After a break of two weeks, the Motocross world championship is back in action with three rounds scheduled in the following month, starting with the famous sandy circuit of Valkenswaard this weekend.
After the first three GPs of the 2004 season, new promoters Youthstream have declared themselves pleased with the season so far – which has seen, amongst other changes, a return to the two moto format in both the MX1 and MX2 classes.
"After months of talking it was nice to see good races," said Giuseppe Luongo, Youthstream's president. "Particularly in tough conditions, with twenty days of rain. Our main goal is to develop the sport, and I'm pleased to announce that we have now more television and media involved that in the past. We're increasing the value of the world championship, thanks to our partners and the hard work of the people who believe in it."
Even if there has been no grand prix in the last weeks, most of the riders kept practicing and racing in national championships events: Mickael Pichon (in France), Josh Coppins (in England), Kevin Strijbos (in Belgium) won some more trophies and developed their bikes, before moving to Belgium or Netherlands in order to set-up their bikes on sandy tracks. Valkenswaard this weekend will be a special event, but Lichtenvoorde in three weeks will be 'worse' with even deeper sand...
In the past, only Dutch or Belgium riders were considered capable of winning a Dutch GP, having grown up riding sandy tracks, but the situation is now much more unpredictable with Frenchman Pichon (winner of the last three 250 GPs at the venue) or Spaniard Garcia Vico (winner of national championship rounds in the Netherlands) confirming that with intensive training everything is possible.
However, in the MX1 class, Stefan Everts, Joel Smets, Steve Ramon, Cédric Melotte and Kevin Strijbos will be considered 'local' riders (the Belgium border is only fifteen kilometres south of Valkenswaard) and pre-event favourites.
All five have either claimed wins or podiums at Valkenswaard in the past, and even though the track has been re-designed during the winter they are still likely to maintain their slight edge over the competition.
Ready to topple the favourites will be Pichon, Josh Coppins, Kenneth Gundersen and Garcia Vico who have all taken podiums in the past; Pichon and Everts had an incredible battle twelve months ago (top picture), and Pichon heads into the event fresh from his first victory of the year, at the Portuguese GP. Coppins (podium in 2001), Gundersen and Garcia Vico (both on the podium in 2003) will expect further strong results, even if Vico will again not use his new Aprilia this weekend (the 450 twin is predicted to appear the following week in Germany).
For the Dutch fans, the main class this weekend will be MX2, and they are sure to cheer home hero Marc De Reuver around every inch of each moto. The young Dutch star got his first GP podium at the circuit in 2001, but was unable to repeat that performance in the last two seasons.