Honestly, I was a bit shocked when the Rockstar Suzuki Europe team announced that Julien Lieber would partner Max Anstie on the squad this year. I seem to remember that last year, the only time that I noticed the Belgian was when he was picking his bike up off of the floor. He definitely seemed to be a bit of a crasher. However once he landed on the Suzuki at the end of the last year as a fill-in rider, Lieber did start to show some speed and potential also.
After the first three rounds of the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship, Julien Lieber is sitting in tenth in the series standings. I would consider Lieber to be one of the lesser known riders in that top ten, mainly because Lieber has not made a name for himself as of yet. Hence why, he has flown under the radar thus far. So why have I waited until now to feature Julien in this column? At Valkenswaard, he posted his best moto result of the year and stole the spotlight for the first time this year.
Prior to the third round, Julien Lieber had been good. The Belgian put his Suzuki inside of the top ten in three of the four motos throughout the opening two rounds. You see the fact that he was able to do this proved to me that he could be consistent. Lieber struggled with this in 2012; clearly he has made some gains in the winter both on and off of the bike. So far, Julien has posted a ninth, tenth and eleventh overall. Again, that is quite consistent. I do think that this is what has impressed me the most about Lieber this season.
But onto Valkenswaard: I did expect Julien Lieber to perform well there, because of the fact that he is a Belgian. If you are a Belgian, it is presumed that you will exceed all expectations in these conditions. What happened at Valkenswaard in 2012? Julien finished in thirty-third overall, with no points on the board. What about this year? Although he did not finish moto two (through no fault of his own) he still posted a respectable eleventh overall. He was able to record a sixth in the first moto, which was his best finish of the season. Although, the top five did drop him he still stayed strong for the duration of the moto. After starting in fifth, it was a good solid moto for the Rockstar Suzuki Europe rider.
In the second moto Julien was involved in a battle for eighth for much of the race. In the first fourteen laps, Lieber continuously swapped positions with the riders around him. But, in this race he suffered two falls; this was reminiscent of his problems last year. Neither fall was too hard, but it was the second that cost him a points paying position. Whilst he tried to retrieve his Suzuki and rejoin the race, Jose Butron came over a blind jump and hit his bike. Although his machine was damaged, Julien saw the Spaniard coming; this allowed him to sprint out of the way. Fortunately, Lieber suffered no injuries in the fall. So he will be able to push forward in the coming weeks.
The Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team now has both of their riders inside of the top ten in the series standings. Whereas last year, they struggled with injuries all season long. Although hiring Lieber may have been a bit of a gamble, I would say that the bet has already paid off. I am quite interested to see what sort of progress Julien can make in the coming weeks. From last year to now, he has made huge gains in his program. With the backing of his team, I do not think that it would be too surprising if he were to land on the podium at some point.
Words by Lewis Phillips