Stefan Everts is retiring after this Grand Prix season
In a week's time, the World MX1 and MX2 Motocross Championships will
begin. Of course, the most interesting thing about the 2006 season is
the fact that the greatest Grand Prix rider of all time, Stefan Everts,
will retire at the end of the year. What this means for the sport is
that not only do we need to say goodbye to Everts, but we need to find
a replacement. Steve Ramon summed it up perfectly when he said,
"Finding a replacement for Stefan Everts is not going to be easy, if
So far, this preseason has seen Everts win five events in five starts,
12 moto wins from 14, and his confidence is sky high. With just 16 GPs
remaining in his career, Everts needs little in the way of motivation.
"I have never needed to find motivation," Everts says "It's just there,
inside me. I hate losing. I feel maybe better than ever with my
preparation. Many people have asked me if I am ready too early, but I
just feel really good. The big improvement for me is the bike. Out of
the starts, it's better, but I also feel like I can push better. I
don't need to get close to the edge to push."
For the Rinaldi Yamaha-mounted Everts, the final season of his career
is not something that has emotionally drained him; instead, he is
looking at it with pleasure. The rider we are seeing at the moment
might just be the best Stefan Everts we have ever seen.
Sebastien Tortelli returns to Europe for '06
"Many fans are coming to me, emotional, saying I shouldn't retire. It
has not hit me yet,” he admits. “I mean, I have had some emotional
moments. I don't think it matters where I end my career. I mean, I had
my biggest moment in my career in Ernee [France], winning the three
motos [in three classes on the same day in 2003], so I guess ending in
Ernee is a good place [this September], but for me, the final race of
my career will be a big memory for me anyway, so whether it be Ernee or
anywhere else, it does not matter. I have already heard from so many
people who are coming to Ernee, making their bookings, family and
friends. It's going to be a special day for me. I am not sure I can do
better this year than I have in the past. I mean, for me, 2003 can’t be
bettered, with so many moto wins in both MX1 and MX2, plus the triple
GP victory in Ernee."
Of course, there are many quality riders in the MX1 class this year:
Coppins, Tortelli, Pichon, Ramon, Strijbos, and De Dijcker. Any one of
these riders can be a future world champion, and any one of these
riders has the potential to reach for the stars, just as Stefan Everts
has done in the last 15 years.
Let's start with Josh Coppins, the 2005 series runner-up. There is not
doubt the CAS Honda rider holds the strongest position within the big
six. His speed in recent years has been better than ever. His desire
and will to win has also improved, and his confidence is at an all-time
high. In the preseason races, Coppins didn't push too hard, but he
showed enough to give the impression he will be hard to beat in some
races in ‘06.
Steve Ramon could be the next Everts
Of course, KTM team riders Tortelli and Pichon also have the speed to
match Everts, but do they have the luck? The preseason races saw both
battle with Everts at different moments, although they also spent some
time trying to get their orange bikes started. Mechanical problems have
often been a problem with the always-developing KTM team; let’s hope
this year their riders can fight for the title without having to come
back from a DNF here and there.
To me, the two biggest dark horses for GP glory are Suzuki's Steve
Ramon and Kevin Strijbos, both Belgians and both young enough to take
the sport to another level. As for talent, this is probably the most
talented pairing in the paddock, and the Suzuki machines have come a
long way in the last couple of years. Stijbos has beaten Everts in the
preseason, and at the opening round of the Belgian championship battled
hard with Stefan, eventually falling short as he struggled with
sickness. Ramon, well, we all know he is the next Stefan Everts; all we
need now is for him to know it! Even the great Everts himself feels
that Ramon has more talent than anyone else in the GP paddock: "In some
things he is even more talented than me—he can find lines like nobody
The final piece of the MX1 puzzle is the Belgian giant Ken de Dijcker
of the CAS Honda team. A year ago around the Zolder circuit, de Dijcker
shocked the world by finishing fourth. Twelve months later he is ready
to do it again. Known for his natural talent but lack of stamina, de
Dijcker has worked hard in the winter and is looking strong as the new
season begins. Don't be surprised to see him win a GP in 2006, and his
chances of finishing top three in the world are good. De Dijcker has
also worked hard with CAS team manager Neil Prince, and Prince was not
surprised when De Dijcker actually beat CAS lead rider Josh Coppins in
the opening round of the British MX1 championship.
"Ken is working hard,” Prince says. “He has found some changes in his
riding, and also in his condition. I think he will surprise a lot of
people with his improvement, and we already saw in England that he is
motivated to really rock the boat."
The Grand Prix season kicks off in Zolder, Belgium, next weekend.