The MXGP heavyweights are set to catapult themselves into battle for the first time this weekend, as the first of five pre-season internationals will take place in Italy. The season has truly begun for those who will be chasing glory in the FIM Motocross World Championship and the thousands of fans who follow their progress. It is easy to fall back on the cliche that these pre-season events mean nothing in the grand scheme things, but they have shaped the season ahead in the past.
Romain Febvre knocked himself out at an Italian round last year and, although we will never get a definitive answer of how much that hurt him through the opening rounds, there is no doubt that it did indeed hold him back. Perhaps he would have found some better settings had he not been robbed of precious testing time? The same can be said for Jeffrey Herlings, as a crash in an international race derailed his campaign before it had even started. Clement Desalle suffered a similar problem in his maiden term with Monster Energy KRT.
The Mantova Starcross once opened the European season, but has now been replaced by Riola Sardo. The race, which acts as the first of three rounds, attracts more stars than any other pre-season event. Although that may be a bold claim, the entry list seems like a starting list for a round of MXGP. Antonio Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings, Tim Gajser, Romain Febvre and Gautier Paulin will all roll onto the small circuit on Sunday. Who will win? There is really no data to make predictions off of and that adds to the intrigue that surrounds the international event.
The Hawkstone International is now the most historic event on this list and will once again boast an impressive entry list in a little less than two weeks. Jeffrey Herlings, Gautier Paulin, Max Anstie, Tommy Searle, Glenn Coldenhoff, Pauls Jonass and some other noteworthy names will travel to the remote English setting. There is no doubt that the race, which often attracts an incredible number of spectators, will be the coldest on this list and potentially feature the worst weather, but that never dampens the prestige that surrounds the event. The MX1 and MX2 riders will compete in two motos each, then join up for a mixed race to conclude the day.
The second round of the Italian series fits some of the stereotypes, unlike Riola Sardo, as the circuit features elevation and a hard-pack base. A lot of the stars who race the opening round choose to not follow the path to round two, seeing as there are some other events to choose from, but Antonio Cairoli and Romain Febvre will still headline this event. The latter will be one of the most intriguing stories to follow through the pre-season events, as some questions about his current form will be answered. It was quite clear that there were some holes in his programme at these events last year.
Mantova needs no introduction, seeing as it has been on the FIM Motocross World Championship calendar for a number of years. The sandy circuit may be the best test ahead of the opening round of MXGP, for that reason, as the track is on the same level as those in the premier series. There is one hundred and twenty thousand euros up for grabs at the end of this three-race series, so this race will be interesting for that fact alone. Antonio Cairoli, the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing duo and Wilvo Yamaha MXGP trio will all be in the mix for that loot.
LaCapelle Marival could be considered the third-biggest event of the off-season, behind Riola Sardo and Hawkstone Park. Jeffrey Herlings, Max Anstie, Gautier Paulin and Clement Desalle will headline the premier division on the traditional hard-pack circuit in France. It seems as though this will be the only shot to see the Monster Energy KRT squad, consisting of Desalle and Julien Lieber, in action, as well as some of the smaller outfits like VHR KTM. There will be no more pre-season events following this weekend, as there will be just two weeks to go until the MXGP of Patagonia-Argentina. It really is not far away at all.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer