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 MXGP is nearly here and the question of who'll step up as serious contenders this season has pretty much been answered. Yes, all the usual suspects have had good results in the pre-season international races. One rider, however, is keeping rather quiet, and that is former World MX2 Champion, Christophe Pourcel.
Pourcel did race one international to date and showed good form, although his lack of pre-season races does cast some doubt over his preparation for the season opener at Valkenswaard in less than two week's time. But, as anyone will tell you, the Frenchman is one of the most talented motocross riders in the world - yes, that's right, across Europe and America - and should never be underestimated.
Former World Motocross Champion Dave Thorpe has always been impressed with Pourcel. Thorpe recently mentioned that only Pourcel will know if he is prepared of not, and that all the forum talk or journalists opinion will mean nothing, come Easter Monday in Holland. If you ask defending World MX1 Champion, Antonio Cairoli, his opinion of Pourcel, he'll tell you that the Frenchman is one of the best riders he has ever raced and he enjoys battling with the Kawasaki-mounted hero.
Amazingly, when Pourcel returned to the GP paddock in the middle of 2011, he didn't make many friends. In fact, the team mechanics continued to smile as Pourcel pulled out of motos for not wearing a chest protector, or just plain didn't turn up for training or races.
I remember approaching Christophe at one of his first races back in Europe and asking for an interview. In his typical shy/arrogant way, he asked why I would want to interview him, referring to the hard time the press had given him on his return. When I mentioned that I believed in him, his cheeky grin turned into a smile and he invited me to do the interview. I was pretty happy, as most of my fellow scribes didn't dare even try to talk to the Frenchman.
I had to think back to a moment in 2007; the year after he had won the World MX2 Championship in a bitter battle with Cairoli. Pourcel wasn't travelling that well in '07 and didn't look anywhere near the rider who had beaten the Italian a year earlier. It was at the Grand Prix of Sweden and on the Saturday night, I ventured into one of the riverside cafes. It was around 11pm and while the bar was full of beautiful blonde Swedes, I couldn't help notice Pourcel (without doubt, a guy who loves pretty ladies) standing by the bar with some friends. He saw me watching him, smiled and continued his evening.
What I do know about Christophe Pourcel is he does things his way. I don't find him to be arrogant at all; I find him to be shy and nervous around people. He has been through hell and back with his spinal injury, and his two narrow losses in the AMA MX Lites series - in 2009 and 2010 - really must have battered his confidence.
Now in 2012, he has to return to his rightful place as a series contender, and with an MX1 class loaded with guys capable of winning GPs, it is not going to be an easy job. I can't wait to see what he's got.