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.

Winner of the 2004 British GP and dominant in the British Championship, New Zealander Josh Coppins is in his best-ever form and is likely to be tussling with Dane Brian Jorgensen (now on a factory Yamaha), Spaniard Javier Garcia Vico (team-mate of Pichon), Belgians' Kevin Strijbos (Suzuki) and Steve Ramon (KTM), plus Ireland's Gordon Crockard (Yamaha).

MX2 World Champion Ben Townley has also shown his good speed on the KTM 450, but hasn't celebrated any pre-season success due to technical problems; keep an eye on the fast kiwi, as well as the factory Kawasaki of Tanel Leok and the Husqvarna of Antoine Meo to cause a surprise.

With Townley's graduation, the 2005 MX2 series is wide open - indeed, the first time the main favourites will face each other will be at Zolder! Transferring from MX1 (and the winner last year on the Flemish track) Melotte is probably the fastest rider at the moment on a sandy surface and leads a strong Yamaha line-up which includes former World Champions Alessio Chiodi and Mickael Maschio, young talent Antonio Cairoli and Andrew McFarlane.

Aboard the works Kawasakis are Britain's Stephen Sword and young French talents Christophe and S?bastien Pourcel who will try to bring some 'green' faces to the podium, while Belgian Patrick Caps, American Mike Brown and Dutchman Erik Eggens will steer red 250CRF Hondas.

All of them will have one goal: to beat the KTM factory, who have been champions for four of the last five seasons. But to succeed names such as Grant Langston, James Dobb, Steve Ramon and Ben Townley, the Austrian factory have committed South African Tyla Rattray and British Carl Nunn who will both ride the marque's 250 four-strokes.

"The start of the 2005 season looks an exciting one with the FIM MX2 World Champion (Townley) moving to the MX1 class to take on Stefan Everts and Mickael Pichon, with the return of Joel Smets against the ever motivated Brian Jorgensen, Joshua Coppins, Kevin Strijbos or Steve Ramon. Meanwhile, by adding Brown and Melotte to the already competitive MX2 starting grid, it will be an outstanding and spectacular MX2 series," declared Youthstream president Giuseppe Luongo.

"I am happy that the racing is starting this weekend. Everyone can concentrate on each of their jobs and Motocross will live a historical moment with the widest TV coverage ever, with 17 MX1/MX2 events plus the Motocross of Nations, with 12 MX3/EU125 events and with the most riders entered in every class!

"So, despite the difficult situation with the world economy, Motocross is pushing forward. Adrenaline will be pumping right from the word 'go', the FIM Motocross World Championships will be something you definitely should not miss," he concluded.

President of the FIM Motocross Commission, Dr Wolfgang Srb is also optimistic ahead of the 2005 season: "We will see one of the best seasons ever in MX1 as well as in MX2. Young riders seem to be ready to challenge the big names; the competition could be outstanding. I just hope that nobody gets injured and that we have great racing until the very last round of the Championship in Desertmartin.

"The participation of the US rider Mike Brown will add additional quality. The two events outside of Europe - Sugo in Japan and Sun City in South Africa - are important steps towards a real 'global' world championship.

"The Motocross of Nations in Ern?e should again be the climax of the year. The MXoN is the most important races in the world, nothing compares to our 'Olympic Games of Motocross'. I hope that the US team will participate, it would be great for the sport as well as for the fans," he conluded.

Zolder practice starts on Saturday at 9.30, with qualifying sessions from 2.00 to 5.00. Sunday will see the MX2 races are scheduled at 12.05 and 3.02, while the MX1 races will start at 1.05 and 4.05.