Kawasaki MXGP rookie Julien Lieber: “I have time”
The 2018 FIM Motocross World Championship is fast approaching for the majority of riders itching to get back into Grand Prix action and for a series that will see nineteen rounds from March to September and across four continents. However, new Monster Energy Kawasaki recruit Julien Lieber is one of the very few hoping that time will drag more slowly in the build-up to the opening fixture at Neuquen in Argentina on March 4th.
The 23 year old Belgian has been in the saddle of his KX450F for less than three weeks after recovering from left knee surgery in the winter. Lieber is rapidly trying to catch-up to the majority of his peers in terms of training and testing and faces not only his rookie MXGP campaign but also his first on a 450 and first with the KRT set-up. “I don’t feel too bad but I haven’t done any really long motos and I’ve been struggling with arm-pump at the moment,” he admitted. “The first week was difficult but every time has been better and better and my riding is going well. Overall though it is difficult to say how the season will go.”
Lieber, who was in early contention for the 2017 MX2 crown from the confines of his own KTM-based team, used a stock KX to get a feeling for the Kawasaki once fit and cleared to hit the track once more. Adapting to the race version of the motorcycle took a little more work. “I rode a standard Kawasaki at least three times and it felt great; so easy to handle in corners and on jumps. The engine was also really easy. The race bike was a bit more difficult! The setting with the engine and suspension was trickier to sort out. The team put a very soft power map for me but it was already too soft. We then had a four day test and I was able to adapt in that time and get some good riding done in the south of France and on some hard-pack tracks.”
The talented and diminutive athlete is under no illusions that 2018 will be a tough contest in the premier class; a competition he faces after hitting the age ceiling for MX2. MXGP ‘rookie’ claimed the title in 2015 and 2016 and finished second in 2017. Lieber is playing catch-up and this grants him some breathing space although his slot on a factory team means he also has pressure to deliver. “You have to show something,” he concedes “but the season is so long: I have time. I couldn’t ride in the winter so I’ve had only one month to prepare and now I just have the goal to give the best that I can every race.”
Part of his acclimatisation to MXGP has been trying to plan out the right physical regime to weather nineteen meetings and thirty-eight starts (fifty-seven with Qualification heats included) with the more demanding 450. “Last year I started MX2 well but by the end I was not good anymore…I think it is difficult to find the good programme to go the full season,” he commented.
Lieber will be backed by friend and teammate Clement Desalle in works green for 2018. His countryman claimed two Grands Prix wins in 2017.
Photos by Ray Archer/Kawasaki Racing