After an extended winter break, due to the covid 19 pandemic, the FIM World Championship will finally kick off this weekend. Venue for the first round: the spectacular hard-pack track in Orlyonok. The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MX2 Team will travel to Russia with their strongest lineup ever. With Jago Geerts (vice world champion MX2 in 2020), Maxime Renaux (third in MX2 in 2020) and Thibault Benistant (European champion EMX250 last year) the Belgium based team has only one goal, one dream in 2021: the world title. Before leaving for Russia, we caught up with our three young guns for an interview.
#93 Jago Geerts
1. You finished third in 2019, second in 2020. That means...
"... first in 2021? I wish it was as simple like that (laughs). Of course it is my goal to get the world title. That was already my goal last year. The knee injury (which he picked up in Ernée last Sunday) doesn't make the job easier, of course. To be honest, I don't want to think too much about the title now. We will see what will happen in the first rounds of the world championship."
2. Talking about your knee, how do you feel?
"I'm doing fine. Not top, but fine. There's a lot of improvement compared to the beginning of the week. It was a busy week with many visits to my physiotherapist and going for laser therapy. With only one goal in mind: make the knee as strong as possible. How strong? We will see on Sunday during the first free practice."
3. What about the track in Orlyonok. Does it suit your style?
"Absolutely. It's a great track. Beautiful layout, some nice jumps and fast, but technical. I have some good memories of Orlyonok. Back in 2016 I clinched the junior world title 125 on this track. A memorable race. And two years ago I was on the box in MX2 at the GP of Russia. Yeah, I really like to race there."
4. Who do you consider as your main rival for the title?
"A lot of people talk about a battle between Vialle and me. But I see more contenders. Guadagnini is strong for example. Fernandez is fast. And don't forget my two teammates. Renaux was third in the championship last season and Benistant enters the class as European champion 250. Tough competitors."
5. You're not the only Belgian chasing success in Russia this weekend. The Red Devils will start their EURO 2020-campaign in Sint-Petersburg.
"Really? I knew that the European championship starts, but didn't know that the first game was against Russia. To be honest: I'm not really into football. I prefer cycling. I love watching the Tour de France or the Giro d'Italia on television. Much more than football. But of course I hope the Red Devils will start EURO 2020 with a win."
6. You changed number. It's no longer #193, but #93. Why?
"I used to ride with #93 when I was younger. When I made the step to the world championship MX2 in 2018 that number wasn't available. Jonathan Bengtsson was riding with #93, so I added the 1 to get #193. When Bengtsson decided to stop racing last winter, I immediately contacted him to release that number. And he did. Finally, I'm back with my good old #93."
#959 Maxime Renaux
1. Your year didn't start that well. You dislocated your shoulder in Riola Sardo in February. How are you doing now?
"Oh, that's in the past. My shoulder is completely healed after a good rehabilitation in Belgium. There's nothing to worry about anymore. I can ride my bike again like before. I'm hundred percent fit."
2. It's your second time at the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Team, back then it was called Kemea Yamaha. Is it a kind of homecoming?
"For sure. I rode for this team in 2015 and 2016. The boss and the manager are still the same people. The staff changed a little bit, but I know how this team works. So, it's not a big change for me. It's great to be in a factory team. As a rider you only have to focus on your riding. A nice feeling. I have some good memories with this team. When I arrived at Kemea, back in 2015, I didn't have a lot of international experience. I didn't know what to expect. But I won the first round of the EMX125, finished third in the championship and clinched the world title 125 in El Molar. Great memories!"
3. 2020 was also a great season for you. Third in the world championship MX2 and GP-winner in Faenza. Do you raise the bar for 2021?
"As an athlete, you have to be ambitious. My expectations for 2021 are indeed higher. But I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. First of all, I just want to enjoy racing. It will be very important to be consistent and especially to stay injury free. I feel good for the moment. Hungry too. I can't wait to start the world championship. We will have a lot of races in a short space of time. I don't complain, because I can do what I really love to do: racing."
4. You only did one preseason race, in Crisolles two weeks ago. Is that enough to be ready for the world championship?
"Yes. I don't need a lot of races to be race fit. I don't need preseason races to prove myself that I am in a good shape. While my colleagues were racing in Ernée, I was pushing hard on training. Crisolles was my only preseason race. I felt good. My level was high, the speed and the rhythm okay. A lot of riders suffer from arm pump in the first race. I didn't."
5. Orlyonok is a spectacular track, isn't it? Do you like racing there?
"Oh, yeah. I raced in Orlyonok in 2018 in the EMX250 and in 2019 in MX2. A fast hard pack track. That's what I really like. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun in Orlyonok again. I'm happy to start the season on this kind of track."
6. Thibault and you have the same physical coach. Is it an advantage to train together?
"The past years I was mostly training on my own. For sure it's more fun to have Thibault and Kenny (Vandueren) by my side. I learned a lot from Kenny already. Last year I was always pushing, also on training. I was doing too much... Now I realise that you have to work hard, but also need to take enough time to recover."
#198 Thibault Benistant
1. How relieved are you that the world championship finally starts after a long Covid-19 break?
"We had to wait long, really long. The first months of the year were difficult as we didn't know when en where the championship would start. It was difficult to make a decent training program. When do you need to be top fit? When do I have to push harder? Not easy, but it was the same for everybody. Anyway, I'm happy that's the championship will finally kick off this weekend."
2. At the end of 2020 you rode already a few rounds in MX2. What did you learn from those races?
"That everybody is fast in MX2. My speed was not so bad in EMX250, but MX2 is another level. You really need to have a good start to be able to fight in the front. I rode three grand prix last year. It went quite well, with two race podiums. I'm looking forward to fight against these riders again."
3. You're in a factory team now. How big of a difference is this for you?
"Big. There are a lot more people working in the factory team. Everything is more professional, more precise. Yamaha really has a great program, which started in EMX125 for me. Each step you make, from EMX125 via EMX250 to MX2, it gets better and better. Last year I was already in a really good team, but now things are even better. On every aspect. I only have to focus on one thing: racing."
4. You broke your collarbone in the beginning of the year. Is it completely healed?
"Yeah, yeah. It's completely like new. It's never a good time to pick up an injury, but to be honest: this injury allowed my body to have some more rest. Not bad at all because the championship was postponed a few times because of covid. Without the injury, I might have been pushing too hard already. I like to train hard. Sometimes too hard. I'm working with a new trainer this season, Kenny Vandueren. I already learned a lot from him. I thought: the more I do, the better I will be. Wrong. You also need to take enough time to recover. Now I realise that everybody has his limits."
5. You rode two preseason races: Crisolles and Ernée. Happy with the results, the feeling on the bike?
"Pretty happy, yes. On the physical side, I feel really good. I'm stronger than last year. I'm also really satisfied with the set-up of the bike. I feel one with my Yamaha. In Crisolles, as well in Ernée, I had one great start and one mediocre/poor start. I have to work on that. Like I said before: you need to have good starts to get good results."
6. This will be your rookie season in MX2. What are your goals?
"First of all I want to gain a lot of experience for the coming years. It will be important to stay on the bike, to stay injury free because we will have a lot of races in a short space of time. Of course I want to fight with the top guys as much as possible. I hope to get on the podium in some races, maybe even win a race. A GP win? That would be great, of course. But I don't want to rush things. This is my rookie year. We go step by step."