Lommel: there is no other circuit in the world that can level the best motocrossers on the earth both mentally and physically. The impossibly rippled and bumpy sand in the depths of the Limburg region and close to the Dutch border is feared, revered and firmly established as a virulent racing marker.
On this stage, surrounded by a 33,000 crowd and cooked in warm summer sunshine, Monster Energy Yamaha riders Romain Febvre and Ben Watson walked away from the hardest conditions of the season sweet with the aroma of podium champagne and for one of the more prized pieces of silverware in their clutches.
Febvre almost claimed his second Grand Prix in a row after triumphing in the Czech Republic last week (his first success in two years) but a poor start in the second moto meant the Frenchman could not follow-up his comprehensive win from the first and had to walk the second step of the MXGP box behind world champ-elect Tim Gajser.
“Yesterday I used a little bit too much energy for the qualifying race but I wanted a good pick in the gate and 3rd was OK,” he said of his effort on Saturday that teed-up his positive pace for the motos. “I was first coming into the first corner and after one lap I was passed by Tim but watched his lines and passed him back. I was feeling comfortable at the front, and then ready for the next race later on but didn't get the start. I was 12th-15th and hard to work really hard to come back. I just had to pass [Glenn] Coldenhoff to win the GP but it didn't happen. A little bit disappointed but happy to take second.”
Over in MX2 and Watson’s story was impressive. The young Brit celebrated his first rostrum of the year against the odds. #919 came to Lommel with a metal plate bulging the skin of his left hand: the bulky metalwork holding the fifth metacarpal together. Somehow the Yamaha star posted the results necessary to wear the biggest grin of the season so far.
“The past few weeks have been pretty difficult for me,” he understated of the operation post-German GP and the re-cracking of the bone after trying to compete in the recent Indonesian round. “I tried to ride in Indonesia and only managed Saturday before I woke up Sunday morning with a bad reaction in my hand and it was too painful. I came home and thought about what I really wanted and where I could improve because this season hasn't gone how I expected. I had time to reflect and work mentally and physically. I wasn’t riding the bike so it was a lot of physical training. I came to Lommel with no expectations: just to have a good race. I rode Tuesday before for the first time and the hand responded OK so we started building up again from Thursday.”
“It was a shock for me and also the team but it’s great for all of us!” he added of the form that took him into the top three. “The problem was not with the bone or the plate today it was more the blisters on my hands because I haven’t ridden much,” he revealed. “It is something so small but it is a nuisance and you feel a burning sensation through the race: another add-on for what is a already a tough GP.”
After back-to-back episodes of MXGP the series now gets a week to recover from the exertions of Lommel. Another two-in-a-row episode begins with the Grand Prix of Italy at Imola and then the annual visit to Uddevalla in Sweden as the season quickly winds down and just four fixtures remain.