12/07/18 – Hopefully feeling fully refreshed following a three-week break in the schedule, the best riders…

Hopefully feeling fully refreshed following a three-week break in the schedule, the best riders on the planet go into battle once again this coming weekend at TrialGP France – round five of the 2018 FIM Trial World Championship – at the awesome Alpine venue of Auron.

It is an action-packed programme with no fewer than five classes lining up. For the first time since TrialGP Japan at the beginning of June the TrialGP Women and Trial2 Women classes join their male counterparts and this weekend also marks the opening round of the FIM TrialE Cup for electric motorcycles.

Just fifty miles north of the millionaires’ Mediterranean playground of Nice, at sixteen-hundred metres above sea level the ski resort – which TrialGP is visiting for the first time – is matched only by Andorra in terms of altitude and the thin air brings with it fresh tests of rider fitness.

Reigning TrialGP World Champion Toni Bou – Repsol Honda has struggled with fitness at times this season after sustaining a serious spinal injury at an indoor event in February, but the Spanish superstar has been victorious at the last two rounds and as the series moves past the halfway mark he leads by ten points.

However, this season has been the most competitive for years and Bou – who claimed a record-breaking one-hundredth TrialGP win last time out in Portugal – knows he must be inch-perfect if he is to claim an unprecedented twelfth consecutive World crown.

“My rivals are at a very high level,” admits Bou. “In the first three events there were three different winners. What’s more, there is a lot of equality and my adversaries are hungry to win. If we want to continue achieving successes we will have to keep improving day by day.”

“Unlike other seasons, this year there are several riders who are in with a chance of winning. I don’t have one single rival, but there are Busto, Fajardo, Raga, Cabestany – all of them have been on the podium this year and will make it very difficult for the rest of the year.”

Out of the aforementioned Spanish quartet it is Gas Gas team-mates Jeroni Fajardo and Jaime Busto who are pushing Bou hardest. The pair – both inspired signings by the Spanish manufacturer for 2018 – have already savoured the sweet taste of success this year at TrialGP Japan. Fajardo took his first win since 2009 on day one at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit and Busto claimed a career-first victory on day two.

Fajardo currently holds second in the title fight, four points ahead of Busto who in turn is eleven clear of two-time World Champion Adam Raga – TRRS. Raga has struggled to make the impact expected of him so far this season, but rule out the thirty-five-year-old at your peril – he has been Bou’s main challenger since 2007 and won twice last year.

Albert Cabestany – Beta is another rider who is benefitting from a change of machinery for 2018 and the veteran sits fifth, six points behind Raga, with a highest finish this season of second in Andorra.

The best of the rest are headed by Jorge Casales – Vertigo with Britain’s James Dabill – Beta the first non-Spaniard in seventh. Japanese crowd-pleaser Takahisa Fujinami – Repsol Honda is eighth and even at the grand old age of thirty-eight is still capable of getting on the podium as he showed with third on day one at his home round.

In the TrialGP Women category, Britain’s Emma Bristow – Sherco is bidding for her fifth straight World Championship title and she dominated on both days in Japan to take a ten-point lead into TrialGP France.

Consistency is key in any championship campaign and two third-placed finishes at TrialGP Japan puts Spain’s Berta Abellan – Vertigo in second ahead of her compatriots Sandra Gomez – Gas Gas and Maria Giro – Montesa. Gomez was second on day one in Japan, but slipped to seventh on day two and Giro was even more inconsistent as she backed up a lowly eighth on the opening day with the runner-up position on day two.

Norway’s Ingveig Hakonsen – TRRS is fifth, just two points behind third-placed Gomez, with Theresa Bauml – Montesa from Germany a further point adrift in sixth. Bauml, ranked third in the World, was the first rider to beat Bristow in World Championship competition in almost two-and-a-half years when she won the final round of 2017 and will be bitterly disappointed with her form in Japan.

Trial2 was shaping up to be plain sailing for Italy’s Matteo Grattarola – Honda who took three wins from the first four days of competition, but the veteran – who was tenth in the TrialGP class in 2017 – had a day to forget last time out in Portugal when he slumped to tenth and had his eighteen-point lead cut to eleven.

Luckily for him his closest rival Toby Martyn – Montesa from Britain, who won on the opening day in Japan, could only manage fourth or the damage would have been much worse. Spain’s Gabriel Marcelli – Montesa was third at TrialGP Portugal to close to within a point of Martyn.

Another eleven points further behind, Britain’s Dan Peace – Gas Gas won in Portugal to leapfrog his younger brother and team-mate Jack in the championship standings.

As we have already established, consistency is key and you can not argue with a double win which is exactly what Trial2 Women series leader Alex Brancati – Beta pulled off at TrialGP Japan. The Italian was followed home both times by America’s Maddie Hoover – Gas Gas so the points gap is just six heading into round two this weekend.

The German pairing of Sophia Ter Jung – Beta and Mona Pekarek – Sherco traded third and fourth-placed finishes in Japan and are tied on points, twelve behind Brancati, with a pair of fifth places earning Norwegian Erika Melchior – Sherco fifth in the standings.

In the absence of last year’s winner Marc Colomer, former TrialGP rider Loris Gubian – Gas Gas from France starts favourite in the TrialE Cup. Another former TrialGP rider who has switched his career path in 2018, the Frenchman could face stiff opposition from veteran former top-flight Japanese riders Takumi Narita – Electric Motion and Kenichi Kuroyama – Yamaha.

Follow all the action from TrialGP France as it unfolds over the weekend, with full coverage across all the official TrialGP social media channels, via the free TrialGP LIVE app, on TrialGP.com plus live qualification on the TrialGP Facebook page.