Can the Aussies knock off Gollob?
The penultimate round of the 2005 FIM Speedway World Championship moves to the biggest stage of them all on Saturday night -- slider-mad Poland -- as local legend Tomasz Gollob sets out to become the first rider to win the same GP four years in a row.
The 34-year-old, who hails from the city where round eight will be held, Bydgoszcz, has dominated the Polish GP since its inception, to the extent that six of his nine GP wins have come in front of a fanatical home base, including three in a row from 2002-04. Even when he's been in a lull, Gollob has always managed to find his bearings in a country where speedway is on a par with AFL and cricket in Australia.
Outside of the recent three-peat, Gollob's most memorable recitation at home probably remains his victory in the inaugural world speedway GP in 1995, when he defeated Hans Nielsen and British pair Chris Louis and Mark Loram in the Big Final. Australian Craig Boyce finished ninth on that history-making night.
Two other riders who competed in that first GP-style meeting, Sweden's Tony Rickardsson and American Greg Hancock, will also saddle up on August 27 at the 25,000-seat Polonia Stadium, with the former virtually assured of bringing up a record-equalling sixth world title.
Rickardsson, aboard his GM-engined machine, has been in devastating form all year, with reigning world champion Jason Crump the only rider to have seriously challenged him. Together, the duo has won all seven GPs, in what has been the most centralised concentration of power in the history of the championship.
Rickardsson is on 163pts, well ahead of Crump (116), Nicki Pedersen (88), Australian Leigh Adams (80) and Bjarne Pedersen (73).
Crump and Adams both returned to their aggressive form of old in the last round in Sweden, with the former winning the Big Final, and Adams fourth behind Andreas Jonsson and Rickardsson.
After his championship hopes were extinguished a long time ago, Crump accepted his lot with good grace, but is now looking to build a platform into 2006.
"It's been a pretty hard year, and now I can understand when people say that it's harder to win a second one," said the Northhampton-based Crump.
"This year may be gone, but we can make extra sure that everything is right for next year. I wasn't in the best frame of mind at the beginning of the year and I paid the price for it.
"I'm really enjoying my racing lately, and this GP will be no different. The stadium is only about 50km from where I race in Poland, so I should have a bit of local support. Plus, this GP has been good to me over the last couple of seasons."
Crump, 30, brought up the quinella behind Gollob in 2003-04, and remains one of only five riders to have won a Polish GP. Additionally, he has made the Big Final every year since 2001 -- a record Gollob can't even match.
While Crump looks a safe bet to finish second in the championship for the fourth time, Adams, having overcome the effects of a big crash at Coventry a month ago, is eyeing the No. 3 plate - although he's not entirely sure what will be on the menu this Saturday night.
"Three years ago this was the world's premiere speedway bike facility, but a tendency to make the track slick has removed that mystique somewhat," said Adams.
"I don't really care what they do, but it would be nice for the fans to see some real racing rather than a gater's derby. I have ridden a lot of laps around here and I'm still a bit dirty about what happened last year when my semi-final was stopped for Gollob when I was well in front.
"I have enough experience to win this event and I'm feeling very good for the first time in about three months. I had a few days off last week and I am raring to go. I'm aiming for world No. 3 and this is where I need to lay the foundation."
Adams has been more inconsistent this year than at any time in the last decade, but believes he has put that behind him now.
"I made some mistakes this year both on the track and off and I only have myself to blame. It is no-ones fault but my own and now I intend to put things right," he said.
Adams hasn't won since the opening round in 2004, and he would like nothing more than to continue his recent tradition of winning at least one Big Final a year.
Besides Crump, Rickardsson and Adams, eight other riders have made a Big Final in 2005, including Bjarne Pedersen (73pts), Hancock (66), Antonio Lindback (66) and Jaroslaw Hampel (61). They all have enough venom to cause an upset at Bydgoszcz -- as does the mercurial Ryan Sullivan when he's on song.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case in 2005, with only one semi-final appearance to show for his labours. He's in 13th spot on 43pts.
For more information on the 2005 FIM Speedway World Championship, visit www.speedwayworld.tv