How quickly things can change. It wasn’t too long ago that most considered Kevin Strijbos to be ‘the next big thing’. But, it does not take much for a rider’s career to get off-track; Strijbos is proof of that. However, his fall from the top of the sport was not entirely down to his own actions. The years of 2008, 2009 and 2010 were simply disastrous for the Belgian. But, it now looks like he is slowly climbing back to where he once was.
In order to have a better understanding of how Kevin Strijbos ended up in the position he is in currently, let us look back on what ignited his downfall. I believe that his departure from the factory Suzuki team at the end of 2007 was to blame for his sudden problems both on and off the track. The Suzuki was all Strijbos had ever known; the switch did not come easy to him. I am sure some are immediately wondering, why did he leave them then? But what most forget is that it wasn’t entirely his decision.
At the end of 2007, Kevin Strijbos was told that if he wished to stay with the team he would have to drop down to the MX2 class. But, Strijbos has always been a 450 specialist; the rare appearances he has made on a 250 have not gone well. It is understandable why he chose to stay on the 450. If he had dropped down to the 250, he might have never found his way back onto a competitive MX1 bike. At that time, the Suzuki 250f had never really had much success at the top of the MX2 class. This is why the team wanted Kevin to drop down; but that fact must of influenced Kevin’s decision also.
So, Strijbos signed with the now defunct GPKR Kawasaki squad for the 2008 season. The team was most definitely competitive; but despite this the partnership did not go to plan. The next year Kevin was back aboard factory machinery with the Martin Honda team, but injuries beset him once again and left most questioning his ability, and mentality. 2010 did not go much better for him; following successive injuries and team problems it seemed unlikely that he would ever return to the top step.
Whilst his body was feeling the effects of successive injuries, mentally the problems were beginning to have a huge affect on Kevin Strijbos. Kevin openly admitted that in the winter of 2010, he began contemplating whether or not it was time to hang up the boots. It’s those dark days that aren’t featured enough in this sport, because of his lackluster results Strijbos was almost forgotten about. Following three disastrous years, a privateer bike under the Delta Suzuki awning was his only option for the 2011 season. Surprisingly, glimpses of his former speed were starting to shine through on the lesser equipment. Suddenly, Strijbos started grabbing the attention of the industry once again after posting consistent top ten results.
At the beginning of 2011, Strijbos looked comfortable with the Delta Suzuki beneath him. His progressive results earned him the opportunity to return to the factory Suzuki squad as a fill-in rider for his former teammate, Steve Ramon. I believe that it was this short stint with the team, which revitalised his career. Strijbos was evidently at home on the factory Suzuki; it was clear that he was regaining both his speed and confidence. The factory team actually wanted the Belgian to return to the team full-time this year. However, at that time both the team and Kevin had already agreed on other deals for the 2012 season, so the reunion had to be postponed for another twelve months.
Instead of heading to the factory Suzuki squad, Strijbos ended up on the HM Plant KTM UK team. Honestly, I believe that this was the best place for him. Although some might think that contesting the Maxxis British Championship is an inconvenience to the top riders; the series was pivotal for Kevin as it propelled him back into the limelight. I think that what he gained by winning the MX1 title was much more than just the championship accolades. He [Strijbos] would turn up at the British Championship events, and dominate most of the time. I believe that standing atop the podium consistently in the UK restored his confidence in himself. He proved to himself that he could still win. Kevin could then take that knowledge to the FIM Motocross World Championship (his priority) and elevate his performance in that series also.
The best moment in Strijbos’ season wasn’t winning the British Championship (as great as that was); it was his sole moto win in the FIM Motocross World Championship. In Kegums, Latvia, Kevin proved to himself and the entire industry that his main goal of being a world champion was still obtainable. Previously I stated that I believe spending a year on the HM Plant KTM UK team was the best place for him to be. Instead of jumping straight back onto the factory Suzuki squad, he got to race in a relaxed atmosphere where he was not expected to win every week. Kevin still had great equipment beneath him (he did receive some help from the factory KTM team), but there wasn’t as much pressure on him. I think this really helped him claw his way back to the top of the sport.
In 2013, Strijbos will return to the factory Suzuki squad, which is a structure that he is very familiar with. I think that there will be more questions surrounding Strijbos next year than there has ever been before. 2013 will determine whether or not the Belgian will continue to progress, or whether he will just slip into the lower half of the top ten. To expect him to win next year is unrealistic, however I do believe that if he has an injury free year (I think that momentum is key for Kevin) he should be challenging for podiums again. Is Strijbos back to where he was in 2007? No. But, do his results indicate that he is on his way back to the front of the pack? I think so.
Words by Lewis Phillips