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Julien Lieber at the 2018 Grand Prix of Comunitat Valenciana

Taming the 450: Lieber on making the MXGP leap

Mar 252018

Thanks to Clement Desalle and Julien Lieber Monster Energy Kawasaki can boast two of the most stylish riders among a talented crop housed in the intensely competitive FIM Motocross World Championship. While Desalle is one of the most successful riders in the premier division since his breakthrough term in 2009, Lieber is a rookie for 2018 after several campaigns of speed, promise and injury-heartbreak in the MX2 class.

While the quiet Belgian with poster-boy looks had a capable handle on the 250cc motorcycle and was a podium regular for the past two years, his transfer to the factory Kawasaki squad meant a dwarfing challenge. Added to the severity of the task was the fact that Lieber missed key winter training and testing time due to knee surgery at the tail end of 2017.

"The 250 is more intense…but for technique I actually prefer the 450."

Has the move to the 450 meant a mental adjustment as much as physical one?

Erm, more physically I’d say. On a 250 you can go full-gas the whole race but on the 450 you can push a lot for a few laps and feel quite tired, especially for me because I’m missing some training time. In Argentina it was not too bad but on Saturday here I pushed like I would on the 250 and after ten minutes I was done! You feel it more with your muscles and your breathing. The 250 is more intense…but for technique I actually prefer the 450.

Is it about finding new limits of what you can do and how far you are prepared to go?

Yes, because you can really push the 250. In Argentina on Saturday I was actually a little bit scared of the bike! On the jumps you can go so fast and far and you are wary of pushing over what you think is the limit. I had a good race there and I felt good in Valkenswaard as well [round two] but we had a few technical issues.

"I think you have to be more calm. You have to shift a lot and be in a good gear."

Does the increased speed mean flicking a ‘switch’ in the brain?

Not too much because the speed is not that different to the 250 but the power…when you come to the jumps then it is easy to go too long. In Argentina I was over-jumping a lot on the first laps, so you have to think more and be even more focussed. A small mistake can mean a really big crash with the 450. You can recover a small mistake and correct it with the 250.

You played with the bike and were flamboyant with the 250. Does the 450 then mean you come across as a different rider?

I think you have to be more calm. You have to shift a lot and be in a good gear. In Argentina I was still shifting down into the corners like I would do on a 250. In training I was doing it OK but we could see from the data that I was racing with my ‘250 ways’ and for a few turns I was even in first gear! Which is way-too low. So I still needed to work on the race technique to ride like I do in practice.

So there is quite an adjustment for technique?

Yeah. On the 250 you ride quite high in the RPM and work to keep the bike fast everywhere. On the 450 you have to shift quickly because the power is not in the same place. It means a change of style.

And also makes MXGP even more difficult because of the level of competition…

That's right. You don't have time to hang around and work it out. This winter everything happened so fast for me. I had to adapt double-quick…but from the last few races I can see my speed is good. I need to adjust a few more things to be even better but it will come.

Can you still have as much fun on the 450?

Ha! It depends on the track. I enjoy the bike a lot in training and in the sand, like in Valkenswaard: I had a lot of fun. Argentina a bit less because it was so fast.

Lastly how is the mentality going from podium contention in MX2 to rookie status in MXGP? You’ve been fast and impressive and the top three is not impossible but it is still a different set of performance parameters…

Yeah! I think it takes some pressure away though. When you are always looking for the podium then you know you cannot afford to get anything wrong from the starts, to rhythm and mistakes. The team have also been really cool because I’m catching up from the injury. I can only do good things. Riding in the top ten for me at the moment is good. I hope that pressure to be at the front will come again though!

Julien was not the only athlete to catch the eye at Redsand. Desalle grabbed third position for his second podium finish of 2018. Darian Sanayei only just missed his first MX2 rostrum appearance by placing fourth overall and Pierre Goupillon celebrated his maiden victory in the EMX250 European Championship in a frantic opening fixture for the Grand Prix feeder class.


The majestic setting of Pietramurata at Arco di Trento and on the fringe of the towering Dolomite mountains will stage the fourth MXGP dash of the season in two weeks time.