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Can Clement Desalle make 2016 his year in MXGP?

A road to glory awaits the fast charging Belgian. Image by Ray Archer/Monster Energy
A road to glory awaits the fast charging Belgian.
Image by Ray Archer/Monster Energy
Grand Prix motocross will have one of its fastest, most stylish, enigmatic
and mysterious athletes in new colours for 2016. Arguably the biggest
question mark for the forthcoming season due to launch at Losail, Qatar at
the end of February will revolve around the potency of the symbiosis
between Clement Desalle and the factory Monster Energy Kawasaki team, and
whether being ‘in green’ will mean the feisty twenty-six year old Belgian
will finally grasp the champion status he has been chasing for over half a
decade.

A Grand Prix winner every year since 2009 (except for an injury-wrecked
2015) and a title contender – frequently Antonio Cairoli’s chief threat –
since the turn of the decade, Desalle has made a crucial switch by electing
to hone the works KX450F in pursuit of more MXGP spoils and the elusive
crown in the premier class.

Desalle is a special breed. He’s an individual that relishes the precision
and skill needed to throw a dirt bike around some of the roughest tracks at
the top level of the sport. His catchphrase has often been about having
“fun on the bike”: a happy and engaged Clement often means an uncatchable
blur across the soil. While his rivals will hope the green 25 won’t be
delectable from the get-go in Qatar fans of his style and uncluttered
approach to racing will be willing Desalle to hit the ground and pinning
the KX for all it’s worth from the first laps of his fresh adventure.

After a sustained period of results and a profile as one of the very
principal characters of MXGP, many followers of the sport were curious as
to why Desalle found a way from his Suzuki of six years to the Dutch base
of Kawasaki.

“I knew that Kawasaki wanted me for quite a long time and
Suzuki wanted to keep me. It was not a decision I made in, say, two days. I
had two options and, like I say now-and-again, ‘you know what you sell…but
you don’t know what you buy’. Sometimes you buy something better, sometimes
the same, sometimes worse. In the end I followed my feeling, and I looked
at the balance of a new bike, new challenge, new people and with a good guy
I know in the team.”

“I looked at all sides and decided to change. In the end hope I have bought
something better!” he added.

Monster Energy Kawasaki are striving to get back to winning ways and the
team only recently crested the wave at the most prominent MX race in the
world. “For sure people are looking at us now but our partners and people
who race with us have trust in the work that we do,” says Team Manager
Francois Lemariey and one of the key figures in luring Desalle to ‘Kawi’.
“And I will also remind anyone that 2014 was a pretty good year for us! We
finished the season with both riders on the top of the podium at the
Motocross of Nations.”

To speak with Desalle is to find an experienced Pro about to hit the peak
of his powers and now reinvigorated with what lies ahead. Fully healed up
after his shoulder operation from the embers of last summer and trim and
strong for an anticipated debut, Clement was not shy in providing more
insight to his mindset. “I would not say that this move has given me extra
motivation because I am always motivated for my sport and also because it
was going very well with Suzuki but I wanted to try a new bike and keep
feeling fresh,” he states. “It sounds stupid but when you have a new bike
it makes you feel cool, happy and excited. It is this feeling I was looking
for. That was mainly why I moved.”

So what of the Kawasaki? 2016 sees an overhauled KX for the brand, the crew
and crucially for their chief rider, who will be backed by MXGP rookie and
former MX2 World Champion Jordi Tixier this term. “There were some changes
to deal with but my first impression was of a good bike and good base,” he
opines. “As with every machine you have to personalise it and make it your
way. I have a certain style and way I want the bike but I see potential
there.”

Tests, training and pre-season international meetings: there is plenty to
deal with in these last weeks before Grand Prix comes closer and riders
start to breathe a little deeper. The clock continues to tick. Desalle
might be dealing with change on many fronts but there is another novel
aspect that he is also absorbing and cannot suppress a smile when we mention
the black Monster Energy cap atop his head. “I heard about their philosophy
and it was just something where I thought ‘cool’,” he said on becoming part
of Monster’s virulent stable of MXGP stars. “They look like an easy-going
company and I like how they see and treat their athletes.”

Desalle doesn’t shout too much about his activities, life away from the
bike and sees the spotlight as something that can be often circumnavigated.
Smooth, aggressive and focussed to a seemingly unshakeable point he is a
considerable weapon. Somehow the black and green livery could not be more
apt for this racer and – with a dose of luck that every No.1 needs to
survive eighteen rounds of MXGP intact – 2016 could finally be his time.

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