After a long winter break, the MX1 and MX2 Motocross World Championship teams and riders have arrived at Zolder, Belgium, for this weekend's opening round of the 2005 season.
Last season marked the 'debut' for promoters Youthstream, who have attempted to take Motocross back to its roots by returning to two motos per class and establishing a fresh set of sporting rules with only two classes (MX1 with 450 four-stroke and 250 two-stroke and MX2 with 250 four-stroke and 125 two-stroke).
The changes were generally welcomed and, with the aid of some strong TV coverage, a huge number of fans world wide saw Stefan Everts (MX1) and Ben Townley (MX2) crowned 2004 world championships.
The first of 17 rounds in the 2005 series, Zolder will entertain the opening round two weeks later than it did last year. The delay has now allowed the event to expect some sunshine, and give some more time to the teams and riders to prepare for the longest ever season - that will end in Ireland on September 17th.
With a world-wide calendar including rounds in Japan (May 29th) and South Africa (July 17th), the 2005 tour will still visit the most famous European Motocross countries such as Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, France, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands and Ireland. Seventeen GPs, thirty-four heats and a total of 680 points are up for grabs.
The most successful rider in the Motocross history - with eight titles and seventy-nine GP wins - Belgian Stefan Everts will be the MX1 favourite on his factory Yamaha. Winning GPs and titles in every class since 1989, Stefan is reaching the twilight of his career but never seems to lose motivation; he had a great pre-season with four wins and seems perfectly prepared despite separating from former physical trainer Willy Linden.
The Belgian's main rival in 2004, Frenchman Mickael Pichon, will be at his strongest onboard a Honda. Injured in 2003, Pichon had to return to full fitness while learning his new machine and team last season, but will arrive in Zolder with more experience and confidence than a year ago.
Runner-up behind Everts during their pre-season confrontations in International races at Mantova and Genk, Pichon has already won the '05 French Championship and seems ready for the challenge. Fellow former world champion Joel Smets has also looked good in during the pre-season months and the Flemish Lion, who missed part of last season through injury, has proved his pace in the pre-season Internationals held over the last eight weeks or so.
A few days before his 36th birthday (April 6th) Joel will try to obtain the best possible 'present' at Zolder by providing Suzuki with its first GP win with a four-stroke. Meanwhile, his factory team-mate Kevin Strijbos sustained an ankle injury last week in the Belgium Championship and is struggling to be ready for Zolder.