be_ixf;ym_202104 d_22; ct_100
Clement Desalle at the 2016 MXGP of France

Climbing back to the peak

Aug 112016

2016 has been an adventure for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle. With a new factory team, bike, challenge and even an expanding family with the arrival of daughter Emma this summer the 26 year old has had a year like few others in his career. The Belgian could have done without the injuries. A pre-season arm break and another small back problem when he was struck in the initial stages of the Grand Prix of Latvia were physical setbacks he had to cope with and supersede. Desalle is starting to look like the superb athlete and motorcycle racer that fought for the premier class crown – MXGP – of the FIM Motocross World Championship for five seasons in a row. So we caught up with ‘25’ to ask about his travails and work to emerge back at the forefront of arguably one of the world’s most intense and demanding motorsports…

"I don’t think it is good for the head to think too much about what happened"

After the pre-season Valence International where you broke you arm – just a few weeks before the start of the MXGP campaign - it must have been a pretty hard period for you and then later having another crash in Latvia that was not your fault. It wasn't the bright, shiny new start we talked about in the USA at the start of 2016…

That's true…but it’s in the past and I don't like to dwell on the old stories! I don’t think it is good for the head to think too much about what happened. Of course it was very sad and I wanted the reverse: that I was able to start the season fit and good. The championship was over so I started to look race-by-race and to work on set-up and information with a view towards next year and the right setting for the last few GPs now. That's the plan.

How was the feeling with the team? It must have been a strange working relationship while developing the bike, learning about a new crew and making your own personal development…

Yeah, it was difficult in the beginning because I needed time and hours on the bike to get a feeling for the new machine. It was a new base so you need that period to make adjustments and maybe some big changes to things like engine, suspension or whatever. So I had to have that time…but I couldn't because of the injury and so building-up was not that easy. It has been getting better and better and some correct results have been coming. The level of competition in MXGP changed compared to previous years…and I don't like to make comparisons but sometimes you look to what you did the previous year or two years ago because it is your reference and automatically you do it! There have been some new [fast] guys coming into the class. Overall there has been a lot of things [to consider].

You might not like it…but can I ask you to compare factory teams? You went from a very strong one in Suzuki and six years of being a championship contender to another crew with Kawasaki…how are they different?

Everybody is different and has their own style of working…but I can answer you! Team Suzuki were really good and now I have a really good feeling also with Kawasaki. I am with Francois [Lemariey, Team Manager] who I knew before and who knows me well. There are a lot of young guys in the team who are very motivated and that is good as well. We are professional and each of us can improve. I would say we have a good ‘rhythm’ now because it is impossible that everything clicks right away when you change teams, bikes and everything. Now after days, weeks and months we have ‘gelled’ and I’m glad we have found our rhythm.

"The difficult thing is finding that last few ‘%’ which allows you to make podiums and win motos and GPs"

What about the bike? Has it taken longer to make it yours? To make it a ‘25’…?

I think it is easy to find a bike – with any brand - that is 90% and you can go fast with it. The difficult thing is finding that last few ‘%’ which allows you to make podiums and win motos and GPs. It was a good base with the new Kawasaki but sometimes it takes time to find and adjust those small details and make good choices. It has been going well in the last few weeks and I have been testing more.

An example?

Suspension and the effect on the chassis. That was the main point for us.

I was talking with Tim Gajser and he said he is still amazed how well he is doing against legends in the class like you and Tony [Cairoli]. Maybe you don't like to compare but 2016 seems to be especially crazy in terms of the competition. In the past it just seemed to be you and Tony going for the title…

Yeah, you said it! I think if you look back three years ago then there were less guys and it feels like we – Cairoli, Max [Nagl], [Gautier] Paulin – have not changed much. We might have changed the brand of bike but we are always there. Two young guys came into the class [Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser] and pushed the level up and we have to fight more for it.

"Sometimes it is good to be careful with the gas and finish the race rather than be injured again."

Is that a good challenge as well though?

Yes, it is a challenge but it is important to also find a good limit. Sometimes when I see the videos [of this year’s races] you can really see the limit. Lately for me it has become about completing the year on two wheels. Sometimes it is good to be careful with the gas and finish the race rather than be injured again. As the years pass you get more experience…and let’s see how the future turns out because the young guys are very fast and pushing a lot and I think that will change. It is hard to live on the limit all the time without being injured.

Maybe it’s a stupid question but when can the fans expect Clement Desalle to be back on top of the podium? You’ve become a top four-five guy and close to victory but no win yet and 2015 was your only ‘dry’ season since 2008!

Ha! Well, I do my best every time I race…so it is hard to answer. I am trying to improve all the time and with the team we keep making ideas to move in that direction. I don’t think it is a matter of two days or two weeks but moving through those small important details like I mentioned earlier. At this level it is about marginal things. You are not making big changes. You always remind me I am on 19 GP wins! So I need to find that twentieth!

"With fatherhood You also need to find a good rhythm!"

Your daughter, Emma, came along a couple of months ago. For nine months you must have had an idea of what life would be like. Is it what you expected?

Yes, it’s good, something so good in life and more responsibility. We have seen some really nice things and shared some very nice moments. She is healthy and that's the most important. [With fatherhood] You also need to find a good rhythm! I would not say we have changed our lifestyle too much it is just the organisation that is different and also giving more importance to some things against others. When you see that little smile then it helps you remember the parts of your life and your priorities.

It has been a busy year for a number of reasons so has there been much time to play? To do any triathlons? Or get on a Kawasaki jetski for example?

Not really! We will have some time later this year though. Right now it is about concentrating on the job for these last few GPs. For example, the three-weekend break we had in July I was testing and riding and I made time for that rather than thinking about Triathlon training. I knew – and I felt – that there were places we could get better so that was my main aim.

What about through Monster Energy? Fancy trying Jonathan Rea’s WorldSBK Kawasaki?

That would be really nice! I’m very open for that. Make a note that I will be available!