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2018 MXGP preview: Cairoli v Herlings, experience v youth

This year’s 19-round MXGP world championship kicks off at Neuquen in Argentina on March 4 and even at such an early stage of the season it’s already shaping up to be a classic case of experience versus youth.

At the ripe old age of 32, Red Bull KTM’s reigning champion Tony Cairoli is going for his 10th world crown this year – a result that would tie the Italian on titles won with the legendary Stefan Everts.

His main opposition should come from his 23-year-old team-mate Jeffrey Herlings – both riders have been in dominant form in the run of pre-season international meetings and neither will start the championship with anything other than victory on their minds.

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The pair finished one-two in the 2017 championship with Cairoli starting strongly before his Dutch rival picked up the pace from the mid-point of the season. It’s worth noting that Herlings began last year with a broken hand and was making his debut in the MXGP class after moving up to powerful 450cc four-stroke.

After two years without a championship following a string of injuries, Cairoli was back on top but motocross is a young man’s sport and he’ll need to use every ounce of his experience to stay ahead of Herlings.

A three-time world champion in the MX2 class for 250cc four-strokes, there’s no-one faster than Herlings in sand but he’s had his own injury problems over the last handful of years and on occasions struggles to keep it rubber-side down.

Of course, it’s not going to be a purely two-man race to the finish in Imola on September 30. Last year a total of 10 riders all won at least one 30-minute plus two lap moto and with every GP contested over two motos that’s 38 chances to get on top of the podium.

The best of the rest last season was France’s Gautier Paulin and the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider should also figure along with Belgian Clement Desalle who leads the Monster Energy Kawasaki challenge. France’s 2015 champion Romain Febvre could also figure for the Monster Energy Yamaha team if he can re-find the form that carried him to the title.

HRC’s 2016 champion Tim Gajser will, however, be absent in Argentina after breaking his jaw in at the final round of the Internazionali d’Italia in Mantova. The Slovenian should be back in action a fortnight later at round two at Valkenswaard in Holland.

British hopes in MXGP rest on the shoulders of Max Anstie, Tommy Searle and Shaun Simpson. The former, Paulin’s team-mate on the factory Husqvarna team, made his debut in MXGP last year and by the close was challenging for wins before beating the best riders in the world at the end-of-season Motocross of Nations.

Wilvo Yamaha’s Simpson took a win in Indonesia last year before an injury sidelined him for much of the season while Bike-It DRT Kawasaki rider Searle, a three-time vice-champion in MX2, missed almost the entire year following a pre-season crash in America.

After two aborted attempts at the world championship early on in his career, Northern Ireland’s Graeme Irwin – brother of British Superbike and WorldSSP contenders Glenn and Andrew – finally gets another shot at the big time with the ASA Hitachi KTM UK team. After winning the Maxxis ACU British MX1 Championship in 2017 he’s full of confidence and will be looking for top-ten finishes once he finds his feet.

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Down in MX2, Red Bull KTM’s reigning champion Pauls Jonass will be looking to make it 10 titles in 11 years in the division for the Austrian manufacturer.

The Latvian was in imperious form at the recent Hawkstone Park International but over the course of the season can expect strong challenges from riders including Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team-mates Thomas Kjer Olson from Denmark and America’s Thomas Covington along with young Aussie Hunter Lawrence on the Geico Honda.

There’s a three-pronged British attack in MX2 with Adam Sterry racing for F&H Kawasaki, Conrad Mewse on an ASA Hitachi KTM UK machine and Ben Watson competing aboard a Kemea Yamaha.

2018 MXGP calendar

4 March    PATAGONIA - ARGENTINA    Neuquen    
18 March    LA COMUNITAT VALENCIANA    Redsand    EMX250, EMX300
25 March    EUROPE (NL)    Valkenswaard    EMX125, EMX250
8 April    TRENTINO (I)    Pietramurata    EMX125, Women
15 April    PORTUGAL    Agueda    EMX300, Women
1 May    RUSSIA    Orlyonok    EMX250, EMX300
13 May    LATVIA    Kegums    EMX125, EMX250
20 May    GERMANY    Teutschenthal    EMX125, Women
3 June    GREAT BRITAIN    Matterley Basin    EMX250, EMX300, Veteran
10 June    FRANCE    St Jean d'Angély    EMX125, EMX250
17 June    ITALY    tba    EMX250, Women
1 July    INDONESIA    Pangkal Pinang    
8 July    ASIA (INDONESIA)    Semarang    
22 July    CZECH REP.    Loket    EMX65, EMX85, EMX300
5 August    BELGIUM    Lommel    EMX125, EMX250
12 August    SWEDEN    Uddevalla    EMX125, EMX250
19 August    SWITZERLAND    Frauenfeld/Gachnang    EMX125, EMX250
2 September    TURKEY    Afyon    
16 September    THE NETHERLANDS    Assen    EMX125, EMX250, Women
30 September    IMOLA (I)    Imola    Yamaha125, EMX300, Women

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