Kawasaki Racing Team has officially announced its rider line-up for the 2004 World Motocross Championship, with Stephen Sword linking up with Mickael Maschio in Jan de Groot's squad.

Both Sword and Maschio will compete in the newly named MX2 category - formerly the 125cc championship - aboard Kawasaki's new four-stroke KX250F motocross machine, which was recently launched worldwide to great reviews. In the MX1 category - formerly knows as MXGP - Frenchman Antoine Meo remains as the lone de Groot-supported Kawasaki rider , campaigning a 250cc two-stroke.

Maschio struggled to defend his world title this season, after picking up a wrist injury and being unable to train properly. Having ridden for much of the season in some pain from the injury, Maschio had been due to represent France in last weekend's Motocross de Nations in Belgium, but withdrew on medical advice.

"It's been a frustrating season for me this year - the team have worked very hard around me, but I have struggled each and every week, not being able to train and ride the bike mid week or give 100 per cent due to my wrist," he lamented, "We have a brand new bike for next season - the KX250F - in which Kawasaki have invested a lot of time and effort. I have tested several times now, and the bike is superb - the four-stroke power is often a big advantage, but I was very impressed by the overall machine, power, handling and chassis."

New signing Sword sees the graduation to MX1 as the next logical move in his career.

"I feel that this is the next step for me, and it comes just at the right time as I know my riding is still improving and I haven't peaked yet," the 22-year old said, "I realise that I still have a lot to learn, but moving to a squad like Jan de Groot's - with his enthusiasm and professionalism to make champions - carries through to the rider.

"When I first started talking with Jan about joining Kawasaki, my confidence grew and I was really pumped and buzzing about the move to a factory team. The last three or four races, I felt I was riding much easier knowing that I had made the right decision."

Sword comes to the Jan de Groot Kawasaki line-up with two British Championship titles to his credit, and is currently ranked ninth in the world.

"I hope that Jan can see in me that I have the right attitude to train and test, and that I have good work ethic to succeed," he continued, "I know that I can get podiums - I have been so close this season that, with the right help and experience, I know I will move forward.

"The new year, with a new team, is a big challenge, but one which I am looking forward too. I can't wait to start riding. I am not expecting Jan to turn me into a world champion overnight, but I know that, with my skill and enthusiasm combined, and working with his experience and knowledge, it will be a season to look forward too.

"I have had two good seasons with Albion KTM UK, who had the confidence to take me in when my life and career was in a muddle with Husqvarna. I feel that we have both benefited from the relationship, but they realise, just as I did, that I have to move on if my career in motocross is to go any where. We won two British Championship titles together, but it is time to move on. They would not want to hold me back, I am sure, and I doubt that I would have left if the offer had come from anyone other than Jan de Groot."

Meo, who finished a creditable 15th in this years MXGP category, rounds off the Kawasaki motocross grand prix line-up.

"I feel that my riding has improved a lot this year," he said, "I have learned a lot training with Mickael Maschio and, whilst I wasn't on the official team for 2003, Jan has been a great source of encouragement. His faith in me is a motivating factor for my preparation and dedication to do much better in next years world championship."

The World Motocross Championship reverts back to the traditional two moto format which was replaced two years ago when Dorna took over its promotion.

 

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