by Geoff Meyer

It is really hard to place a favorite for the 2009 MX1 championship. I mean defending champion David Philippaerts has to be considered a good bet, but on the other hand while he won the championship in 2008, he didn’t dominate it, and at times others riders made bigger progress and threatened his series points lead. We decided to look at the riders we think will make the top ten and why. We can’t say this is how it will finish, but these guys are the men who will fight for the title and GP wins.

1. David Philippaerts MX1 World Motocross Champion

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The current King of the pack is of course the Italian, Mr. Philippaerts, and as mentioned he is defending champion, and in only his second year in the premier MX1 class he proved too consistent for his rivals. It isn’t often you get a rider move to the MX1 class and win the title in his second year. What the Team Monster Yamaha Rinaldi rider did for the class was add a rider who was really, really hungy, and the rest followed. There is always the talk that defending a title is harder than winning it, and how Philippaerts performs against the likes of Cairoli, Coppins and Pourcel will be interesting, with the knowledge that he is the man at the front. He showed in 2008 that the pressure didn’t bother him, and even with riders like Ken De Dycker and Marc De Reuver who tried to force him into a battle in the later stages of the championship, he remained cool and calm. Of course, Philippaerts will improve – he could become a two-time world motocross champion this year and chase after the legendary status of Alex Puzar, Alessio Chiodi and Antonio Cairoli, the three greatest Italian riders of all time. Maybe that is just the motivation the Rinaldi Yamaha rider needs to forget the fact he is the man to beat.

2. Josh Coppins

OK, the New Zealander didn’t really perform as we expected him to in 2008, but there is a story behind his results, and of course it was no ones fault but his own that he performed below his standard. I wrote him off as the season ended, and really thought his time was done. But as I often do, I turn around now and think he will be a major threat for the 2009 Championship. 2008 couldn’t have gone any worse for the ‘other’ Team Monster Rinaldi Yamaha rider. He started the season with a seriously damaged toe, and then had his personal world changed with the news he was going to become a father. Of course fatherhood has made him stronger as a person, but that initial lifestyle change didn’t really seem to give Josh the peace it might have given others. Now the father of a beautiful little girl, he feels comfortable with his future. There is no question about when he will stop racing, and his 2009 season will be a cracker, count on it. A new trainer (the same one that took Tyla Rattray to a world title) and a complete change in his motivation will see Coppins enter the opening round in Faenza with fire in his belly, and we all know what a fired up Kiwi can do.

3. Ken De Dycker

The tall Belgian really improved a lot in 2008, his fitness was never a question mark, and his determination never failed. He had moments in the season where he was miles better than anyone, but also moments where he didn’t fire like he can. Having looked at this past season, De Dycker knows what he has to improve upon, and having sniffed the championship at the end of the ’08 season, knows that just a few points here and a few points there will change everything. Ending the season just 19 points off being the number one in the rider in the world will give him that extra motivation to find that extra speed more often, and there is no doubt, at his best Ken De Dycker just might be the quickest motocross rider in the world.

4. Steve Ramon

You can never count a guy out who has two world titles to his name. Belgian Steve Ramon does, and is probably the most gifted rider of the group. He is also consistent, and going into the final round of the 2008 series in Faenza, Italy he was still within a shot of retaining the MX1 title he won in 2007. Just 14 points back on Philippaerts showed that Ramon is a big favorite this season. Despite being known as a non-risk taker, he looked more aggressive in 2008, and if he can continue to score his 33 points a GP, who knows … maybe he can get world title number three. In my opinion there is a world title or two left in Ramon’s career, and one of them could be in 2009.

5. Antonio Cairoli

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Now here is the ‘wild card’ in the whole pack. Sure, he won in Donington Park in the MX1 class in 2007, but that doesn’t mean he will come into the class and start winning straight away. No doubt he is the leader as far as GP wins go, holding down 15th place in the all-time Grand Prix winners list, but this years MX1 class is going to be a war and will the MX1 newcomer get pushed around by the bigger men? It is a long, long time ago that a smaller guy out muscled the bigger riders, and from memory it was probably Cairoli’s fellow Italian Alex Puzar who was the last ‘small’ guy to win in the premier class. Cairoli in size is small, but his heart is the size of a lion’s, and it will be really interesting to see how he performs over an entire season in MX1.

6. Kevin Strijbos

Can the lost Belgian find his place in the MX1 pack? He is on a team that will not put pressure on – the Martin Honda team will make Strijbos feel welcomed and comfortable. With Marc De Reuver as his team-mate he will not only have a relaxed feeling under the team tent, but he will have a rider who is also looking strong and a rider who needs to score races wins. Together they might do some serious winning and push each-other to greater results. I have to admit, I look at Strijbos and see a work of art in progress. How he hasn’t won a world title yet I don’t know. He has the potential to be the class leader, no question about it.

7. Sebastien Pourcel

Like De Dycker, on his day Pourcel is unbeatable, and a tremendous joy to watch on the track … but under pressure he seems to lack something. His opening rounds in 2008 were terrible, yet he also came close to fighting for the title, despite being 50 points down on the leaders early in the series. He showed James Stewart a thing or two about European conditions, and openly said he can’t wait to race Stewart at the MXoN in Italy in October of this year. Yes, this kid has balls, and big ones. His style is similar to that of Philippaerts with a lot of aggression and technically good. The question mark is how he will perform under pressure, and suffering arm pump while leading Stewart at the MXoN in Donington cost him a chance to show the world just how fast he really is.

8. Jonathan Barragan

The Spanish rider rode like a legend in the middle of the 2008 GP season, winning motos and GPs in succession, but he still failed to put together a consistent season – four times scoring zero points. He finished 54 points behind Philippaerts in the title race, and with a little consistency could have been world champion … but then again we could say that about nearly every rider in the top six last year. Doing his own thing outside the KTM factory set-up seems to work for him, but off-season injuries and problems might not help his early season form for 2009.

9. Max Nagl

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German rider Nagl might just be the dark horse of the 2009 series. He was consistent and won five motos last year. Will Nagl also struggle like Cairoli might against the bigger riders, or will he use that to his advantage? Sixth place in 2008 and improving, you could easliy pick him to make the top three in 2009. But, this is the premier class of the world, and there are so many good riders. Max has been working hard as usual with Stefan Everts this winter. Don’t be surprised to see the KTM factory rider produce a few GP wins in ’09.

10. Billy Mackenzie, and Marc De Reuver

I can’t really split these two yet. Both are top performers, with De Reuver having four GP wins and Mackenzie three. Both are fun guys, who like to enjoy life and seem at times to be missing their golden opportunities. But, both have worked really hard this winter and I think we will see something special from the CAS Honda and Martin Honda riders this year. If Mackenzie can cut down his mistake rate and De Reuver can find form on his off days, then look for these two to be top five early season.

There will be 16 riders who have won GPs in their career and race the MX1 class this season.

Antonio Cairoli leads the way with his 25 GP wins, he is followed by Coppins with 10, Philippaerts with 8, David Vuillemin with 6, Strijbos and Ramon with five, Pourcel, Barragan and De Reuver with four. Mackenzie has three, Cedric Melotte has two, as does De Dycker, and Tanel Leok. Max Nagl and Gert Krestnikov have one each.

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Overall results of MX1 from 2008:

  1. Philippaerts 509 pts
  2. Ramon 495 pts
  3. De Dycker 490 pts
  4. Barragan 455 pts
  5. Coppins 446 pts
  6. Nagl 444 pts
  7. Pourcel 392 pts
  8. Leok 352 pts
  9. Mackenzie 320 pts
  10. De Reuver 292 pts

Top ten in the all-time Grand Prix Motocross wins from this year’s riders:

15th best in history of the sport: Cairoli, Antonio – 25 wins

48th best in history of the sport: Coppins, Joshua – 10 wins

50th best in history of the sport: Philippaerts, David – 8 wins

75th best in history of the sport: Vuillemin, David – 6 wins

83rd best in history of the sport: Ramon, Steve – 5 wins

84th best in history of the sport: Strijbos, Kevin – 5 wins

91st best in history of the sport: Barragan, Jonathan – 4 wins

99th best in history of the sport: Pourcel, Sebastien – 4 wins

100th best in history of the sport: Marc De Reuver – 4 wins

101st best in history of the sport: Billy Mackenzie – 3 wins

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