We’re in Agueda, for the GP of Portugal and took the chance to sit down with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Max Anstie for a revealing chat.
The very popular British rider opened up on how it felt to achieve a life’s ambition – the MXGP podium, hard-earned from his stunning ride at Ottobiano in Italy. He tells us what it took to hit that career high and he explains he’s not satisfied with a runner-up spot. We also cover the MXoN, possible team-mates and dropping down to a 250.
Dirt Bike Rider: Firstly, congratulations on your first MXGP podium in Ottobiano. You’ve won MX2 races and GPs but how does this compare?
Max Anstie: There’s a lot of work and it’s what I’ve dreamed of for such a long time, just to be on the podium of an MXGP on a 450. It’s great. I think one part is that I’ve been working my whole life for that and it feels different to MX2. There’s a lot more pressure, I almost got it in Russia and it’s something that’s so hard to get.
I want to be winning races and battling up front consistently and this is the first step towards doing that. The second thing was being there with Antonio as he won his home GP. To be with someone winning their home GP and be alongside him on the podium was crazy, it shows how much he means to those people. I’ve never won Matterley or experienced that. It was an honour to stand up there with him and experience that, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.
DBR: From a fans point of view, it was great to see you up there really enjoying it and celebrating your achievement. You looked so happy.
MA: It’s something I’ve wanted so long and worked so hard for. Of course, the team want results and it’s what I’m expected to do and it should be normal but at the same time, it’s still bloody amazing to do and really cool.
I’ve learnt from having enough bad weekends or weekends where I’m struggling and battling just to get in the points so when the good days come you’ve got to grab them because there’s a lot more bad days than good days.
DBR: You had some of that bad news earlier this season when you missed a couple of races with a knee injury but came back in Latvia with sixth then seventh in Germany, fourth in Russia and third in Italy. Has anything changed for you to make the results improve, maybe diet, training, testing or something else?
MA: I felt like I was at a really good place before I hurt my knee. We’ve had such a good plan and a structure since before New Year so it comes from a long time working and doing the base work. Just before I hurt my knee I’d passed Jeffrey [Herlings] and my team-mate Gautier [Paulin] and some top sand guys at a Dutch championship race and won by 10 seconds. I felt really good but then hurt my knee in the second race. It’s taken a while to get back and it was two weeks before Russia before I felt I was back in my routine and feeling fit and normal again.
Winning or being on the podium or even just racing and being competitive in this class takes months and months and months of work, you can’t just do two weeks and you’re good again. It’s a lot of routine and repetition and putting in time on the bike, refining small details. At the moment I’m in a good place – a good place with my training, I’ve just done a good week even though it was a hot GP last week but I felt good when I got back. I’ve got great guys around me for nutrition, hydration, to monitor my fitness and let me know when to rest and when I need to train, and they’re telling me “you need to train” so I’m saying, “okay, let’s go”. I’ve ridden a few times this week too.
DBR: You certainly looked fit in Italy. You didn’t look like you’d just done two 35 minute races in 40 degrees.
MA: And that’s all thanks to the group around me. I feel like an Olympic athlete. I’ve got a great team, you wouldn’t believe how professional they are, they plan everything. Tommy here *pointing* is gonna give me a massage in a minute, he’s on the phone all the time and we’re on point.
DBR: Looking ahead, what are the goals for the rest of the season?
MA: This game is about confidence and these results have given me a bit of confidence but I know that can be taken away the next week. You can gain and lose in a short amount of time.
I’d like to continue to battle for the podium but it’s not really about the end result as much as the process and what I need to do. It’s about working hard in the week so the competition is easier and that’s what happened in Italy – I’d worked so hard in the week that even when I hit the gate in the first race it was easier than some of the training I’d done in the week. And in the second race, I actually had an easier time – I’d pushed hard in the first one but in the second race I felt fresh, I had a 15-second gap on the guy behind [Nagl] and I was catching Jeffrey but it wasn’t important for the podium. I knew he was tired but the goal was to take the podium so I wasn’t going to jeopardise that. If it happens again maybe I would step up and risk it a bit more but I wasn’t going to do anything silly.
We just have to be smart and I want to establish myself battling for podiums as often as I can. I know it’s not always gonna happen, there are a lot of great guys out there but I… [pauses for thought] …at the start of the season I was looking up to a lot of people, big names and heroes in this class but now I feel like I belong.
DBR: Did you find it difficult to race your heroes? I’ve heard riders say before that it’s hard when maybe only a year before you had a poster of a rider like Cairoli and now you’re lining up next to him.
MA: Absolutely! Like in Russia I was behind him and I felt like I could pass him and I was “But this is Cairoli!”. But it’s not just him, it’s also my team-mates. Gautier Paulin is a hero to the French, Clement Desalle, van Horbeek, they’re great guys and great competitors but I feel that by getting on the podium I’ve established myself, I’m here to race. I respect them but I think they recognise me also. I just want to keep battling for the podium, take some moto wins so it’s about sticking to the work and the routine.
DBR: Looking forward to the MXoN. With Simpson, Searle and Nicholls all currently injured it looks like you and Dean Wilson are the obvious choices on 450s, but if the other guys are fit by then would you consider dropping back to a 250 if Mark Chamberlain felt it was a stronger choice than Conrad Mewse or Ben Watson?
MA: Tommy should be fit again soon, he’s always ridden well on a 250 and Steve Dixon has a reputation for producing a great bike, I know cos I was there. Tommy would be a strong contender for the 250.
I suppose I could get a factory 250 but I don’t know. I’ve done enough years on a 250. In one breath I feel like I’m a better 450 rider, I’ve got a better program and I’ve done a lot of work with the bike. The 250, yes I could get it right but I’d need time again and this is a 450 team. Okay, we could get bikes from Jacky Martens [250 Husqvarna team] I’m sure but the settings are different. I couldn’t even use my settings from last year because I knew then it wasn’t good enough to beat Jeffrey straight up.
I feel really good on my 450, I’ve put in the time and effort to develop and progress myself and the bike so I’d much prefer to ride the 450. But there’s such a long way to go, anyone could get injured even a week before the event.
It’s a great event, and if it’s meant to be, it will be. I feel fast and I want to put on a show and by then I want to win. I underestimated it last year on the 250, I thought it would be easier after riding the 450 at Lommel but it’s the toughest race of the year. From getting injured at Ernee, getting landed on and breaking my neck and back, last year at Maggoria I was a bit tight but this year I’m not relaxing after the last GP I’m going to win the race.
But there’s a lot of things can happen as you can see with Shaun [Simpson]. I feel gutted for Shaun getting injured because he’s a great guy, he works hard and was going fast, plus he’s great for the team.
Mark’s got a difficult job but I know that if I do get picked I’ll go there and do my best and prepare as well as I can.