Romain Febvre sat at an expansive wooden table inside a Claim Jumper restaurant in Corona, California and picked away at a salad. An hour after the lunch rush on a Tuesday afternoon in the Inland Empire and the place was basically desolate. Three rounds into the 2017 Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme Motocross World Championship (going strong since 1957!), Febvre and his girlfriend Megan Closset had flown to the far outskirts of Los Angeles from Argentina where Romain placed a steady fifth overall.
“I’m here in California as we’re between Argentina and Mexico,” offered Febvre, leaning back in his chair. “We planned this with the team because I felt it was better to stay in the U.S. to ride here this week than go back to Europe again and have jet-lag and bad weather. It just didn’t make sense to go back to Europe. It is nice to be here in California this period of the year because the weather is just perfect. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. We have good weather all the time and all the tracks are close so it’s easy to ride.”
As has been well documented throughout the past two years, in 2015 then somewhat unknown Romain Febvre was drafted onto the Yamaha Factory Racing team to backup veteran Jeremy Van Horebeek in the MXGP World Championship. A rookie to the classification, Febvre soon hit critical mass and after winning six of sixteen Grands Prix, clinched the world title at the Grand Prix of the Netherlands at the storied Assen circuit. Lauded by motocross fans the world over as something of a motocross miracle man, after leading Team France to the Motocross of Nations victory at Ernee in his home nation of France, Febvre entered the 2016 MXGP season as the full-on favorite. However, two things blighted his second year on the 450. For one, after winning rounds two and three in Thailand and Holland (Valkenswaard), Febvre crashed heavily at the MXGP of Great Britain and was forced out of action for two Grands Prix. Concurrently, MXGP rookie Tim Gajser of Slovenia (a national of 2.6 million people based in southern Central Europe) went on a run and for all intents and purposes – and much like Febvre had done exactly one year before – won the World Championship in a rout.
“Going into Qatar for the first GP of this season, I was not really confident,” conceded Febvre of the first stop of the 2017 MXGP world tour. “All my winter training went as planned and everything was perfect and then we had the preseason races and I hurt my neck pretty bad at the first round (Note: At the Italian International Championship in Sardinia). It was bad things again for me. I was not right where I wanted to be because I expected too much too early.”
Round two held on the island circuit of Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia where the whole thing turned into a rain-lashed one moto Grand Prix in which luck and timing played more of a part in the end results than actual skill. “We had the bad conditions and they should have known that because it was the rainy season there and it was already raining for weeks and weeks,” reasoned Febvre of the one-heat race in which he finished a beleaguered 18th. “It rained every day when we were there.”
Sunshine and sand – not to mention a far flung nation which genuinely loves and is well versed in the sport of world class motocross – saw Febvre post up encouraging results. “In Argentina my speed was good, but I crashed in the second moto. The speed and the bike were really on point and that meant that I found something good and I’m hoping the race forthcoming in Mexico and all the races after will be even better.”
After placing ninth overall at the recent MXGP of Leon in Mexico, the mighty racing teams and riders that contest the World Championship will now finally head back to Europe and the spiritual homeland of the sport. The first destination of the trans-continental segment of the season will come at the Arco di Trento circuit and the MXGP of Trentino. From that point forward, it’s 11-round swing through the Old World. Explained Febvre of the spring and summer months of the championship, “Arco, I don’t like the track so much, but normally I ride pretty good there. We’ll see how it goes. Valkenswaard, I like it. It’s a little bit sandy and it gets really rough. As far as the rest of the tracks, I’m happy that we are going back to Portugal as the track there is so, so nice. It’s good that we go there again. All the rest of the season, I think all of the tracks are good. Only Arco and the Czech Republic, they are really hard and stony. I don’t like those tracks, but I ride good there.”
Understandably, prior to the start of the new season a lot was made of how competitive the MXGP field truly was. Journalists and publicity people around the globe pointed out that 21 riders set to make a run at the FIM Gold Medal had won a GP. Furthermore, the term of “The Big Four” was coined, the foursome of title candidates including Febvre, Gajser, multifold World Champion Antonio Cairoli and class newcomer Jeffrey Herlings. Thinking it all through, Febvre talked about his adversaries.
“Antonio Cairoli has been as good as he is right now for 10 years. He’s really strong all throughout the year. And in eight or nine years he was not injured once. He is always strong and for em Cairoli is always the most dangerous guy because what he has done in the past. I know Clement can be really fast at some races, but at some he will stay behind. He cannot win every single race. My teammate is doing good, but I don’t think he will be strong at every race. Maybe I’m wrong. And Herlings, that’s kind of strange because everyone was waiting for him to win from the first moto. Everybody knows that he can go fast, but he was even crashing a lot on the 250. He lost two titles because of injuries and on the 450 I think it is going to be the same for him. I don’t think he is getting where he wants to. I think he is struggling a little bit on the 450 and I think he has a lot of pressure from everyone in the team. I won my first year and Gajser too and Jeffrey was coming up after us and everyone was waiting for him. It wasn’t the same for him like it was in the MX2 class. I think he’s going to be a little bit better at each round, but it’s not going to be enough to be World Champion.”
“Right now everyone here is fit,” furthered Febvre. “No one has been injured at the beginning of the season. Everyone is going really fast and I think at every race and every race weekend we try to push the limit. It’s going to be really interesting, for sure. The guys who are the most consistent and up front will win the championship. It’s a long season and we need to stay on two wheels.”