The tension in Kevin Strijbos was palpable and reflected in his voice. The Belgian rider has, during his last two GP outings, admittedly not had the best of times. With the action moving to his home country, the pressure was on his shoulders for a good result. The home fans expect and demand that. Whichever way he would make it happen, mattered not. A good result was called for, and there coudl be no excuse.
With these kind of thoughts uppermost in his mind, Kevin traveled to the south of his home country to Bastogne, right in the midst of the spectacular Ardennes. The weekend did not start on a promising note for spectators and riders alike, for the taps of heaven opened up an almost uninterrupted dousing for the better part of two days. So much water went down, that the Saturday qualifying schedule was changed to a timed session instead of the normal qualifying race, in order to save the track as best as possible.
Race day broke sunny and mild, with the track seemingly none the less for wear for all the rain that had pelted down. Kevin had a bounce in his Alpinestars step, for he had posted the fifth-fastest qualifying time the day before. This certainly confirmed that he lacks nothing in the speed stakes, and set the scene for a pleasurable home outing.
The track side commentator nearly swallowed his microphone in excitement at the MX1 class blasted off the line for the first race. Multiple world champion Antonio Cairoli had secured the holeshot, but right behind him was the #22 HM Plant KTM piloted by one Kevin Strijbos. Kevin held onto second spot for seven laps, urged on by the wildly enthusiastic crowd who was packed in, several lines deep, all around the track. After fending off attacks from Gautier Paulin on a few occasions, he finally had to let the Frenchman through. A few laps later, fellow Belgian Clement Desalle, who is even more of a home rider to the region, came knocking too. Nonetheless, Kevin crossed the line in fourth spot, far and away his most pleasing result of the season thus far.
It is easy to undo a good first race result by fluffing things in the second, but again Kevin was up to task. This time he launched into fifth position. He was stuck behind strongman Evgeny Bobryshev for two thirds of the race, but eventually he found a way past the powerful Russian rider. He homed in on Desalle and Christophe Pourcel ahead of him like a guided missile on a Taliban outpost, and pretty soon there was a three way tussle for second position. The race-long efforts to get by Bobryshev had taken their toll, however, and when a small mistake caused him to lose the tow with the riders ahead of him, Kevin lost too much time to launch another successful attack. Even so, he was warmly welcomed by the crowd as he crossed the line in fourth position again, less than a second behind Desalle.
Had he passed Desalle, Kevin would have been called to the overall podium, but as it turned out, he missed the honours by a mere two points. A 36 point harvest is nothing to sneeze at, though, nor is fourth position in a GP race. The friendly young man is still holding firm in 8th position in the world rankings, but has closed the gap to the two riders immediately ahead significantly. The confidence of a good world championship result will surely serve him well as the season moves into its second half, and he will be ready for battle again in two weeks’ time at the GP of Sweden.
Reporting by Tinus Nel
Image by Ray Archer