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Posted in Racing

What has the COVID-19 virus outbreak meant for elite-level MXGP racers? Three Red Bull KTM Factory Racing stars share their worries, experiences and plans.

Few motorcycle disciplines require a higher level of fitness and saddle time than motocross. It is not only the volume of races (20 MXGPs, several pre-season Internationals which are used as ‘tests’, and national fixtures that often mean a 30 weekend calendar) but the incessant training and practice mileage for athletes to stay in peak physical shape, tackle various terrain from hard-pack to deep sand and the preservation of ‘feeling’ so they can react in milliseconds to ever changing track conditions.


Leading the way in MXGP -The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team enjoyed a positive start to the 2020 season.
PC @Ray Archer

This year the FIM Motocross World Championship screeched to a halt after just two rounds. The third Grand Prix in Argentina was postponed and then MXGP joined the rest of international sport in an immediate freeze. Regulations and ‘lockdown’ restrictions had a seismic effect on the day-to-day existence of everybody, even motocrossers. For some the #stayhome requirement limited their exercise options as gyms and access to bicycle/running routes were shut. For almost all riders the practice bike had to be parked, either due to the closure of practice tracks or the importance of avoiding injury (and thus requiring medical resources).

Typically, a Grand Prix rider will take a two-week break at the end of a normal season. It will be followed by a winter of base-training, riding and tests before the next pre-season begins with the first chilly events in Europe. Other than this phase a racer will only leave the dirtbike to one side when dealing with injury.

Coping with a five-month hiatus (from the Grand Prix of the Netherlands in early March until ‘round three’ in Russia in early August) is practically unheard of for individuals that have dedicated their lives to a sport from puberty. ‘Disorientation’ is perhaps one way to describe the situation. Especially as the calendar continually changes – Russia was supposed to take place in July – and they need to know when to push up to a peak of preparation for what is likely to be a short and condensed championship this autumn and winter.


Cairoli is a nine-time FIM Motocross World Champion with years of experience.
PC @Ray Archer

“We cannot do much or plan much because we are not in control of the schedule,” says nine-times world champion Tony Cairoli; the second-most experienced rider in the premier class. “That’s pretty strange as a rider, but we’re talking about a problem that is much bigger than our sport. We’ll just have to wait for local authorities…but the difficulty comes through not being able to plan the training: you don’t want to be ready too early or too late and that can get a bit stressful. I have some experience now! So, I take the situation how it is and judge when will be the best time to be ready again.”

The five-man Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team – an outfit that has owned both categories in the same year seven times since 2010 – ranges from the legendary statistics of a rider like Cairoli and the force of Jeffrey Herlings (almost equal for GP wins) to the record-breaking achievements of Jorge Prado and 18 year old rookies like Tom Vialle and Rene Hofer.

Each have their own story. Cairoli (shoulder and knee) and Prado (a broken leg femur sustained in December) have been grateful for the pause to further rehab and work on their physical setbacks. Herlings and Vialle hold the MXGP and MX2 red plates respectively as championship leaders so their progress has been frustratingly halted, while Hofer has seen his Grand Prix debut season education disrupted.

The thick mystery in planning for competition has not stopped each racer from doing their best to keep prepared. “In one way it is good because I could improve my knee a lot,” says Cairoli. “The shoulder is a bit complicated and is a very long injury that will take time. It’s slowly recovering and I think I will be more prepared than what I was at the first round.”


Jorge Prado is looking forward to getting back to the races, although it’s not clear if bumper crowds will be allowed.
PC @Ray Archer

“We should be racing more or less every weekend right now, so this is a weird time; especially not even being able to ride,” says Prado, a double MX2 World Champion despite only three years in Grand Prix. “The leg is far from 100% but we are getting closer. The femur is not really the problem, I had a big impact to my knee in the crash so I’m trying to improve that because I always felt a bit uncomfortable with it, and it was painful sometimes. Then also some power-training to get more muscle which I lost in the recovery phase. I couldn’t have a proper winter training, so I’m pretty much doing this right now.”

“In the first two rounds there was a ‘Jorge’ that was very far from 100%…so I want to get there and be in the mix with the guys,” he adds.

Prado has been living in his old family home of Belgium compared to his base in Rome that served well for 2018 and 2019 and the run-up to 2020. “I’m spending time with my family, which is not something I really had time for in the last two-three years. We are always together. In Italy I would be doing the same as I am here…but I look forward to getting there soon and back on our team home track.”


Being at the right peak physically for the series is important – Vialle works closely with Joel Smets to ensure that he’s in the right condition. PC @Ray Archer

Vialle has also been in Belgium. The 18-year-old is in his second Grand Prix term and by holding the red plate is underlining his credentials as a title contender. “I was really motivated after Valkenswaard but then Argentina was postponed, and the calendar kept changing: it meant our next race was a long time away and that was really strange because we’d prepared the whole winter for a particular plan,” the Frenchman admits. “We decided to take two weeks holiday and then started training again for a month – like the winter, with a lot of bicycle and mountain bike – up until the point where we can now think about riding with the bike. It’s still hard to know.”

Vialle has the expertise and wisdom of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Motorcross Sports Director Joel Smets as a guiding force, but even the five-time champion was somewhat ‘thrown’ by the circumstances. “This is just my second season in GPs but I’ve never had anything like this, I think it was also very hard for Joel in planning the week and the work,” Vialle describes. “It was new for him as well! Anyway, we worked together a lot in the past two months and time has gone quickly and we were not too bored, even though it was hard without the bike and the competition.”


Vialle leads MX2 after two rounds, but the pause has been disruptive to the Frenchman’s progress.
PC @Ray Archer

The riders themselves do not talk of their fear of COVID-19. As young, fiercely fit athletes they are in a very low-risk group – even the asthmatic Cairoli – but there is acute awareness of the highly contagious nature of the virus that has drastically affected global societies. “It is a tough, worldwide situation and you need to be very careful,” asserts Prado. “Even if we could still go outside from the first moment here in Belgium – something that the rest of my family could not do in Spain – we have been very careful and cautious. I think some people still don’t appreciate how serious this is…but it is also quite easy to follow the guidelines.”

“Of course, there is a lot of worry,” comments Vialle. “I have been lucky in that all my family have been OK. We have really respected the rules. That was very important. I think I was also lucky to be in Belgium because the lockdown in France would have been very complicated for training. Here I could run and cycle and get outside.”

“Things are starting to re-open slowly here in Italy and we’ll start to see the result of this and whether this problem can be solved or which way it will go,” remarks Cairoli. “I’d like to be back on the bike as much as possible though.”


Most riders are back training on the bike, although the racing schedule remains tentative.
PC @JP Acevedo.

Training is not only about professionalism. The riders’ words hint towards the addiction of two-wheels; an essential characteristic that helps on the tricky path to the top. “Of course, it is not easy to stay away from the bike and racing for so long…we can’t wait to be back on track and fight for podiums and wins: that’s always the goal,” says the ever-green Cairoli, now 34 and part of Grand Prix since 2003.

“There were a lot of questions in my head: would I be able to ride at that level again straightaway? To stop after two GPs for two months is a long time,” reflects Vialle. “I was a bit afraid but once I rode again I felt really good, and like I hadn’t stopped after Valkenswaard. I was really happy that day. I know if the next GP was in one-or-two weeks time, I would be able to race at my level and that meant a lot to me.”

Like many the riders have otherwise filled their time (Vialle: “I’ve done some videos and Instagram with KTM, MXGP and Red Bull. I think a lot of riders have been doing the same. It’s been fun. I did one live broadcast with Marvin Musquin that I enjoyed.”). If anything, the forced time away from their profession, obsession and passion has helped to ‘re-stoke the fire’. “When you restart you just want to ride every day,” Vialle smiles.


For some riders such as Prado the break has allowed them more recovery or preparation time for when the season re-starts.
PC @JP Acevedo

“I just want to get back racing because it’s what I love to do and what the team needs to do,” says Prado.

“For sure I think it will be a boost to get back racing,” says Cairoli. “There are a lot of people interested in the sport – whether that’s GPs or amateur level – and I think there will be a lot of enthusiasm to get riding again. You miss the adrenaline and the racing. You can still sweat and train individually, but the motorcycle is something else.”


Vialle holds the MX2 red plate after round two of the championship in March in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands.
PC @Ray Archer


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      2011 – Privateer Podium
      “I drove out to Austria in 2011 to race it for the first time. I didn’t really know a whole lot about the race or what I was going to do. Arriving at the village and seeing the Iron Giant was cool, but it didn’t give me goose bumps like it does now. Now it’s a different story because all the memories come flooding back – all the highs and lows. It’s such an important race in enduro and the physical size of the Iron Giant adds to that. I finished third that year and on the way home stopped at the KTM headquarters to sign a factory contract. It’s crazy to think how my life’s changed since. It’s harder for a privateer to rock up and podium because the depth of talent is so deep now.”
      Walker approaches the finish after a ‘perfect race’.
      PC @Future7Media
      2012 – Debut Win
      “I didn’t have any pressure entering the race in 2012, despite being the top KTM rider. Back then I was still working as a window fitter, even though I was a pro rider, because it was all I knew, and it gave me a routine. I still had this other life outside of racing. I didn’t treat it like a job because at home I was still fitting windows during the week. I raced and had fun. The race itself is a blur, but I remember crossing the finish line and Karl Katoch handing me the chequered flag – a massive wave of emotion came over me. It was amazing to win.”
      2013 – Armageddon
      “It was like Armageddon for 2013. Conditions were biblical. I qualified on the front row and Graham Jarvis was on the second row. I knew he was my toughest competition, so I was fired up to make as much time as I could before he started. But I drowned my bike off the start. I’m still amazed that we started in that water, but that’s the sort of stuff that makes Erzbergrodeo famous. I was stuck at the side frantically draining water out of my bike when Graham came past. I finally got going and pushed as hard as I could, but conditions were horrendous and recovering that amount of positions was tough. I passed about 100 riders for fourth, but I was gutted about it at the time.”
      The ‘Iron Giant’ is a truly incredible place and the colosseum of hard enduro.
      PC @Future7Media
      2014 – The Perfect Race
      “I still dream about 2014. I remember finishing and realising that I never fell off the bike, not once. Everything went so perfectly and that almost never happens at the Iron Giant. I got the holeshot and didn’t see another rider for the rest of the race. I won by about 30 minutes, which is unheard of now.”
      2015 – Teamwork To Survive
      “I think 2015 was good for the sport because people who don’t normally follow hard enduro tuned in. It definitely lifted things to another level. But for a racer it was a strange situation to be in. We race to win, but on that day nobody could win without helping each other. It was weird to suddenly change your mindset from racing to pitching in together like that. The track was so steep, no one could get to the top of that climb. I just remember speaking with the guys and going with the situation. People will talk about that Downtown section for years to come, it’s nice to be associated with that piece of Erzbergrodeo history.”
      Walker attacks one of the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo climbs in 2019.
      PC @Future7Media
      2016 – Forced Spectator
      “2016 was the year I watched it from the side lines. I broke my leg leading the SuperEnduro World Championship and unfortunately had to sit the race out. It’s a totally different experience being there as a spectator. As a racer, Erzbergrodeo is a pressure cooker. It builds weeks before you go and race day is stomach-churning. That was the only year I’ve been able to eat breakfast without wanting to vomit before the race!”
      Carl’s dinner – a tough crossing of huge boulders it’s a battle only the toughest riders can win,
      PC @Future7Media
      2018 – The One That Got Away
      “It still kills me now to think about 2018 because I just made one silly little mistake on a relatively easy section and lost the race. I was right on Graham (Jarvis) at Green Hell and we pushed our way past Billy Bolt and Mani Lettenbichler into first and second. Exiting the section I was on his tail, but let my front wheel wash out on a root riding down the bank and it got wedged on a tree. Due to the steepness of the bank I struggled to get it out. With only Dynamite and Lazy Noon left I couldn’t get him back. I finished 40 seconds behind, so it’s definitely the one that slipped away.”
      Walker in 2019 racing the KTM 300 EXC TPI.
      PC @Future7Media
      Why the KTM 300 EXC TPI is the best tool for the job
      “The KTM 300 EXC TPI has proven itself so many times at the race. It’s become the best bike for the job for riders of all abilities. For an amateur rider there’s very little you need to do to it. The package is light, responsive and near-bulletproof reliable. Now, with the TPI fuel injection, KTM have refined that further. It attacks hill climbs like nothing else. Also, altitude isn’t a factor – from the bottom of the quarry to the top of the mountain and back down again there’s no change in power delivery. It just works.”
      The new 2021 KTM 300 EXC TPI ERZBERGRODEO.
      PC @KTM
      Why a 4-stroke can win Erzbergrodeo
      “I believe that the KTM 350 EXC-F could win Red Bull Erzbergrodeo one day. It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about for a while. At this moment the KTM 300 EXC TPI 2-stroke has the edge because it’s a great all-round package, but with some focused testing the 350F could do it. In the UK I race the KTM 350 EXC-F for multi-lap extreme races because the power delivery is consistent and strong. At Erzbergrodeo the 350F would hold its own off the start and right up to Carls Dinner. I think that is the pinch-point of the race – getting the bike through there without issues would be key. After Carls Dinner things are equal again with the two-stroke. Maybe one day…”
      A lot of race experience went into the development of the new 2021 KTM 300 EXC TPI ERZBERGRODEO.
      PC @KTM
      As we’ve heard in this blog, the Erzbergrodeo Red Bull Hare Scramble is one of the toughest races on the planet. In tribute to this iconic event KTM has announced a special model, the 2021 KTM 300 EXC TPI ERZBERGRODEO, which is a truly special machine. Produced in limited numbers, this exciting new model is the ultimate package for conquering the toughest terrain. With racing development at the KTM 300 EXC TPI ERZBERGRODEO’S foundation and influence from talented riders such as Walker, this bike not only looks outstanding with its special colorway, but it has a long list of special parts to reinforce its READY TO RACE bloodline. Best go and check it out, hey?
      Please click here to see more!
    • De Dementor
      Posted in Racing Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Josep Garcia is not one to shy away from a challenge. With wide-ranging childhood dreams, he’s grown from mini-moto racer and Red Bull Rookie rider to an Enduro World Champion and two-time Red Bull Erzbergrodeo finisher.
      Josep Garcia – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. PC @Future7Media
      Along the way he’s also claimed three victories in the WESS Enduro World Championship, while becoming the first rider in 33 years to beat the French on their home soil to win the Trefle Lozerien classic enduro.
      With aspirations of leading Spain to ISDE victory, as well as extreme enduro goals still to be achieved, Garcia isn’t done yet with adding to his list of achievements… 
      Garcia went road racing with the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup in 2011 before becoming an Enduro racer. PC @Gold&Goose
      Josep, from Red Bull Rookies to an Enduro World Champion and two-time Erzbergrodeo finisher, are you surprised by the things you’ve accomplished on two wheels?
      Josep Garcia: “As a child I was quite broad in my dreams. I always wanted to be a world champion, but wanted to finish something crazy like Erzbergrodeo, too. The Red Bull Rookies was an opportunity too good to refuse. I have a lot of good memories from that 2011 season. On paper it’s a strange path, probably unique, but all of it has helped shape me into the rider I’ve become.”
      How did Red Bull Rookies happen for you and why did you decide to move to enduro?
      “Going from road back to off-road is a strange journey, but it’s just the way things worked out. I was about 14 years old when I got the chance to go road racing, so I took it. I had tried mini-moto racing as a child and wanted a change from motocross, so followed that path. I had some good results but looking back now it mostly taught me about being a professional athlete. At the end of 2011 there was an opportunity to move to enduro and I took it. It was a natural fit and so far it’s worked out pretty good!”
      Garcia has tackled some of the most challenging hard enduro events. Here he’s riding the KTM 300 EXC TPI at the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo. PC @Future7Media
      You began enduro on a 125cc 2-stroke. How important is a smaller capacity 2-stroke to develop a rider’s skill set?
      “For me a 125 or 150 2-stroke is the foundation for everything else in enduro. It’s the best bike to learn on and a bike everyone should spend at least one-year riding. It teaches you so much because it is the most difficult bike to get right. You have to learn how to make it work in all conditions. Now I see lots of riders jump to the bigger bikes too soon, but I think that’s a mistake. What you learn riding a the smaller 2-stroke stays with you for life.”
      What’s been the hardest thing for you to learn in extreme enduro? Has your physical size and h been an issue?
      “For sure the hardest thing I’ve had to learn was the technical riding. Almost all of the top extreme enduro guys have a world-class background in the sport or have ridden trials all their life. I didn’t. And I’m also short, too, so that hasn’t helped! But I’m getting better and better each year. Bike set-up has been important and I have to thank guys like Alfredo Gomez for helping me with that – it means a lot.”
      Garcia tackles the Le Trefle Lozerien mud on his way to becoming the first non-French racer to win the event. PC @Future7Media
      As the first non-French rider to win Trefle Lozerien, how special was that victory in 2019?
      “Winning Trefle Lozerien was one of my most favorite moments of my career. It took two years to achieve that. I learned a lot in 2018 and used that to fight for victory in 2019. It’s such a specialist race, you wouldn’t believe. There’s a lot to get right. The tests are very unique to France with lots of grass. You only ride each test once too, so there’s lots to remember and because you never quite know where you are going, you ride by feel. Last year was made difficult by the mud, so to prove myself in those conditions and become the first non-French winner was magical.”
      Garcia celebrates finishing the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo in 2019. PC @Future7Media
      How has learning the technical side of extreme enduro helped you improve your riding and speed for classic enduro and special tests?
      “When I see extreme tests now they look easy. In the past I was always nervous about them, but from racing extreme enduro I’ve done stuff I never imagined I could. I’m more confident in the technical sections as a result. But one thing I’ve learned with extreme riding is traction. You are constantly fighting for it on climbs and rock gardens. I’ve got a better feel for that and push the limits more.”
      Hawkstone Park 2019 – Garcia wheelies his way through a forest section. PC @Future7Media
      Is a willingness to adapt to the challenges you face a reason for your success?
      “You’ve got to embrace challenges in enduro. It’s something I’ve always believed in. Enduro is not just one thing, it’s everything. To be a true enduro rider you’ve got to do it all. Riding different disciplines helps you grow as a rider. I used to train mostly motocross but now my training is broader. I spend 50% of my time doing motocross and special tests and then the other 50% riding extreme stuff and trials.”
      Learning new race formats and tackling hard enduro terrain has been a challenge Garcia has enjoyed. PC @Future7Media
      Why have you moved from the KTM 250 EXC-F to the KTM 350 EXC-F for the classic enduro events?
      “After four years on the KTM 250 EXC-F I felt this year was the right time to try the KTM 350 EXC-F. I achieved a lot with the 250F, so wanting to prove myself on a bigger bike offered a lot of motivation. Although it is early days, initial testing and the opening round of the Spanish Enduro Championship delivered good results. I feel like I can still be me on the bike, but it’s also pushing me to improve areas of my riding. When the ground is perfect I can be that aggressive rider I love being, but when it’s technical or wet I need to be smoother to ride fast. With more races to come, I’m excited to see where I’ll be at by the end of the year.”
      On the gas at the WESS Enduro World Championship event in Solsona, Spain 2019. PC @Future7Media
      What more do you want to achieve in enduro and racing?
      “Right now, my motivation is to see what I can achieve on the KTM 350 EXC-F and to improve myself on the KTM 300 EXC TPI in extreme enduro. I want to reach the top of the podium again and to win special races like Trefle Lozerien or Hawkstone Park. I also want to win the ISDE outright. I’ve won my category and finished inside the top three overall – most recently Portugal 2019 – but never finished on the top step of the podium. I’d love to do that.”
      Garcia enjoys the celebrations after winning the BR2 Enduro Solsona in 2019. PC @Future7Media
       Finally, does winning the ISDE with Spain top that list, too?
      “Yes, definitely and I think we’re coming into a good place to do that. As a nation we’ve got strong riders and the set-up of the Spanish team is ready to rival what Australia or USA have. For me the ISDE is a special race. It is the most important race for classic enduro and it’s the only time of the year when you race the best classic enduro riders in the world at the same time. Incredibly Spain has yet to win it, but I believe more and more we have a good chance to make history soon.”
      With Covid-19 putting racing events on hold globally, it’s not yet clear when Garcia will be back in action in the WESS Enduro World Championship or national series. We look forward to seeing him trying to reach his goals over the next few years!