After runaway series leader Jeffrey Herlings (Red Bull KTM) broke his right collarbone in a practice crash, reigning champion Tony Cairoli will be aiming to reel in the Dutchman at this weekend’s MXGP of Lombardia at Ottobiano.
Herlings crashed at the Berghem circuit in Holland on Wednesday and is extremely unlikely to race in Italy. With a commanding 62-point lead in the MXGP championship he’ll still retain the series lead even if Cairoli doubles up at the second of his three home GPs this year but it’s a major blow to Herlings’ championship hopes in just his second season in the 450cc class.
With no Herlings on the start gate, Cairoli must be favourite but the pressure will be on the nine-time world champion to capitalise on his rival’s misfortune. Following this weekend the championship takes a two-week break before the MXGP of Indonesia at Pangkal Pinang when you can be sure that Herlings will be plated-up and good to go.
Herling’s absence is also a great opportunity for other riders to take the top step of the podium.
First on the list is Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki). The Belgian is a distant third in the championship but he won in Russia and has to be considered as the best of the rest with eight moto podium finishes to his name this year.
France’s Romain Febvre (Monster Energy Yamaha) is next best of the rest ahead of his compatriot Gautier Paulin (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) but if you’re looking for someone to upset the Austrian applecart then Tim Gajser (Team HRC) is your man.
The Slovenian missed the opening round of this year’s championship with an injury but has continued to build since his comeback in Valkenswaard and is just a point behind Paulin. Podiums in Portugal, Germany and France demonstrate that the 2016 champion has still got what it takes and without Herlings to contend with this has to be his best chance this year of an overall win.
British hopes rest with Max Anstie (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) who was third at Ottobiano last year. A big concussion sustained at the MXGP of Spain at the end of March has set him back this season but he’s our best bet of a top-three finish.
Since his comeback from a broken collarbone, Tommy Searle (Bike It DRT Kawasaki) has also scored well and Shaun Simpson (Wilvo Yamaha) should threaten the top 10.
MX2 is still a two-man fight between Red Bull KTM team-mates Pauls Jonass and Jorge Prado who took 12 points out of the Latvian’s lead last time out in France to reduce the deficit to 16.
Britain’s Ben Watson (Kemea Yamaha) lost a lot of ground on Thomas Kjer Olsen (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) at St Jean d’Angely and if he’s going to challenge for third in the championship he needs to start turning it around this weekend.
Ottobiano also marks round seven of the EMX250 championship. REVO Husqvarna UK’s Martin Barr lost the series lead last time out in France and after dropping to third in the title chase he’ll be looking to claw back valuable points on his team-mate Mel Pocock who’s second and championship pace-setter Mathys Boisrame (Honda).
Don’t be surprised to see Steven Clarke (Carglass Honda), champion in 2014, running at the sharp end of things. After a slow start to the series the man from the Midlands has been our highest scorer at the last two rounds and has moved up to fourth in the championship.