This weekend will see the famous Belgium circuit of Zolder host the opening round of the 2004 FIM Motocross World Championships, in what will be the first of sixteen rounds for the newly formed MX1 and MX2 competition classes.

This season will not only see the class changes, but the popular return of a two-moto format, made possible by new championship manager's Youthstrea, headed by former Action Group president - the firm who ran world championship motoross before Dorna - Giuseppe Luongo.

"Being away from the sport for three seasons gave me another perspective and since the FIM asked us to return we have worked a lot with my staff," said Giuseppe on the eve of the new season. "Our goal is to bring back the World Championships to its true level, and we can see right now the first results with 16 rounds on the calendar, an overseas GP - two or three more will joining us in 2005 - and the grouping of the best riders in the MX1 class."

Considered as the main class, MX1 boasts a promising line-up with the best three riders set to do battle on a different brand of motorcycle. With seven titles and seventy-two GP wins, Belgian Stefan Everts (pictured) is the most successful competitor since the creation of the championships in 1957 and one of the main favourites for his fourth season on a factory Yamaha.

Winner of two pre-season events (Mantova in Italy and Hawkstone Park in England), Everts will not however be in his best shape this weekend after a bad crash last week in Belgium during a national race. After a rider fell in front of him and the 2003 number one had nowhere to go and hit the ground. With severe bruising to the 9th rib, he was unable to prepare for this opening GP in the best conditions.

"Twice a day I had a laser treatment and I tried to do some cycling on Wednesday and some running on Thursday. I will try to race this weekend, probably with some painkillers in order to limit the damage for the championship," said the 31-year-old.

The situation is similar for fellow countryman Joel Smets, who injured his knee during a pre-season race in Italy. The factory Suzuki rider made his comeback last week after a month off the bike.

"My riding was not so bad, but I do not trust the leg when I came to right hand corners," said the five times World Champion, who ran out of time to develop the new 450 Suzuki due to this injury. However his young team-mate Kevin Strijbos proved - with a couple of wins in international meetings - that the bike is approaching readiness.

The last rider to win a premier-class GP on a two-stroke last year was Micka?l Pichon, the Frenchman having pushed Everts early in the season before losing ground and then picking up a season-ending injury in Germany.

Pichon has now moved on a four-stroke Honda and the double world champion's confidence is high after scoring a double win at the French Championships in the build-up to Zolder.

"I've a good physical shape after intensive training with Jacky Vimond, and I've no more pain to my knee," he commented. "I started to race progressively in France and I'm really confidant for this new season as the 450 Honda is really a great bike."
But while the trio of Everts, Smets and Pichon are expected to shine, the MX1 class also contains many up and coming names eager to break through this year. Cedric Melotte, the new team-mate of Everts, has taken some pre-season wins on his factory Yamaha, while reining 125cc world champion Steve Ramon and Kenneth Gundersen will lead the KTM effort.

Brian Jorgensen, Joshua Coppins and Gordon Crockard are some of the other Honda riders sure to be in podium contention, while Javier Garcia Vico is expecting to make an appearance as soon as possible with a competitive 450cc Aprilia.

In the MX2 class no less than four former World Champions will be involved, with Alessio Chiodi and Andrea Bartolini (Yamaha), Micka?l Maschio (Kawasaki) and James Dobb (Honda) all racing on a 250cc four-strokes.

Also racing on a thumper will be Claudio Federici, Patrick Caps, Andrew McFarlane (Yamaha) and Stephen Sword (Kawasaki), while KTM campaign both 125cc two-strokes and brand new 250cc four-strokes in the hands of Mark De Reuver, Ben Townley and Tyla Rattray.

The action will start on Saturday at 10am with the first free practice session, followed by qualifying from 3 - 6pm. Sunday will see the MX2 races at 12.05 and 15.05, with the MX1 at 13.05 and 16.05.