Welcome to our web-exclusive weekly column: Transmoto's MXGP Insider, presented by Kawasaki. It's penned by Holland-based Aussie ex-pat and World Motocross fanatic, Geoff Meyer, who has seen more MXGP pit paddocks than most; a man so passionate about the sport that, in his early days, he used to hitch a ride from event to event. "MX Geoff" as he's now known also runs MX Large website and MX Illustrated digital magazine.
The opening round of the 2011 FIM Monster Energy World Motocross Championships will take place this coming weekend, as the best riders in the World head to the infamous sand of the Valkenswaard circuit in Holland. Run on Easter Sunday and Monday, the Grand Prix series opener is looking likely to have few surprises, despite the fact two riders enter the season as heavy favourites.
The Euro circuit in the Brabant region of The Netherlands is a popular spot for Dutch, German and Belgian Motocross followers, and the action is always intense. Valkenswaard is also a circuit that's etched into Australian Motocross folklore since 1989 when Australian motocross legend, Jeff Leisk, won a moto there and led another until a DNF cost him both the GP win and any chance of winning the World 500cc MX Championship. Leisk's bike ran out of fuel because the thick sand emptied the tank of his factory Honda. Funnily enough, 12 years later and just down the road from Valkenswaard, another Aussie, Chad Reed, won his first and only Grand Prix at the even sandier Lierop circuit - en route to his impressive runner-up finish in the premier 250cc class in the 2001 World MX Championship. Seems the Aussies know a thing or two about Dutch sand!
This year, sadly, there'll be no Aussies on the startline, as Dean Ferris is still recovering from an off-season injury. However, there are enough talking points to make the opening round special. Of course, the big favourite in the MX2 class will be local rider Jeffrey Herlings who has won the last two years in Valkenswaard with ease. Herlings, who lives just around the corner from Valkenswaard, is considered the fastest sand rider in the world. Plus there's a handful of the top MX2 riders missing from this year's series. The 2011 World MX2 Champion, Ken Roczen, has moved to America, Gautier Paulin has stepped up to the MX1 class, and Zach Osborne and Arnaud Tonus are both out injured. That leaves British rider Tommy Searle, and Herlings' Belgian teammate, Jeremy Van Horebeek, to try and keep the Flying Dutchman honest.
Herlings' success has definitely created a resurgence in Dutch motocross. After a decade of dwindling crowds and little in the way of World Championship contenders, the 2011 Valkenswaard event attracted a record crowd, and much of that should be attributed to Herlings' form.
In the MX1 class, Antonio Cairoli will go into Valkenswaard as the big favorite. Despite Belgian riders loving the sand, it's the little Italian who is the king of the sand, often winning the Dutch and Belgian GPs in recent years.
One rider who has also good sand skills is Clement Desalle of the Rockstar Energy Suzuki team. Desalle was the fastest rider in the MX1 class last year when Valkenswaard came around, and this year he has looked strong in the pre-season.
Other riders with the potential to battle with Cairoli include three Frenchmen: Steven Frossard, Gautier Paulin and Christophe Pourcel. Add Russian giant, Evgeny Bobryshev, and the MX1 class has some pretty good contenders. Whatever happens in Valkenswaard this weekend, we can be sure that a huge crowd will be treated exciting race action for the first event of the 2012 FIM World Motocross Championships. Valkenswaard guarantees it!