Heading into this weekend’s MXGP of France, set for the undulating circuit of St Jean d’Angely, it isn’t hard to look back at the history of the French motocross riders and feel they have done their share in making the FIM Motocross World Championship a better championship.
Nine Frenchman have tasted victory at the end of a GP season and been crowned FIM Motocross World Champion. The French have picked up 14 titles in total as many of their world champs scored more than one championship in their careers.
Back in 1986 Jacky Vimond became the first ever French rider to win a FIM Motocross World Championship. He did so in the 250cc class, and while Vimond was the pioneer of success for French riders it was Jean Michele Bayle who won 125cc and 250cc titles in 1988 and 1989 and started a frenzy of interest and success for the tri-color riders.
Bayle, who moved to America soon after his GP success in 1988, did still compete in Europe in the winter at the annual Bercy Supercross. Beating the big-name American riders and making a long list of young French kids in attendance wish they could be like the good looking and very marketable Bayle.
It didn’t come straight away though, and while names like David Vuillemin, Stephane Roncada, and Mickael Pichon looked to become the next J.M. Bayle it wasn’t until the summer of 1996 that another amazingly talented Frenchman stole the hearts of the motocross world.
When a 16-year-old Sebastien Tortelli picked up the 125cc World Championship ahead of British rider Paul Malina new era in French motocross was born. Tortelli added the 250 title in 1998 after a season long battle with Stefan Everts and this opened the floodgates for French success.
Soon to follow came world titles for Frederic Bolley in the 250cc class in 1999 and 2000, Mickael Pichon also in the 250cc class in 2001 and 2002, Mickael Maschio in MX2 in 2002, and Marvin Musquin and Jordi Tixier in the MX2 class in 2009 and 2010 and 2014. Of course, the last Frenchman to be claimed World Motocross Champion was Romain Febvre in 2015 when he won the MXGP Championship.
The French have also won the FIM Motocross of Nations on six occasions, in 2001 at the famous Namur circuit and then they started their domination of the event with wins in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Now in 2019 the French have a couple of riders capable of winning GP races and taking overall victories. Gautier Paulin and Romain Febvre have all scored well in recent years and hold a special place in the hearts of the French public.
You can be sure when the Grand Prix of France fires up on Saturday morning the always large crowd will be standing as close as possible to the circuit to cheer on their local heroes, and you can be sure names like Paulin and Febvre will be wanting more than anything to repay their countrymen with victory come Sunday night.