Grand Prix motocross will have one of its fastest, most stylish, enigmatic, and mysterious athletes in new colors for 2016. Arguably the biggest question mark for the forthcoming season due to launch at Losail, Qatar at the end of February will revolve around the potency of the symbiosis between Clement Desalle and the factory Monster Energy Kawasaki team, and whether being ‘in green’ will mean the feisty twenty-six year old Belgian will finally grasp the champion status he has been chasing for over half a decade.
A Grand Prix winner every year since 2009 (except for an injury-wrecked 2015) and a title contender – frequently Antonio Cairoli’s chief threat – since the turn of the decade, Desalle has made a crucial switch by electing to hone the works KX450F in pursuit of more MXGP spoils and the elusive crown in the premier class. Desalle is a special breed. He’s an individual that relishes the precision and skill needed to throw a dirt bike around some of the roughest tracks at the top level of the sport. His catchphrase has often been about having “fun on the bike”: a happy and engaged Clement often means an uncatchable blur across the soil. While his rivals will hope the green 25 won’t be delectable from the get-go in Qatar fans of his style and uncluttered approach to racing will be willing Desalle to hit the ground and pinning the KX for all it’s worth from the first laps of his fresh adventure.
After a sustained period of results and a profile as one of the very principle characters of MXGP, many followers of the sport were curious as to why Desalle found a way from his Suzuki of six years to the Dutch base of Kawasaki. “I knew that Kawasaki wanted me for quite a long time and Suzuki wanted to keep me. It was not a decision I made in, say, two days. I had two options and, like I say now-and-again, “you know what you sell…but you don`t know what you buy”. Sometimes you buy something better, sometimes the same, sometimes worse. In the end, I followed my feeling, and I looked at the balance of a new bike, new challenges, new people, and with a good guy I know in the team. I looked at all sides and decided to change. In the end, hope I have bought something better!” he added.
Monster Energy Kawasaki is looking to get back to winning ways and the team only recently crested the wave at the most prominent MX race in the world. “For sure people are looking at us now but our partners and people who race with us have trust in the work that we do,” says Team Manager Francois Lemariey and one of the key figures in luring Desalle to ‘Kawi’. “And I will also remind anyone that 2014 was a pretty good year for us! We finished the season with both riders on the top of the podium at the Motocross of Nations.” To speak with Desalle is to find an experienced Pro about to hit the peak of his powers and is now reinvigorated with what lies ahead. Fully healed up after his shoulder operation from the embers of last summer and trim and strong for an anticipated debut, Clement was not shy in providing more insight into his mindset. “I would not say that this move has given me extra motivation because I am always motivated for my sport and also because it was going very well with Suzuki but I wanted to try a new bike and keep feeling fresh,” he states. “It sounds stupid but when you have a new bike it makes you feel cool, happy, and excited. It is this feeling I was looking for. That was mainly why I moved.”
So what of the Kawasaki? 2016 sees an overhauled KX for the brand, the crew, and crucially for their chief rider, who will be backed by MXGP rookie and former MX2 World Champion Jordi Tixier this term. “There were some changes to deal with but my first impression was of a good bike and good base,” he opines. “As with every machine you have to personalize it and make it your way. I have a certain style and way I want the bike but I see potential there.” Tests, training, and pre-season international meetings: there is plenty to deal with in these last weeks before Grand Prix comes closer and riders start to breathe a little deeper. The clock continues to tick. Desalle might be dealing with change on many fronts but there is another novel aspect that he is also absorbing and cannot suppress a smile when we mention the black Monster Energy cap atop his head. “I heard about their philosophy and it was just something where I thought ‘cool’,” he said on becoming part of Monster’s virulent stable of MXGP stars. “They look like an easy-going company and I like how they see and treat their athletes.”
Desalle doesn’t shout too much about his activities, life away from the bike, and sees the spotlight as something that can be often circumnavigated. Smooth, aggressive, and focussed to a seemingly unshakeable point he is a considerable weapon. Somehow the black and green livery could not be more apt for this racer and – with a dose of luck that every No.1 needs to survive eighteen rounds of MXGP intact - 2016 could finally be his time.