In the FIM Motocross World Championship, Antonio Cairoli hogs the limelight each year, and deservedly so. Antonio frequently overshadows Clement Desalle, and as a result, the Belgian is underrated. Although most believe that Clement is simply not good enough to beat his rival, he has proven to be a formidable competitor, as he has matched the pace and ability of Toni on multiple occasions. However, Desalle is yet to master the art of finishing up front over the course of an entire season, which appears to be his achilles heel.
Clement seemingly broke through towards the end of this season though, as he reeled off three consecutive overall victories, which he had never done before. Something clicked for him, evidently. But, why can he not do this consistently? Although he ended the FIM Motocross World Championship in the best way possible, he had a difficult start to the year with little success.
Sure, the Belgian won the season opener in Qatar. However, rather than capitalise on the momentum gained from that victory, he was not a factor in the race for the win at the next seven rounds. Honestly, there was no real reason for this. Clement just did not have that edge that his competitors had, as he rarely finished in the top two. Of course, he eventually turned his season around again; a win in the first moto at Maggiora revitalised the Belgian. In the first half of the season, he scored an average of nineteen points. Whereas Desalle acquired an average of twenty points per moto in the second half. Although there is not much difference there, Desalle had a DNF in the second half, which pulled his average down – he was clearly better than that.
Honestly, those averages are not bad at all. However, Cairoli is a phenomenal talent. So, in order for someone to beat the Sicilian, they have to be exceptional. Although Clement has beaten Cairoli straight up in a race a handful of times, I am still not sure if he is capable of putting himself in a position to battle for a championship. But, despite this, he still seems like the most likely challenger to Cairoli, and his crown.
Unfortunately, the off-season will not be perfect for Desalle, as he is still recovering from the shoulder injury sustained in the final moto at the Motocross des Nations. Although there is just under four months until the series opener, it will take him a while to build up his strength again. Clement is not the strongest rider mentally, so it will be interesting to see if this has an affect on him heading into next year.
Hopefully it will not, as a fan of the sport, I desperately want to see someone challenge Antonio Cairoli each week, as that will certainly increase the interest in the MXGP series. However, in order for Clement to do this, he will have to find a way to stop having weekends where he just is not on the pace. Ironically, Desalle tends to lose a lot of points in the sand, as he is one of the few Belgian riders that actually struggle in the sand. Just look at his Lierop performance this year; it was clearly his worst ride all season.
Interestingly, at the Dirt Bike Show, Clement Desalle stated that he would like to complete a full-season in the United States. Although this is probably a long way off, it was an intriguing revelation. Desalle had made multiple one-off appearances at random rounds of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series. So, he seemingly has a burning desire to join the American scene. Most immediately presume that he would not be taking part in supercross, as it is a discipline that is foreign to him. However, he has also mentioned that he wants to experience it all. So, he will only go over when he can commit to learning supercross, and putting everything he has into it.
When (if) he does vacate the MXGP series, it will be a huge loss, as he is one of only two riders that can challenge Cairoli at the moment (the other being Gautier Paulin). I would not bank on Clement heading to the USA, as many riders state that this is their desire, but it just doesn’t work out for them. Of course, he has unfinished business in Europe first, as he needs to acquire that world title that he has desperately sought after, for many years. Clement has been a contender for quite a while now, so you would think that he has countless GP wins to his name. However, he has just fifteen victories to his name (his first came in 2009).
So, he still has a lot to achieve. Clement is just twenty-four, so he has quite a few years left to race at the highest level. Funnily enough, most fans tend to think that he is a lot older, because he has contesting the MX1 class for so long now. You could argue that this year was his best yet, so he is still moving forward, evidently.
Words by Lewis Phillips