As if to prove that motocross can wreck bones and dreams one month and then provide a satisfying reversal a short time later, Ben Watson is sitting more comfortably in the chair propped outside his family’s camper. He is methodically going through his own goggle prep while we talk and his painful despondency of missing virtually the entire 2016 racing season with a badly broken foot – and therefore waving goodbye to a year of his career at eighteen – somehow seems like a distant past.

Watson is the name on many teams’ shopping list for MX2 Grand Prix and 2017 has been a successful comeback. Not only in terms of re-establishing the potential that was shockingly exciting through EMX250 European Championship debut race wins three campaigns ago but also in terms of his development. Watson was a wide-eyed, often naïve sixteen year old as he attempted EMX250 and the odd MX2 appearance in 2014 but the promise was there. A torrid debut year in 2015 fired into life as often as his stubborn privateer, KTM but top ten results were within reach at seventeen years of age. 2016 was written off with that awkward landing in Argentina. Now, almost in the last throes of the current Grand Prix campaign, Watson is touching podium potential and has wrapped-up his first British Championship to boot.

We’re here to talk part-resurrection (he has still to confirm whether he will stay with the Hitachi KTM team for a third crack at MX2) and part- Troy Lee. The recently turned twenty year old is one of the few TLD runners in the Grand Prix gate and the unmistakeable ‘jockey’ livery of the ‘Polka Dot’ gear (but also Streamline and Megaburst, Maze and Joker schemes) has made the tall Brit stand out even further.

Maki Ushiroyama (TLD, Creative Director Motocross): “The concept for this year was to make gear that was very iconic and the word that came out of my mind was ‘amplify’ and we came up with new starburst, the streamline and the Polka dots…but bigger!”

What was it like to go from injury devastation to returning near the front of MX2 and having a buzz around your name again? Was it a relief?

Erm, not really. I’ve always known that I have the talent on a bike. It was a matter of putting all the pieces together to actually get me ‘there’. At the start of 2016 the results were already starting to come; I was eighth in the first moto at Valkenswaard and was tenth until I made a little mistake. So I knew I had the speed but the next race was Argentina…the worst part of that was that I was told it [the injury] would be four or five weeks but when I got home and had further checks it turned into the rest of the year. It was like ‘pfff….’ [drops face]. I had a load of time off and it really made me realise how much I like racing and how I do want to do it. I made a steady start this year but it is now finally coming together.

That injury almost blew you away from the map…

It did. Everything went very silent. No social media or anything. I almost had a ‘normal’ non-racing life…and it was boring! I came back with more motivation than ever. It kinda helped me in a way.

It must have felt strange to lose a year at that stage of getting ready to really burst into Grand Prix…

It was a year that was…not wasted…but I’d say ‘ruined’. There were positives and negatives to it because even now my foot is still not quite right but it gave me that fire and realisation of how much I like motocross. So I’ll continue to look at the positives.

It has been quite an arduous path so far hasn’t it? I can remember some real rookie mistakes back in 2014 when you were trying to feel your way into EMX…

Very much so…but some things haven’t changed. I still train by myself, prep my own practice bike and do my motos. My parents still drive to the races. I’ve improved some things around me and the bike is much better. I also have a great personal sponsor – Contract Furnishings – that has helped so much, especially coming back from injury because I didn’t have many options at all for 2017 and they helped me get back. I remember my first European Championship race in Bulgaria in 2014; I didn’t even know I’d be doing that race until a week before. Me and Dad flew out because the team said they’d take the bike. I won it, and then finished seventh in the championship with a few DNFs and terrible results. I also won a race at Matterley [Basin, UK] and it was a very up-and-down time. In a way it is still like that! I can have one great result and then another that doesn’t bear talking about. [smiles] I know what I need to work on.

Silvio Marceca (TLD, Creative Director Motocross): “There is a situation where you need the garment to fit you and where the body fits the garment and we try to keep an eye on that balance so we can get the optimum of performance. You start taking away all the unnecessary fabrics and panels that are fighting your position on the motorcycle when you are attacking, turning, on a jump. You look to make a pant that is very neutral.”

What do you think impresses people about you as a rider? Why did you stand out as a sixteen year old?

I’m not too sure…maybe when we come to a race and the conditions are very technical I tend to shine a bit more. Maybe people can see the talent I have to ride a motorbike in those races and think ‘yeah, we can turn him into someone who can do that every weekend’. It might be my style. After Bulgaria in 2014 I had quite a bit of interest in me straightaway but I wasn’t that great through the rest of the year. It died-down a bit but now it has come back because I’ve finally been able to show a little of what I can do. I think you just have to try and prove what you can do, and then the bigger teams with their resources can help you go that extra bit.

Weaknesses? Perhaps dislodging the brain to do that crazy lap-time?

Yeah, that’s where I struggle on Saturday especially and in pre-qualifying. I don’t think that matters too much when the gate is quite fair but otherwise I need to work on it because I am not one for just hanging absolutely everything on the line for that one lap. I’m more of a smooth racer! [laughs] It’s weird because Nathan [older brother, currently KTM’s star in the FIM Enduro World Championship] is the complete opposite and is really good at the one lap but then not so good at the race! I know it is in me somewhere; I just need to work it out and find the little pieces to improve that part.

British riders have been through the mill in the last two years it would seem…

Yeah…[thinks] one of the goals is to be the best in the country but you have Max [Anstie] and Shaun [Simpson] in the premier class and they have been around a bit longer and have a lot more support than me but it nice to the ‘one coming through’. It is nice to see a lot more support and backing on social media, also the Des Nations is coming up soon and you go through Twitter and see all the debates about who people want to race for Team GBR and it makes you feel good to see them mentioning your name because in previous years I never had that. It gives you more motivation each week.

British Champion: that must mean something…

To be British Champion was a goal of mine since I could first ride a bike – the world championship is the main one – but it was something so nice to tick-off and to be able to say ‘I’m British Champion’. It was also cool to do it for Roger [Magee] and the rest of the team and to join that list of riders that have also done it for them.

Silvio Marceca (TLD, Creative Director Motocross): “How will a guy who wore the pant from two years ago feel about the new one? It’s smaller! Although it will be interesting to see the reaction when they pick it up because it is so noticeably lighter and the fit is closer to the body. When you have more fabric then you have a higher consumption of textile and we have been analysing that and we are improving the fabrics in durability, weight and elasticity. You might not see a difference in price but you will in quality.”

You’ve also been hard to miss on the track in different ways. The link with Troy Lee has seen you wear some striking gear. On the contrary does it ever get you down a bit if you open a box at the beginning of the season and the kit looks kinda terrible?

It is weird actually. If you walk to the line and you think ‘yeah, I look pretty cool, lets get some good results’ then it does rub off, but to be honest once you’re on the bike you are only concentrating on your riding. However if you are sitting on the line and you look down and know you look terrible then you do think about it! I’ve always liked Troy Lee’s gear and it’s well known for being one of the coolest kits. They always go for some sort of florescent look or something that is a bit different to everyone else.

TLD have a new riding pant that is more functional as much as it is fetching. Talking about kit generally is there anything that you which companies would change or develop?

I’ve never really had any issues with kit. I always pull the back of the shirt out to get more air and because my body armour runs quite far down. Even if I tuck it in then it always seems to come out anyway! I think that tends to happen with most gear. I don’t like gear that is too tight. I’m a 32 and I have long legs and it all fits perfectly. As long as you are comfortable and confident when you are riding then that’s all that matters.

What are you getting through on a weekend?

I use six sets a weekend, so a new one for each session. I think you could ride in the same one for a few weeks on-end but we get a good supply and especially now with the 2018 line. I’m well updated and I’ve never got to the point when I’ve noticed a lot of wear or holes have popped up. The durability and the looks are the best thing about the Troy Lee kit and I’m not sure what more you’d want than to look good and for the stuff to last! The leather knees are resistant and the rest of the gear is airflow and that’s key for me.

Photos by Ray Archer

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