MOTOCROSS: World Championship Zolder preview

McFarlane's fit and ready after AIS hit Fresh from an intensive month-long 'vacation' at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, Queensland dynamo Andrew McFarlane (Yamaha) will begin his fifth world motocross campaign at Zolder in ...

McFarlane's fit and ready after AIS hit

Fresh from an intensive month-long 'vacation' at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, Queensland dynamo Andrew McFarlane (Yamaha) will begin his fifth world motocross campaign at Zolder in Belgium this weekend.

The three-time grand prix winner -- all of which were won during an irresistible purple patch in 2004 -- will again compete in the MX2 (125cc 2T versus 250cc 4T) class, but this time on an Erezetta Team Yamaha YZ250F out of Italy. The 27-year-old rode for a British collaboration last year, and finished seventh in the final MX2 standings -- despite missing the final three rounds with a badly fractured collarbone.

After a period of convalescence back at The Gap (Qld), McFarlane, who won the 2000 250cc Australian motocross title, is now back to full strength, with his preparation for this year's arduous 16-round season -- close to 50 races when qualification events are taken into account -- rounded off at the AIS and with intensive one-on-one coaching sessions with former Mr Motocross icon Stephen Gall.

"The time spent at the AIS was wonderful; it's a world-class facility and a lot of motorcycle riders are now realising that it can help out a lot in preparation -- both mental and physical," said McFarlane. "Now the next step is to get some quality results on the board.

"I finished third and fifth in the two corresponding races at Zolder last year, so there's no reason why I can't eclipse that, which will give me a great springboard for the rest of the year. This is my fifth year in the world motocross scene, and I want to make it my finest."

With the departure of New Zealand world champion Ben Townley from the MX2 ranks -- he's making a play on Stefan Everts, Mickael Pichon et al in the premier MX1 class -- McFarlane will still have a posse of big names to deal with in 2005, including the riders who finished ahead of him last year: South African Tyla Rattray (KTM), Italian Antonio Cairoli (Yamaha), British pilot Stephen Sword (Kawasaki) and his new teammate and triple world 125cc champion, Alessio Chiodi (Yamaha). In addition, Cedric Melotte -- yet another product of the legendary Belgian motocross rider 'factory' -- has joined the MX2 ranks, and will be hard to overcome -- especially in round one with a partisan home crowd cheering on his every move. Melotte won two MX1 races in 2004 en route to sixth in the title.

The potential threat from Melotte has been tempered with news that another big name, Marc de Reuver (KTM), will be sidelined with knee ligament damage for six months. De Reuver began 2004 in sublime fashion before injury hit, and it appears 2005 will now be a write-off for the talented Dutchman.

Forty-seven riders will line up for MX2 action at Zolder, whose centerpiece is a giant 30-metre tabletop jump.

In MX1 (250cc 2T versus 450cc 4T) everyone will be trying to keep the flying No. 72 Yamaha YZ450F of Belgian pantheon, Everts, at bay -- there's nothing surer. Everts won a 'lazy' eighth world championship in 2004, 13 years after first tasting success in the 1991 125cc title. That's a remarkable strike rate, and a major reason why Belgium has won a phenomenal 46 world motocross titles, with Sweden the next best on 14.

Everts, who claimed outright honours in the 2003 International Six Days' Enduro for a "bit of fun", leads countryman Joel Robert by two world titles on the world motocross individual honour roll, followed by another four Belgians in a tie for third: Eric Geboers, Georges Jobe, Roger de Coster and Joel Smets. That quartet has five wins apiece.

Smets (Suzuki) is still on the scene, and is back on deck after an injury plagued 2004. He will be in the thick of it again, as well French dynamo Pichon (Honda), who is desperate to add to his two 250cc titles in 2001-02.

New Zealanders Josh Coppins (Honda) and Townley (KTM), Steve Ramon (KTM), Kevin Strijbos (Suzuki) and Estonian Tanel Leok (Kawasaki) can also be added to the MX1 A-list. Townley won both MX2 races at Zolder in 2004 to serve notice of the year ahead, while Strijbos and Ramon were Everts' two teammates in Belgium's successful defence of the Motocross of Nations teams' title, also in 2004.

Coppins is also a class act, and finally broke though for his first world motocross win in 2004; he'll want to repeat the dose more often in 2005.

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Series General
Drivers Mickael Pichon , Kevin Strijbos , Tyla Rattray , Joel Smets , Stefan Everts