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Bastogne Wrap

After Saturday, who would of thought the eighth round of the 2012 FIM Motocross World Championship would take place under dry conditions? Torrential rain in the hours leading up to the GP and throughout a portion of Saturday saw practice take place in very sloppy conditions. The conditions were so bad in fact that the qualifying races were cut from the schedule in order to preserve the circuit for the points paying races. The order in which riders would go the gate on Sunday was determined by the pre-qualifying practice times. Amazingly, riders were greeted by a track that was in perfect condition Sunday morning, with not a sign of the mess from the day before.

Whenever the Belgian GP is mentioned, many immediately presume the track will feature bottomless sand. However, the Bastogne surface was far from it, as it was quite loamy on top with a hard-pack base. From a glance the track perhaps didn’t look spectacular, however it ended up generating multiple line choices and some great racing. The almost ‘old-school’ feel was a welcome change – something riders seemed to enjoy also as virtually no bad words were spoken about the track.

There was one quality of the track that I thought singled it out from other GP’s – the start. Whereas normally the rider on pole would take the very inside gate, and then second would take the second gate and so on. The holeshot actually came from the middle of the gate in every race, something that is virtually unseen in the GP’s. It made the start a little more unpredictable – and gave some of the riders who perhaps didn’t qualify how they wished the chance at a good start.

Prior to the racing, the FIM tackled the multiple controversial issues that have played a very large part in the GP of France, and Portugal. Stating that there would be a ‘zero tolerance rule’ as warnings would not be given, instead black flags and disqualification would be making an appearance. Therefore it is unsurprising that everyone was on their best behaviour, and there was virtually nothing to report in the way of incidents on the track, or off of it.

Unsurprisingly, the MX2 class again came down to Tommy Searle and Jeffrey Herlings. The leading pair battled it out on the track (cleanly) in both moto’s, providing some excellent action for the fans. In moto one, Searle took the holeshot, but to the surprise of most Herlings had already found a way through after just half a lap. In my eye’s, the first couple of laps are Searle’s biggest weakness. It seems as though it takes him a couple of laps to settle into his pace, and get comfortable. However, whilst he is doing this Herlings is sprinting from the very beginning and stretching his lead, almost imitating the American style of racing.

The first moto was a perfect example of this, despite proving to be more than capable of running Herlings pace. Once he was comfortable, and had started to really push himself he couldn’t find a way through. Whereas if he had gone that speed at the very beginning, maybe he would have been able to keep the lead, and progress to the moto win? It was as if the Brit knew what he had to do the second time out, and tried to make his way to the front as quick as possible. Once there he fought off a valiant effort from Herlings – even swapping the lead with his rival a few times. He advanced from these challenges with the lead, and by doing so it seemed to ‘break’ Herlings, as the Dutchman could no longer hold the pace up front. It was if it rattled him a little bit.

In the end, Searle did take the second moto win, and the overall – his third of the season. Hopefully this will see a shift of momentum in the points chase, and Searle will maybe get himself back into contention before he runs out of time. Although you have to think Herlings loss today won’t affect him much. As it is more of a case of ‘nothing lost, nothing gained’ for the Dutchman. He still proved himself to be capable on all surfaces; his two previous GP wins back up that fact. In reality, at the sand GP’s Herlings will make up at least six points on Searle, so Tommy really needs to start racking up some double moto wins in the near future, if he is going to have any chance of counter balancing that.

We like this and we'd like to see it more often. C'mon Tommy!

From Jeremy Van Horebeek, I saw something that I have felt has eluded him thus far this year. The Belgian proved to have the ability to latch onto both Herlings and Searle, when they were going there fastest. In the second moto, whilst Searle and Herlings were battling, Van Horebeek was visibly lurking in the background. Whereas at other times he has been dropped by the leading pair. Although after ten minutes he started losing ground, he has really proven himself to be capable of running the pace. After those ten minutes where he was at his finest, his lap times dipped quite considerably in the latter stages of the race, a lot more than both Searle and Herlings’ lap times did.

Joel Roelants was fourth overall, a position he has held at most GP’s since his return from the concussion he suffered in Fermo. This has got to be frustrating for the Belgium, as in his last year of competing in MX2 he proved to be a contender, and yet the concussion really knocked that speed out of him. Whilst, someone like Van Horebeek is moving in on the spot he occupied through rounds one and two, Roelants is almost getting left behind and dropping more into the same speed as the guys behind him, rather than chasing the guys in front.

Arnaud Tonus was more of a factor than he has been since his return from injury (at least in the overall classification) in fifth overall. Portugal was definitely not as good as he was expecting – and a step below his performance in France. However it could be a case of his first ride was based off of adrenaline. Either way, he now looks to be rebuilding himself and getting accustomed to the pace at the front. Everyone knows Tonus is capable of more than fifth overall – it will just take time to reach that point quite obviously.

In the last two GP’s, I really feel like we have seen the best of Tixier so far in his short career. He seems to be getting more comfortable with mixing it up at the front of the pack, and going forwards – rather than backwards, and holding his own a little more. Although his fastest lap time was a bit off of the riders around him, the fact that he posted consistent times for the duration of the moto saw him finish where he did.

Jake Nicholls finished down in seventh overall – a result that doesn’t resemble just how well he rode. A first moto fifth really signalized where he belonged all weekend long, inside the top five. However his seat came loose in moto two, which saw him drop to eighth, and seventh overall. You can see Jake is confident in his ability and machinery on the track, as he looks as though he can put the bike wherever he wishes. An ability that will pay off considerably and help him in achieving his first overall podium.

Jake Nicholls put in another solid performance and with a bit more luck he would've been in the top 5

Max Anstie had a disastrous day, to say the least. After looking as though he has progressed in recent weeks, and even finishing third in a moto last week it sure looked as though he was on his way to an overall podium. However, two electrical problems with his bike in both moto’s saw him finish the Belgian GP with not a single point to his name. He also dropped to seventh in the title chase, a bunch of points out of fifth where he formerly sat.

One final point about MX2, Mel Pocock again put his Monster Energy Yamaha inside the top ten overall, another solid result. When looking through times, he had the seventh best lap time in moto one a fact that proves there is more to come from Mel, and that he has the potential to edge closer to the top five as he gains experience. A ninth and a twelfth saw him finish tenth overall in Bastogne – his third top ten overall finish of the year.

Mel Pocock stepped up to the plate yet again. Surely he'll be back to doing a full GP season next year? Especially if he wins the European Championship.

Every year we think someone is going to break through and demote Cairoli to second spot in the championship, and every year, Antonio proves why he is the most dominant Grand Prix rider of this era. The Sicilian again proved to strong for any competitor, taking a double moto victory, his third in succession at the GP of Belgium – no matter where it has been held. A lot of people talk about how competitive the class is, and yet Cairoli holds a forty-seven-point lead after just eight rounds. Which, when compared to his previous championship winning seasons, is a lot bigger than he had at this point in the season in both 2009, and 2011. He has also won more GP’s in the first part of the season than he has ever done in MX1 – a testament to just how strong Cairoli is this year.

No one was beating Cairoli at Bastogne, it was one of those day’s where he was just on another level, despite this Clement Desalle was visibly disappointed with second overall at his home GP. Obviously he wanted to win his home GP, a home GP is the highlight of the schedule for all the riders and because of this you’ve got to think Clement was pushing as hard as he could. Maybe this was the reason for his small tip-over in moto one, which cost him second in the moto. Either way, time is running out if he wants to go after his first world title – and just losing ten points to Cairoli in a single day could prove to be costly.

Cairoli's double put him in even more control of the championship. His confidence is growing mid season once again, as if he's not confident enough!

Christophe Pourcel proved himself to be strong all day long, and most likely would have had second overall if not for a bad start in moto one, which hindered him in the results. At this point it doesn’t really seem like Pourcel has the consistency to challenge Cairoli for the title. Although a fifth and a second isn’t exactly a drastically inconsistent day – when you’re trying to gain points on the rider that won both moto’s, it’s pretty disastrous. Gautier Paulin is in the same situation – a second and a ninth just aren’t going to help him if he wants to go after the title.

In my opinion, Cairoli is just too good. Obviously, his speed is undoubted, but it’s his entire program as a whole that makes him so unbeatable over the course of a year I think. The fact that he can go the same speed for the duration of a race – and go even faster in the latter stages is really key to his success. Also, it’s the knowledge that comes with being a five-time world champ; on his bad days he collects a podium. On his good days (like in Bastogne) he dominates. Whereas his main rivals have all had an extremely costly moto’s, Cairoli has had a consistent presence on the podium. If anyone’s going to close down the forty-seven-point lead Cairoli holds in the point’s standings – they’re going to need some luck on their side!

I was once again very impressed with Kevin Strijbos this past weekend, as again, the Belgian proved to be edging closer to where he once was. Really, he was incredibly unlucky to not come away with his second overall podium of the year, because he had the speed to run with guys like Desalle. Maybe in the coming weeks we could be looking at Strijbos as another one of the frontrunners, as he looks to be edging closer and closer to their speed every week.

More and more each week Kevin Strijbos is starting to look like the rider who has already finished second in the world

Ken De Dycker rode better than his results show; coming from outside the top fifteen both times out to post a tenth and a sixth on the day. Many tipped Ken for big things in front of home crowd, but unfortunately they didn’t materialise. His lap times saw him capable of top five’s both times out, but with starts as bad as he had – there wasn’t a lot he could do. De Dycker continues to prove himself as a rejuvenated rider, as he pushed for the duration of both moto’s. Whereas in the past he has been known to start slowing up, and looking over his shoulder at the halfway point.

It’s just been one of those years for Russian Evgeny Bobryshev. Who would have thought that after eight rounds his best moto result would be a fifth? It seems bad luck is striking Evgeny every week, whether it is injuries, mechanical failures or first turn pile-ups ‘Bobby’ always finds himself in the thick of it. With his home GP coming up in the next few weeks, I’m sure he wants to hit his peak by the time the series heads to Russia. Maybe his time at the front of the pack in the second moto will see him improve in the coming weeks, and start to edge closer to where he was this time last year.

Bobryshev’s teammate Rui Goncalves isn’t having the best of times either, although he has shown some flashes of brilliance, Bastogne proved to be a painful time for the Portuguese rider. After suffering a broken rib in a practice crash, Rui pushed through the pain barrier to post a commendable fifteenth overall. The Honda World Motocross duo were surely not expecting to find themselves on the fringe of the top ten in the point’s standings at the halfway point. With both riders visibly banged up, hopefully the two-week break will see the two come back a little stronger.

David Philippaerts was little unimpressive this weekend – especially when you consider he has won a GP previously this year. He seemed to get hit by the dreaded arm pump in both moto’s, although he still managed to post a solid sixth in moto one. A crash in moto two hindered him, however he still pushed through but came up just short of the top ten. A sixth and a thirteenth is definitely not what is expected of the former world champ and we have seen him be a little inconsistent this year. So it definitely wouldn’t be surprising to see him rebound and post a podium finish in two weeks time.

Davide Guarneri is a rider who has almost been forgotten since he left the MX2 class a few years ago. He seems to just get lost in the depth of the MX1 class and not a lot of people talk about him. But still an eighth in moto two proved to everyone that he is capable of running the speed of the Factory guys – despite him being down in a lowly sixteenth in the point’s standings. Although he perhaps isn’t on the best equipment (especially when you consider he was sandwiched between the Factory machinery of Leok and Paulin in moto two) he seems to be edging closer to being a regular top ten guy every week.

As per usual, the top Brit in MX1 was Shaun Simpson. A fourth in qualifying raised hopes that he would have a breakthrough day. However despite the better gate pick, he just didn’t get the starts (something that has held him back all year long). A first turn crash was the reason for him finishing down in sixteenth in moto one, but the second moto wasn’t drastically better. A twelfth in moto two was the result – and saw him finish the top Yamaha in the moto. When you consider the guys that he was battling with it isn’t a terrible result, but still Shaun belongs in the top ten, and it’s where he needs to be.

The most underrated rider in the MX1 class (in my mind at least) has to be Xavier Boog. He may not be out there grabbing headlines, but he is consistently in the fifth to tenth range. Boog is the only rider in the top ten that hasn’t won a GP in either MX1 or MX2 – which proves just how fast he is going. In the first moto he proved to everyone that he is strong enough to be top five consistently as he battled with Pourcel and Philippaerts, two guys who are established contenders.

After a grueling three-week stint, the FIM Motocross World Championship will now have a weekend off and allow some riders to recover from niggling injuries, and others to find a little bit more speed before the Swedish GP, in Uddevalla!

Villopoto riding a GP track on a regular basis is something we may well see in the future according to the man himself. Although we're sure it won't be in his civvies!

Lewis Phillips

Pictures courtesy of Youthstream

MX Vice Editor || 25

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