The 2017 FIM Trial World Championship kicked off last weekend in Camprodon in Spain with a radical new format promising to give the series the most comprehensive shake-up in its 43-year history.
New British promoter Sport7 has taken the ailing championship by the scruff of the neck, slapped it around and rolled out a new-look series that – if successful – could revitalise the feet-up game. Make no mistake, this isn’t simply a rolling-a-turd-in-glitter exercise – this is a complete rethink designed to bring the TWC kicking and screaming into the modern era.
For 2017 the classes have been recategorised with the elite category renamed TrialGP, Trial2 dropping its world cup status to become a full FIM world championship restricted to 250cc machines and Trial125 contested over a reduced five-event schedule. There will also be a TrialGP Women class for the world’s top 20 female riders, a second-tier Trial2 Women class to take advantage of the increasing number of female competitors and a TrialE class for electric bikes.
TrialGP is now only open to the previous season’s top 10 plus a further eight riders deemed by the FIM and Sport7 to have the ability or potential to compete at the highest level.
The biggest changes are the introduction of one-day events to replace the traditional two rounds over a weekend – although the flyaway rounds in Japan and the USA will see competition on Saturday and Sunday – along with a timed qualification section to determine starting order, held the day before the points-paying trials.
It’s a ballsy approach designed to level the playing field that cleared the first hurdle in Spain when a revolt by the world’s top five riders was quickly quashed when the other TrialGP competitors refused to join them.
The issue centred around the new timed qualifying section introduced this year to decide starting order. Traditionally this was determined by last year’s world rankings with the leading riders setting off last – generally a big advantage.
“Those five elite riders wanted protection,” said Sport7 boss Jake Miller. “They’ve had protection in the past and the fact we removed it from them made them very uncomfortable…but it’s not our job as a promoter to protect riders, our job is to give a level playing field to every rider in every category.”
Observation is still key in this with timing used to determine ties and in Spain – once various toys had been returned to the right prams – we saw 13 riders going clean with Jaime Busto (Repsol Honda) coming out on top ahead of his team-mate Toni Bou and Adam Raga (TRS).
The smallest error was expensive and a single dab from third-ranked Takahisa Fujinami (Repsol Honda) meant he started as fifth rider away. The qualifying result was even worse for fourth-ranked Albert Cabestany (Sherco) whose two-mark total meant he started second behind Italy’s Matteo Grattarola (Gas Gas) who recorded the only failure.
In a big twist of irony, heavy rain halfway through the opening lap gave Cabestany an early advantage before normal service was resumed on lap two when Bou – bidding for an 11th-straight title – rose to the occasion to win from Raga.
So those are the main changes – the big question is who’s going to win? Let’s have a look at some of the main movers and shakers…
Toni Bou – Repsol Honda – The champ!
The most dominant rider in the history of trials, Spanish superstar Toni Bou has won for the last 10 years and shows no sign of stopping.
Still only 30 years old, the man from Barcelona – despite his misgivings about the new qualification system – was a clear winner at the opening round and you’d be a fool to bet against someone who has won 90 times at the very highest level.
“This year will be really difficult for everyone with the changes that the new promoter has introduced,” he said. “Besides the qualifying there will be only one day of competition in the six European dates which means that we will have to be very focused throughout as the slightest error could be really costly.”
Adam Raga – TRS – Second-in-command
‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ doesn’t totally ring true for 35-year-old Adam Raga. World champion in 2005 and 2006, he was regarded as the natural successor to the great seven-time champs Jordi Tarres and Dougie Lampkin – until Bou crashed the party.
Make no mistake, the Spaniard has stupid skills and after finishing runner-up to Bou for the last 10 years his motivation is as strong as ever.
“I’ve been training hard for the last month for the outdoor season,” he said, “and I feel very comfortable and prepared.”
Just one mark behind Bou after the opening lap in Camprodon, he faded faster than a pair of Primark jeans on a hot wash on lap two and ended up in second a whopping 12 marks adrift. However, it has to be said that this deficit was more down to Bou’s genius than any fault on Raga’s part.
Takahisa Fujinami – Repsol Honda – The Veteran #1
At the ripe-old age of 37, Takahisa Fujinami is the elder statesman of world trials.
The man who ended Dougie Lampkin’s seven-year reign in 2004, Fujigas – nicknamed for his explosive, all-action style – is a firm fan favourite and the last man to defeat Bou in world championship action back in June 2016.
“I think that I’m on form at the moment,” he said. “Yes, I’m the most veteran rider in the paddock but, for the same reason, I’m the one with the most experience and that’s always a good thing.
“I will fight like I did last season to win and I will try and be on the podium as many times as possible.”
His early starting position in Camprodon was an advantage when the rain came but he clearly wasn’t happy with his fifth-placed finish.
Albert Cabestany – Sherco – The Veteran #2
Winner of last year’s opening round, 36-year-old Albert Cabestany has been competing in the TWC since 1997 and since 2004 has never dropped out of the top five – although his highest finish has been third, a position he achieved in 2002, 2006 and 2014.
A strong third in Camprodon, realistically that’s going to be about as good as it gets by the end of the year for the rider from Tarragona on the Mediterranean coast.
“I’ve been working as hard as I can to prepare, focussing on getting a better feeling on the bike and my technique,” he said in Camprodon. “We know it’s never enough and we always want more but after this weekend we will know more or less where we are.”
Jeroni Fajardo – Vertigo – Mr Consistent
Ranked No.5 in the world in 2016, Jeroni Fajardo is another experienced Spaniard who always features at the sharp end of the results.
The 32-year-old, who finished fourth in Camprodon, has won just one TWC event – in Andorra in 2009 – but hasn’t dipped outside the top five since 2007.
Jaime Busto – Repsol Honda – The new Bou?
Now in his third year with the mighty Repsol Honda team, 19-year-old Busto is the youngest of the contenders but is still looking for a TWC podium finish.
His youth means he’s regarded as a potential successor to Bou but if his form continues to plateau – and he was a disappointing seventh at Camprodon – he could be over-taken by another rising star.
“I have missed the podium by one or two points on a number of occasions,” he said, “but this year I’m confident that I can produce podium finishes and also improve in the championship.
“This is my third year with Repsol Honda so I feel at home in the team, have much more experience and know the bike very well and how it responds in different conditions.”
James Dabill – Gas Gas – Best of British
Following two seasons with Vertigo, Dibs is back with Gas Gas this year and looking to improve on his seventh-placed ranking from 2016.
Although he’s finished as high as sixth in the TWC on four occasions, in some respects the 31-year-old from Leeds had his best-ever season last year when he scored three podium finishes and recorded a career-best second on the opening day in Britain.
“I had a really good year last year – I was confident, I was comfortable and I’m aiming to build on that,” he said. “I believe there’s no reason why I can’t do that again and hopefully do even better.
“It’s always going to be difficult because the Spanish are so good but I’ll be trying my best. I spend most of my time in Spain at the moment and I’ve been training hard.”
Jack Price – Gas Gas – The Wildcard
Okay, we know the 19-year-old from Huddersfield is at the very best shooting for a top-10 finish this season but as the reigning Trial2 champion he knows what it’s like to win on the world stage. Besides, he’s the only other Brit in the TrialGP class so he deserves a bit of TMX love!
“Since the end of November I’ve pretty much lived in Spain at Dougie Lampkin’s house and just trained out there,” said Jack, who finished 13th at this year’s opening round. “The best riders are out in Spain, the weather’s on your side and also the Gas Gas factory is only an hour away which makes it a lot easier to test.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with James [Dabill] over the winter, trying to learn as much as I can from him. We’ve been riding the same sections and I’ve been doing my best to keep up with him. His level is very, very high so I can gauge myself against him.
“I’m riding the best I’ve ever ridden and hopefully it will be good enough to challenge for a few top 10 finishes this year. Finishing in the top 10 in the championship would be an outstanding achievement but it’s more of a sighting year for me. I intend to learn a lot and take that into the following season.”
Rising stars – Trial2 and Trial125
The emerging stars of the Trial2 and Trial125 classes shared centre stage with the superstars of TrialGP at the opening round of the championship at Camprodon.
With 2016 FIM Trial2 World Cup winner Jack Price graduating into the premier TrialGP class there’s guaranteed to be a different name at the top this year.
The 41 registered riders from 12 nations will contest all eight counting rounds and with no scores being dropped this season every performance is crucial.
Runner-up to Price last season, wild Welshman Iwan Roberts (Beta) will renew his battled with Britain’s Dan Peace (Gas Gas) who finished third. Both riders proved that they had the skills to rise to the occasion and win rounds in 2016 with Roberts’ consistency just giving him the edge after a close-fought campaign.
Spain’s Arnau Farre (Gas Gas) finished fourth last year with two wins to his name but he’s also moved up into TrialGP which leaves France’s Gael Chatagno (Gas Gas) and Italian Luca Petrella (TRS) as the only other round winners from 2016 who remain in the class.
Trial2 also features a fresh injection of talent in the shape of riders who are moving up from last year’s FIM Trial 125cc Cup class.
These are led by Britain’s Jack Peace (Gas Gas) who joins his big brother Dan in the class. The 17-year-old dominated last season with 10 wins and three runner-up finishes from 13 starts and he also swept the Junior European championship, remaining unbeaten throughout all six rounds.
Second behind Peace in 2016, Germany’s Max Faude (Beta) also makes the transition along with fourth-placed Mikkel Brade (Beta) from Denmark.
At Camprodon it was Spain’s Gabriel Marcelli (Honda) – 14th last year after contesting seven out of 15 rounds – who took a narrow one-mark victory ahead of Roberts with Petrella third.
Contested over the opening five events, again with all rounds counting, this new shorter Trial2 format has triggered a big rise in entries with 28 up-and-coming stars from nine countries registered.
Of the riders who remain in Trial125 for 2017, the highest ranked from last year’s campaign are 16-year-old Eric Miquel (TRS) from Spain who finished third and 17-year-old Australian Connor Hogan (Sherco) who was fifth.
It must be noted, however, that a number of riders competing this season only made occasional – although very impressive – appearances in 2016.
So don’t be surprised to see Germany’s Jarmo Robrahn (Gas Gas) and Lorenzo Gandola (Scorpa) from Italy challenging for victories. Both only competed in their home rounds last season and both won both days.
Britain’s Billy Green (Beta) also only competed at his home round and was rewarded with third and second-placed finishes and Shota Yamazaki (Beta) took a pair of thirds in just two appearances, both in his native Japan.
After a stunning opening lap, Gandola held on for victory in Camprodon – just getting the nod from Green who came on strong on lap two. Diminutive French rider Hugo Dufrese (Gas Gas) was third.
Dates and venues –2017 Calendar
Rnd 1 – May 13-14 – TrialGP Spain (TrialGP/Trial2/Trial125)
Rnd 2 – May 26-28 – TrialGP Japan (TrialGP/Trial2/Trial125)
Rnd 3 – June 17-18 – TrialGP Andorra (TrialGP/Trial2/Trial125)
Rnd 4 – June 24-25 – TrialGP France (TrialGP/Trial2/Trial125/TrialE)
Rnd 5 – July 8-9 – TrialGP GB (TrialGP/Trial2/Trial125)
Rnd 6 – July 28-30 – TrialGP USA (TrialGP/TrialGP Women/Trial2/Trial2 Women)
Rnd 7 – Sept 9-10 – TrialGP Czech Republic (TrialGP/TrialGP Women/Trial2/Trial2 Women)
Rnd 8 – Sept 16-17 – TrialGP Italy (TrialGP/TrialGP Women/Trial2/Trial2 Women)