better than I thought that he would. In comparison to his GP results a ninth overall seems slightly sub-par. However when you factor in the changes that he had to overcome, a tenth and an eighth moto results were very respectable.
In the first moto Kevin Strijbos crashed in turn one; I was honestly impressed whilst watching him push forward from the back of the pack up to tenth. Kevin passed guys like Dean Wilson, Ryan Sipes and Andrew Short. I honestly did not expect to see the Belgian beat riders such as this – especially after falling early on! Strijbos admitted to suffering from fatigue following his charge up to tenth; maybe the altitude affected him more than others? Prior to Saturday, he [Strijbos] had never visited the facility. So Kevin had half an hour on the Thunder Valley track before that first moto; despite this he seemed to gel with the circuit almost immediately.
Clement Desalle did not have as much of an impact as he has done in the two other Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross rounds that he has completed. However the ‘MX Panda’ was solid every time he went out onto the track. Surprisingly he qualified in second; once the gate had fallen he occupied the positions on the edge of the top five for the most part. In the opening moto, Clement battled in fifth for the duration of the race; his speed was similar to that of Canard.
Interestingly, Clement Desalle seemed to lack some speed and endurance in moto two (just like his teammate). After starting seventh Desalle moved forward to sixth before Mike Alessi got around him in the closing stages. On the day, a fifth and a seventh gave him sixth overall; he was not on the level of the top four (Villopoto, Dungey, Barcia and Stewart) but he was able to prove that he can be competitive in the series.
I would say that the decision to race the second round (Thunder Valley) and the third round (Muddy Creek) was a good one for the Rockstar Energy Suzuki team. In the two-week break that the FIM Motocross World Championship is currently on, the pair will be able to build on the momentum that they gained. I believe that they will do much better this year, for a handful of reasons. The circuit will be knew to everyone, so the homegrown riders will not have too much of an advantage. Strijbos and Clement will have got accustomed to the schedule also.
Everything seems to indicate that the two will be more comfortable this weekend. It is very interesting having them over in the USA for a couple of rounds. I am intrigued to see how they are going to perform this weekend and when they return to Europe.
Words by Lewis Phillips