Just a week after the epic battle in Ottobiano, Italy, the MXGP tour arrived in Agueda on the west side of Portugal, about 20 miles south of Porto.
It’s about 1,200 miles from Ottobiano so what did the teams and riders do in the last five days?
Most of the top riders were back in their own beds on Sunday night, either flying home or driving the 500 or so miles back to Belgium so they could keep their usual routine going. Most of the mechanics worked on the bikes until Monday lunch time at Ottobiano when the teams broke camp and the trucks headed off for the two-and-a-half-day drive to Agueda.
Many of the EMX riders took the week to drive across France and Spain, some stopping off at a beach for the day or getting in a run or bike ride.
Unbelievably, Ryan Houghton went to a track about 20 miles from Ottobiano and rode on Tuesday and Wednesday, putting in two 35 minute motos each time before heading to Portugal. “I was pretty tired on Monday but the temperature was only 30 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday so it felt easy after the GP in 40 degrees,” said Ryan.
Jack Bintcliffe was rewarded for qualifying for the first time at Ottobiano in the EMX125 class with some rock star treatment for Portugal. The Hitachi KTM team took his bike and he and his parents flew down, staying in a hotel rather than the camper. “It was the first time I’d qualified, but I got a bit tense in the races and got arm pump,” Jack explained. “In qualifying, I managed to time it perfectly and get my first two laps in before the lines got spoilt.”
Once again, British riders are a bit thin on the ground but with representatives in each of the five classes, there’s enough to cheer on.
With Injuries keeping Shaun Simpson, Tommy Searle and Jake Nicholls away, it’s Max Anstie flying the flag along with Ryan Houghton.
The track in Agueda is hard packed and the organisers hadn’t ripped it so it remained hard. This meant that combined with quite high speeds it never got very rough.
Watering was a bit of an issue as some overzealous bowser use meant puddles and soft spots in some of the valleys but also some very slick areas for the first few laps in each race as the water just left a greasy slime rather than soaking in.
Timed practice left Anstie in 14th so a middle gate position for the qualifying race. As Jasikonis took the holeshot and raced away at the front, Anstie ended Lap 1 in 16th but battled away and passed De Dycker, Bobryshev, Butron and Lupino to finish 12th, which was good progress as the fast track didn’t offer much in the way of passing opportunities. Houghton was a lonely 24th.
In the races, Anstie made the best of it but handicapped by 14th gate pick that put him half way across the start gate, it was going to be an uphill battle. He passed a few riders in each race, finishing 10th and eighth. Pragmatic and professional after the races, he said: “I tried to find a good set up yesterday for today but obviously the qualifying race wasn’t great. My starts weren’t bad but the racing was so intense. I need to get better in these conditions,” referring to hard pack as opposed to his preference for sand.
Ryan Houghton came oh-so-close to scoring his first point. After a bit of handbags at dawn in Sunday warm-up with Febvre when the Frenchman cut him up, you could see he was fired up. Race 1 was uneventful and finished outside the top 20 but in Race 2 he was 20th until the last lap. “My bike started making a really loud noise so I stopped doing the big jumps on the last lap and that Honda [Sandro Peixe] got me,” said a dejected Houghton as his first point had been pinched by misfortune.
Ben Watson arrived in Portugal having rested all week. His rides in Ottobiano, where he battled from dead last in Race 1 and finished eighth in Race 2 had taken a toll. “I felt fine after the first race but in Race 2 I kind hit the wall at about 25 minutes and had three bad laps but then saw Julien Leiber in front and got a second wind. I passed him on the last lap,” said Watson. However, on Monday he felt worse than he had ever felt after a race and wisely took the week off to allow his body to recover fully. Conrad Mewse also had a tough time in the Italian heat but had also recovered for Portugal.
Timed Practice was straight forward for both, Mewse 10th, Watson 15th.
In the Qualifying Race, Watson got a good jump out of the gate. “Did you see me wheelie all the way to the first corner,” he asked with some pride after. It was an impressive wheelie.
Seventh on Lap 1, he then spent the whole race battling with Anthony Rodriguez, passing and re-passing each other about 10 times. “It was hard racing, nothing stupid, a good battle,” said Watson after he came out victorious, and pleased with his riding and his result which meant a good gate pick for the races.
Mewse’ race was less eventful, passing Jorge Zaragoza and Giuseppe Tropepe to finish 14th.
Race 1 saw Watson gate in about ninth place, soon passing Rodriguez, Prado, Bogers and Leiber and was up to fifth until Lap 14 of 17 when he started losing places back to Leiber and Bogers and a charging Paturel as he had expended too much energy at the beginning of the race. Eighth was the finishing position.
Race 2 started in about eighth place again but just before half distance, he pulled in, unable to hang on anymore. With hands blistered he said: “I wasn’t riding it, it was just dragging me around.”
Conrad Mewse weekend was steady, gating around 20th both times and finishing 17th and 19th.
Todd Kellett is once again the lone Brit here. After giving it everything he had last week and suffering in the heat, Todd and his family took a steady drive down and said he’s fully recovered from the heat and the crash that caused him to retire from the second race. “I’ve never felt like that before,” he explained. “I’d rather do Weston Beach Race for three hours,” he joked.
Qualifying was hampered by a shock that was too soft for the track, the result being 29th. “I just didn’t have the feeling,” said Kellett afterwards.
Race 1 saw Kellett battle from a poor start. His jump out of the gate was okay but as he hit the first turn the 20 riders inside him push wide and he was forced to stand the bike up in the outside of the turn. From 32nd around the second corner, Kellett benefitted from the first lap chaos and crashes to end Lap 1 in 16th. “The first lap was crazy, there were riders going down everywhere,” he said after the race. “I bided my time and rode a sensible race. -10th was as good as I could get from that start.” When I asked about the rear shock that they had changed after qualifying Kellett was honest. “It was better but we just don’t know enough, we need some guidance to set it up properly.”
Race 2 started mid-pack and Kellett moved up to 14th by Lap 4 when disaster struck. A large rock derailed the chain, the resulting damage was a trashed wheel hub and bent sprocket, and despite getting the chain back on, the bike was too damaged to continue. “There’s not much you can do when it’s a fluke thing like that,” said Stuart Hodder, Kellett’s sponsor who had made the trip down to Portugal.
Jack Bintcliffe and Chris Mills both qualified, but not without incident. Bintcliffe over jumped and flat landed off a big step down and thought he’d damaged the bike, which spooked him a bit despite his Mechanic/Dad checking the bike over and finding nothing wrong. Mills also struggled with handling issues.
For the first race, Mills made some adjustments to the forks and that cured the turning issues. “I was lucky with the start,” he said, “people went wide and I pushed for two laps but then I got stuck in a battle with about four guys.” He would finish 14th.
Bintcliffe didn’t fare as well off the start and faded back to 36th at the end as the pace was just too fast. He said later that he was struggling with the handling.
In the second race on Sunday, both lads got a reasonable jump out of the gate but pushed wide in the first corner, and from there they were never in the points. “Just had no energy in that race,” offered Mills, while Bintcliffe summed up his weekend as “disappointing”.
The 150 group returned for their second outing after the mud and ruts of Germany. Tobias Sammut, Ryan Mawhinney and Charlie McCarthy all return but Cain McElveen is absent. There’s no qualifying for this group – if you’re entered, you’re racing.
With much better conditions than the rutted, muddy mess they faced in Germany, the lads put on a great show. Mawhinney was top Brit in ninth with Sammut 18th and McCarthy 24th.
Race 2 took place on Sunday morning – the first group out on a well-watered track meant conditions were slippery.
Mawhinney was again top Brit in 18th with Sammut just behind in 19th and McCarthy in 21st.