JM Honda Racing rider Julien Lieber has announced his retirement from professional racing, effective immediately. The 26-year old Belgian missed a lot of time on the bike in the last 12 months due to a series of injuries he picked up at the German MXGP round of 2019. While the news might come as a shock to many, for Lieber – ever the fierce competitor- the conclusion was inevitable.
You wouldn’t notice something’s off when you‘d see Julien riding on a track on his own. Stylish, spectacular and with natural ease that’s rare even among the best in the world.
The pocket-sized racer from Malmedy captured rostrum finishes in EMX250, MX2 and finished 4th overall at the 2018 MXGP of Imola. In his two MX of Nations appearances he collected silver (2014) and bronze (2015) with Team Belgium. There’s no doubt that the protegé of Yves Demaria had the potential to make his marks in MXGP aboard the JM Honda CRF450R. Unfortunately, fate had its own way.
“It was a pleasure to work together with a rider as talented as Julien. Straightaway it became obvious that the Honda suited his style perfectly,'” comments Jacky Martens, JM Honda Racing team manager. “This winter everything looked promising, but unfortunately he continued to suffer from his injury. Not only do we think that’s a pity as a team, it’s also sour for Julien to have to step this way. I wish him all the best for the next chapter in his life”.
You only got back on the bike at the end of June. But outwardly all seemed fine in practice. Why did you decide to walk away now?
Julien Lieber: “The aftermath from my crash in Teutschenthal last year was a lot more complicated than we could have imagined initially. I had two surgeries to my elbow, two on my wrist with the last one back in early March. In both instances it turned out that there was not so much that surgery could do to properly fix the issue. That’s what I’ve been dealing with this whole time. Even when the pain was so much better after I received an infiltration you know that the injuries itself will not magically go away in a few months or even a few years to be honest.”
Being as competitive as you are accelerated your decision to bite the bullet now?
Lieber: “Absolutely. The level in the MXGP world champions is already high in itself, so you cannot line up and expect to be competitive if you’re not 100%. Even when the pain is bearable, I notice I have less power in my left arm because of the elbow issue and mentally you don’t feel comfortable to push like you should. That’s a dangerous situation where there might even be a risk to sustain more damage. Especially on a powerful 450 bike! Every race this season actually felt like being at 80%. For me personally it’s absolutely pointless to aim for a top-15. And I know that’s not what JM Honda Racing is about either! Up until last year I was on an upward trajectory of improving and getting closer to my goals. I know we were on the right track with the top-5 race finishes I had in 2018 and 2019. The experience needed to get results is there but at this point I feel that my body doesn’t allow me to do that.”
It must be a tough decision realising that the ingredients for success are there but that need to retire.
Lieber: “It is, there’s a time for every professional rider to say goodbye. For some it’s earlier than others but it’s clear form me that this is the best decision. One thing is absolutely sure, dealing with these injuries it won’t be possible to be the Julien Lieber I was before this crash when I was second behind Tim Gajser… It’s a shame that it has to happen now because I was very pleased with the whole programme for 2020. I know I had a great opportunity to rebuild together with JM Honda racing. The team is really good, everything went great and I immediately gelled with the bike too. From the first time I rode the CRF450R I fell in love with the handling, it’s so easy to go fast with that bike!”
What stands out as far as career highlights go?
Lieber: “For sure 2017 when I rode at the top in MX2 as a privateer in my own team, that was very special. I came back after not racing in GPs for one and half year when I had hip surgery. That was super hard to bounce back from. It was incredible to make the podium in the opening race in Qatar and then to take the red plate in Argentina. Both seasons with the factory Kawasaki MXGP team were nice too. All in all I’m happy with what I have achieved, both in MX2 and in MXGP, although you always want it to be more -everyone does! But in the end there’s only one world champion.”
What’s next for Julien Lieber?
Lieber: “On the one hand, from a young age my life was all about becoming the best motocross rider I could be. That makes it even harder to leave this life behind. On the other hand I’m still young so that’s maybe an advantage to find a new direction. I haven’t decided yet what I’d like to exactly. I will take my time in the next couple of months to find out but I’d like to stay active in motocross. For sure the next months will be tough because I won’t be able to compete and that’s so much in my blood! I will probably continue to ride motocross, but just for fun without the stress of racing professionally.”
Will it be hard for you to watch the remaining GPs this season?
Lieber: “Definitely! That’s going to be difficult to watch the races when the realisation sets in that you’re no longer a world championship rider. Motocross is still an awesome sport and I will miss it but that’s the way it is. I’m convinced things will get better once I have new goals in life.”
You rode your first GP 10 years ago and raced all over the world. What are the tracks you enjoyed most?
Lieber: “The last few years I definitely loved Orlyonok. It’s a circuit with a good variety of sections and obstacles and the setting is nice too, with the black sea as a backdrop. Sevlievo in Bulgaria was cool as well. In the end there have been quite a few nice ones… (smiles) and not so nice ones of course! But every rider has his own preference and you always tend to like tracks were you do well.”
Any last words, acknowledgements?
Lieber: “First and foremost I’d like to thank my family who’ve been behind me from day one, Pier Bottero who for the last five years supported me through Lovemytraining with Yves Demaria as a coach. This has been a great partnership. Furthermore, a big thank you to all teams, sponsors, fans and media. Over the years as a professional rider I’ve met a lot of great people, a lot of individuals who all did their bit to get me to my best level. From mechanics to team managers and other staff, thank you for believing in me and helping me. Last but not least, thanks to Jacky Martens for his trust and professionalism.”
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS JULIEN LIEBER
2019: 17th MXGP World Championship (injured)
2018: 11th MXGP World Championship
2017: 6th MX2 World Championship (5 podiums)
2016: No racing (health problems)
2015: 3rd MX of Nations, 6th MX2 World Championship (one podium)
2014: 2nd MX of Nations, 11th MX2 World Championship
2013: 23rd MX2 World Championship
2012: 22nd MX2 World Championship
2011: 29th MX2 World Championship
2010: 8th EMX250 (one podium, one race win)
Photo Copyright: JM Honda Racing / Bavo SwijgersAuthor: JM Honda Racing Team