Focus: Herlings heads to the sands of Riola with momentum

The last time Jeffrey Herlings raced in the sandy confines of Riola Sardo in MXGP was back in 2021, where he flexed his muscles forcefully to go 1-1 in that memorable season where he went on to claim the title in dramatic fashion.

Words: Edward Stratmann | Lead Image: Ray Archer

But this time around, it would be surprising to see him enjoy such a dominant display even though Jorge Prado pushed him hard in the second moto back then after Herlings triumphed in race one by over 42 seconds.

Having missed the entire 2022 campaign due to injury, it’ll certainly be intriguing seeing how the Flying Dutchman fares in Sardinia in his quest to gradually build into the new term.

After entering the season opener in Argentina by stating a top five finish would be a successful outcome, the #84 emphatically exceeded expectations by putting in a superb performance to go 4-2 for second overall. A scary result indeed that he was up to speed and felt that comfortable so rapidly, especially after getting 10th in the qualifying race and in the morning warm-up on Sunday.

“I got better throughout the weekend. I haven’t raced these guys for sixteen months and that amount of time means you should not underestimate the class,” he insisted.

“I have done hundreds and thousands of laps in training, but you cannot replicate the intensity of racing here. Every session was getting a little easier and I don’t think it is bad to get second. If I had this option beforehand then I would have taken it. I just want to keep on building up my race rhythm now.”

Noting he still needs time to get back to full fitness, adapt to the intensity at the elite level and gel completely with the bike following such a long layoff, another two weeks of training and fine tuning could have him primed for another outstanding effort in Sardinia.

One thing he mentioned to MX Vice was that he still wasn’t entirely happy with the bike setup in the sand so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s made ground on the soft stuff during the break.

Seeing as he’s one of finest sand riders in the history of the sport, it would take a brave man to write him off, for the way he handles himself in such conditions is always a joy to watch. Navigating the bumps and holes masterfully, manhandling the bike expertly and so good at transferring his weight while keeping his flow, if he gets into his groove, his competitors may have no answer for the Bullet.

With the likes of Prado, Romain Febvre, Glenn Coldenhoff, Maxime Renaux, Jeremy Seewer, Pauls Jonass, Brian Bogers and last year’s winner at Riola Calvin Vlaanderen all vying for glory, this weekend’s event looms as a real belter too.

Although there’s only one round in the books of the 2023 crusade, the early signs are ominous for the rest of the field that Herlings has made such a positive start.

This next test in the sand will make for unmissable viewing in his pursuit to gain further momentum while his rivals will be eager to prove they have what it takes to win on one of the most demanding tracks on the calendar.

Bring on this weekend in what’s shaping up as an utterly compelling 2023 in MXGP, where all eyes will be on Herlings to see if he can continue to shine and replicate his feats at Riola from 2021.

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MX Vice | Editor