2012 and 2013 FIM MX2 Motocross World Champion Jeffrey Herlings admitted that he is unlikely to be fully fit for the launch of the 2015 campaign at Losail, Qatar on February 28 having only started to ride his Red Bull KTM yesterday (Tuesday, Feb 3).
The 20 year old got back into the sand just two months after surgery to remove the pin and screws that had helped re-grow his left femur and close the book on a troublesome championship-losing injury that occurred last July.
“I started yesterday… and felt really stiff!” he said exclusively. “It was fun because it had been a really long time… to be honest though it felt like I had been run over by a train!”
The Dutchman, together with KTM, opted for an early operation on the leg that they knew would carry consequences for the pre-season and meant that #84 would be struggling going to Qatar for the second year in a row. “I kept getting pain above my knee and around my hip from the pin and the screws,” the 2014 runner-up explains.
“It was irritating me while I was training. I was in Austria and talked about it with Pit [Beirer, KTM Sport Director]. We called the doctor to ask about having the metal taken out and he said it would set me back between two and three months, so we decided to go for it figuring that I would still have a bit of time to ride before Qatar.”
“We knew I would not be 100 per cent for the first race but we took the risk,” he continues. “Normally it is something you would have done at the end of the season but there was just time to get it done before the start. Pit also agreed it was better to race without the pin because if I crashed again then the bone would shatter and I’d be screwed. So here I am two months after the operation and I don’t feel any pain. I don’t feel like the old Jeffrey yet, for sure, but that is something to work towards.”
Herlings now has just over three weeks to build up his speed, confidence and fitness before facing a rapid-fire opening to the Grand Prix series with Qatar followed immediately by the trip to Nakhonchaisri, Thailand.
Despite the tight time frame the former champion is not going to push the panic button. “It has been six-seven months without any hard work on the bike and I know if I started doing two 35-minute motos now then my body would just break down,” he says. “I have been running, cycling and swimming but I haven’t been using the muscles for being on the bike. I’ll just listen to how I feel now and work around that.”
“Last year I learned just how long a championship can be. I will be ‘surviving’ in Qatar and Thailand and just going for what points I can get,” he added. Herlings has previously been known to defy pain, orders and expectations to continue a winning run in MX2 that began at the first round of 2013 and lasted until the final event of 2014 when he was sick, ailing and ultimately defeated by Jordi Tixier.
He has also thrown mind games against MX2 opponents with regards to the extent of past injuries (after all he won in Qatar and Thailand last year despite a foot problem also inhibiting his preparation) but the setback of last summer and the subsequent costs that have lasted over six months seem to have curbed some of his invincibility.
Another factor for Herlings to deal with will be the 2016 pre-production 250SX-F. So far he has been unable to rack-up any testing mileage on the new bike. “I’m going to Spain next week and I have been on the old bike so far just to get the feeling back,” he reveals.
“I rode the new bike twice before I got injured but that was obviously a long time ago. I have heard that the latest version is really special and I think people saw in the Italian Championship round last weekend that it is one of the best 250s out there [Pauls Jonass won the MX2 class]. I’ll have it from this weekend and I’m excited to ride but it probably means we wont have the ideal set-up in time for Qatar and Thailand.”