Mickael Pichon has bounced back from his 2003 Suzuki split in perfect fashion after taking pole position for the opening round of the 2004 MX1 motocross world championship, at a wet and windy Zolder, with his new Tiscali Honda team.

"Honestly I don't remember ever having to race on such a selective and difficult track," said Pichon, whose never been afraid to air his opinion on track design. "Some of my rivals raced the Motocross of Nations in October but it was the first time I have ridden here. There are a lot of bumps, deep lines and rough parts and I was scared during the free practice sessions as I didn't want to be injured again."

Nineteenth and third in the free practice sessions, Pichon would take pole for tomorrow's two motos by 0.7secs from reigning world champion Stefan Everts.

"I didn't know exactly what to expect as I hadn't raced with my GP rivals since my injury last year but I knew that I had a perfect bike and a good physical condition," explained Mickael. "I don't have any more problems with my knee, I do have very good preparation with the team and of course I'm happy with my pole.

"I was a little bit stressed and nervous before the sessions, but finally everything went perfectly. Now the most difficult part has to be the races; I will try to get a decent start and then we'll see what happens. The track will get rougher throughout the day and I'll have to be careful, as it'll be very easy to make a mistake and crash. The season is long," he added with a smile.

Everts, riding with an injured rib, didn't appear to be too hampered this afternoon - but he left the track immediately after the session for intensive massages, in preparation for tomorrow's battle.

An impressive third and fourth were the surprise KTM pairing of Steve Ramon and Kenneth Gundersen respectively, who confirmed their good physical shape after a hard winter preparation under Pit Beirer's control, while Everts' new team-mate Cedric Melotte claimed fifth position on his factory Yamaha debut.

But main surprise of the session was the lack of pace from Joel Smets, the multiple world champion - still recovering from a knee injury - was left a disappointing fourteenth fastest (four places behind team-mate Kevin Strijbos) and isn't sure what to expect from the race.

"The track is so rough that I'm scared to get a bigger injury to my knee. I'm too stiff on the bike. My goal will be to take as many points as possible this weekend. But it will be more tough for me than it was last week in the Belgium championship," said the five times world champion.

In the MX2 class, KTM won both qualification races, Marc de Reuver putting on an incredibly dominant performance in the first moto on his new 250cc four-stroke, while New Zealander Ben Townley took his sister machine to victory in race two.

But while the Austrian marque was smiling, rivals Yamaha couldn't hide their disappointment after the non-qualification of former world champions' Andrea Bartolini and Alessio Chiodi.

Both sustained hand injuries, will miss the first round of the season as a result, and have possibly throw their title hopes away already since fifty points will be available tomorrow (Sunday).

MX1 qualifying times - top ten:

1. Micha?l Pichon (FRA) Honda 01:48.410
2. Stefan Everts (BEL) Yamaha 01:49.167
3. Steve Ramon (BEL) KTM 01:49.261
4. Kenneth Gundersen (NOR) KTM 01:49.518
5. C?dric Melotte (BEL) Yamaha 01:51.441
6. Joshua Coppins (NZL) Honda 01:51.551
7. Brian Jorgensen (DEN) Honda 01:52.245
8. Tanel Leok (EST) Suzuki 01:52.302
9. Marko Kovalainen (FIN) Honda 01:52.427
10. Kevin Strijbos (BEL) Suzuki 01:52.848

14. Joel Smets (BEL) Suzuki 01:53.513