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MXGP restarts with Latvian triple-header

MXGP is back! Following a five month break due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the FIM Motocross World Championship is making its much-awaited return with a triple header in Latvia, with the MXGP of Latvia, MXGP of Riga and MXGP of Kegums.

The hard sand circuit of Motocenter “Zelta Zirgs”, located just under 50km from the capital city of Riga, first hosted the Motocross World Championship race with the MX3 and 125cc championship in 2005. Since then, Kegums has put on some of the best MXGP racing, including the epic Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations in 2014, that saw Gautier Paulin, Dylan Ferrandis and Steven Frossard rise to yet another victory for Team France.

With its awesome track layout and wonderful on-site facilities, plus the amazing Latvian fans, Kegums has become a favourite among teams and riders, who look forward to the event every season.  

Though the return of the MXGP series will see several changes, including an all-new timetable schedule, with the European support classes out on track for both their races on Saturday, meanwhile MXGP and MX2 riders will take to the track on Sunday for their Free/Timed Practice and races one and two.

This year the Latvian triple-header will also see the second, third and fourth rounds of the EMX250 Championship that is currently led by Bastian Boegh Damm of WZ Racing KTM, followed by Isak Gifting and Andrea Adamo of SM Action MX Migliori J1 Racing sitting third.

With his double race win in Valkenswaard, Boegh Damm was looking strong and will no doubt aim to carry this momentum in Latvia. Meanwhile both Adamo and Gifting will be right there alongside, to challenge for the win.

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory riderKay de Wolf is also in with the chance of challenging in the top end of the field, following an impressive ride at his home GP.

Maddii Racing Husqvarna’s Mattia Guadagnini is also among the riders that will be looking for top results in Kegums, along with Thomas Sileika who will enter his home rounds with the support of his local fans.

The EMX Open class is a brand-new European Championship for 2020. With the first three rounds taking place in Latvia, the championship is very much open and ready for the taking.

The EMX Open class will see the likes of Miro Sihvonen, who has previously contested in the popular EMX250 class where he won the MXGP of Europe round back in 2017, along with the former 85cc Junior World Champion, Kim Savaste of 137 KTM Motorsport who will also line up in Kegums.

Also making the trip to Latvia is PAR Homes RFX Husqvarna rider Nathan Dixon, along with Federico Tuani of Husqvarna Junior Racing Maddii and Greg Smets just to name a few.

More local faces include Arnolds Snikers, as the only Latvian rider to take part, while Domantas Jazdauskas will make the trip from neighbouring Lithuania for the occasion also.

With plenty of fresh faces in the EMX250 and EMX Open classes, along with the MX2 and MXGP riders, the tripled header in Latvia is set to be an exciting event, that will no doubt see plenty of intense competition and battles throughout the three events.

In 2019, Team HRC’s Tim Gajser was victorious in the MXGP class, though he was tied on points with second and third place finishers Romain Febvre and Arnaud Tonus. With all three riders on exactly 40 points each, it was Gajser’s race two victory that handed him the overall win. 

In the last year, Gajser has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to his sand riding and therefore could be in with the chance of repeating last year’s win and clinching yet another victory in Latvia; his race wins from Matterley Basin and Valkenswaard go to prove that the Slovenian is perfectly cool with leading the field, even when he’s being chased down by Jeffrey Herlings and Antonio Cairoli.

His team-mate Mitch Evans will also be making a return to racing in Kegums, following months of rehab on his should injury, which he picked up in Valkenswaard. Before the Australian got hurt, he did give us a glimpse of what he is capable of in Great Britain, with a third-place finish in race one, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him battle within the top five once again.

Taking a look at the Red Bull KTM Factory squad, the Latvian GP was somewhat eventful for the team. Both Jeffrey Herlings and Antonio Cairoli were forced out of race two with injury and with that had to sit out the rest of the season, meanwhile the MX2 rider (at the time) Jorge Prado rode two solid races and took the overall victory. Though with both of these injuries behind them, and Prado’s recent rehab on his own leg injury, the team will be back stronger than ever.

All three riders have a good track record in Kegums, with Prado’s win last season, then Cairoli on four wins to his name (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013) and the current MXGP championship leader, Herlings, with five (2010, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018), three of those victories from his MX2 days, it would be a safe bet that we may see at least one of these three on the podium of each event in Latvia.

Though that’s not to say that, that will be guaranteed as there will be a field of riders up for the challenge, three of those being the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing riders Jeremy Seewer, Arnaud Tonus and Gautier Paulin.

Tonus had a fantastic ride in Kegums last year, as already mentioned, finishing tied on points for first place, though his fourth-place finish in race two was the decider that meant he’d not only missed out on the top step but would also have to settle for third instead. Though a podium is still a podium, and one that puts Tonus among the group of strong contenders to take a trophy home again this year. Meanwhile his team-mate Jeremy Seewer also put on a strong performance with a fourth overall, and so did Gautier Paulin, finishing just outside the top five in seventh place.

Of course, they are not the only ones aiming high as we return to racing in a matter of days. Romain Febvre and Clement Desalle of Monster Energy Kawasaki Team both have won in Latvia in previous years, with Febvre winning races in 2015 and 2016, with Desalle also wining in 2009 and finishing second on the podium behind Cairoli. For Febvre the Latvia GP will be the first time that we see the Frenchman line-up on an MXGP start-gird, as the Kawasaki rider was forced to miss the races in Great Britain and the Netherlands due to a leg injury sustained in practice leading up to the first round of the championship. Now with months of preparation under his belt, this could be the weekend we could see Febvre challenge for top positions.

Then there’s Arminas Jasikonis of Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing who will represent the team in Kegums alone, as Pauls Jonass will not be lining up at his home GP’s due to a practice crash in which the Latvian sustained three broken ribs and five spinous processes. With doctors’ recommendations of an extended period of rehabilitation, it is unclear when we will see Jonass back.

Last year Jasikonis went DNF-7 at the Latvian Grand Prix, though his third place finish in Valkenswaard earlier in year, and his ability to ride in the sand, plus with the added bonus of Lithuanian fans, will sure give him a boost and it could be that we see the Lithuanian stand tall on the podium for a second time in 2020.

Standing Construct GasGas Factory riders Glenn Coldenhoff and Ivo Monticelli respectively finished 8th and 9th last season, and will be there to do the same again this time around. Monticelli had a consistent ride to finish 10th in both races, while Coldenhoff had a result of P12 and P8.

Another stand-out rider from last year was Jeremy Van Horebeek of Team Honda SR Motoblouz who had a top 5 ride. Having had a strong ride at the last GP in Holland back in March, and plenty of time to prepare for Kegums, we could see Van Horebeek come out swinging.

MXGP Championship Top 10: 1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), 94 points; 2. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 85 p.; 3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 68 p.; 4. Clement Desalle (BEL, KAW), 60 p.; 5. Gautier Paulin (FRA, YAM), 58 p.; 6. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, GAS), 56 p.; 7. Arminas Jasikonis (LTU, HUS), 53 p.; 8. Jorge Prado (ESP, KTM), 47 p.; 9. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, YAM), 42 p.; 10. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, HON), 39 p.

2019 MXGP of Latvia Top 3

1.Tim Gajser (40 points)

2.Romain Febvre (40 points)

3.Arnaud Tonus (40 points)

Main Photo: MXGP Start_MXGP of Latvia 2019

Bottom Photos: 1. Jeffrey Herlings; 2. Tim Gajser

Meanwhile in MX2, the door is open for a brand-new winner in Latvia. In 2019, it was Jorge Prado who won both races 1 and 2, but with the Spaniard moving up and focused on his rookie season in MXGP, the door is open for a new winner.

Red Bull KTM Factory rider Tom Vialle is the current championship leader with the shot of making the podium in Latvia. This season so far, he has finished on the podium in both Great Britain and the Netherlands, going on to take his first GP victory in Valkenswaard of the season earlier this year. With a 7th overall in Kegums last time around, he is more than capable of challenging for the podium and race wins.

Meanwhile his team-mate and MX2 rookie, Rene Hofer has also had a positive start to his campaign. Though he is yet to finish on the podium, he has however finished races within the top 5, with his best race result in Matterley Basin where he crossed the line in P2. Last season Hofer contested in the EMX250 Championship, and at the Latvian round he finished the races in 8th and 6th and this could be similar, if not even better results that we can expect to see from the Austrian this weekend.

A rider that we will no doubt see at the front end of the field, at some point throughout the races, is none other than the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MX2 rider Jago Geerts. Geerts has showcased his determination this season with some fantastic results, despite finding himself in trouble on several occasions. He was also the winner of the very first GP of the season in Great Britain, with a 4-1 result that saw the Yamaha rider take the red plate and become the early series leader, at the time.

Last year, the Belgian finished both races behind the MX2 World Champion Jorge Prado, but with Prado now no longer a threat, this leaves the Yamaha rider with the opportunity to add another GP victory to his 2020 stats.

The second Yamaha factory rider, Ben Watson, will also be heading to Latvia with the opportunity of a podium on his mind. Having finished 4th overall last season, 4 points shy of 3rd, this will be another opportunity for Brit to show that he is a real threat for the title this season.

We cannot forget the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory MX2 squad, who have spent the lockdown period much like any other team, working on their weaknesses and making sure they are ready to go when the championship returns.

Going into the season Thomas Kjer Olsen was one of the favourites to challenge for the MX2 title and though his injury got in the way during rounds one and two, with plenty of time for recovery during the lockdown period there is no reason why we couldn’t expect TKO back at the top end of the field. The Dane has a strong track record in Latvia, he finished 3rd overall last season and was the overall winner both in 2018 and 2017, so a victory could be on the cards in 2020 for the Husqvarna rider.

Then there’s the second factory Husqvarna rider, Jed Beaton, who has so far this season been pretty consistent. During the first two GPs, the Australian finished 4th on both occasions just a few points shy of the podium. If he carries on this consistent form, we could see Beaton on the podium at some point during the three events in Kegums.

F&H Kawasaki Racing Team’s Mikkel Haarup, Roan Van de Moosdijk and Mathys Boisrame have showed strong form this year and though they didn’t have the luckiest home GP in Valkenswaard, the rest of the season is long, and more can be expected from all three riders. Roan Van de Moosdijk was the overall winner in Latvia in 2019 for the EMX250 round, which shows that he is clearly strong on the hard sand and could be a threat this year in MX2.

He is not the only MX2 rider who did well in the EMX250 round in Kegums last season, with Alberto Forato of Team Maddii Racing Husqvarna finishing second overall, just ahead of Jeremy Sydow of Diga Procross GasGas Factory Juniors who occupied the third step of the podium.

Other riders who can impress in Latvia include Bas Vaessen of Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee who finished 5th overall last year, along with Alvin Ostlund from Team Honda Assomotor and SM Action MX Migliori J1 Racing’s Maxime Renaux who has already one podium to his name in 2020, and could be a real threat in Latvia. 

MX2 Championship Top 10: 1. Tom Vialle (FRA, KTM), 87 points; 2. Jago Geerts (BEL, YAM), 82 p.; 3. Jed Beaton (AUS, HUS), 74 p.; 4. Maxime Renaux (FRA, YAM), 61 p.; 5. Rene Hofer (AUT, KTM), 53 p.; 6. Mikkel Haarup (DEN, KAW), 52 p.; 7. Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN, HUS), 51 p.; 8. Ben Watson (GBR, YAM), 48 p.; 9. Conrad Mewse (GBR, KTM), 48 p.; 10. Jeremy Sydow (GER, GAS), 35 p.

2019 MXGP of Latvia Top 3:

1.Jorge Prado (50 points)

2.Jago Geerts (44 points)

3.Thomas Kjer Olsen (40 points)

Main Photo: MX2 Start – MXGP of Latvia 2019

Bottom Photos: 1. Tom Vialle; 2. Jago Geerts