Reigning champion Toni Bou – Repsol Montesa will roll into the city of Sheffield this coming Saturday evening full of confidence for the opening round of the 2014 FIM X-Trial World Championship. The now twenty-seven year old has every reason to have his head held high as he starts the defence of a title that he has rightfully made his very own over the last seven seasons. As a pure Trial rider Bou is simply incredible, but when he moves indoors he increases his level and intensity even further, as his undefeated performance throughout the 2013 series will confirm in an emphatic manner.
If anyone is to seriously challenge Bou during this year’s campaign they will need to draw blood early and look to put at least a small dent in his confidence before the season gets into full swing. Twelve months ago Albert Cabestany – Sherco came mighty close to doing exactly that as he took Toni to a final showdown, that the Montesa rider would eventually emerge from with a single mark victory after a night long tense duel with his Spanish compatriot. Cabestany’s runners-up placing at Sheffield was a feat he only matched once more over the five round tour, his second and only other podium finish coming in Malaga, during a season when he was plagued by inconsistency.
It was exactly that inconsistent form that saw Albert surrender second spot in the series come the last round in Nice, France as he gave best to his old and archrival Adam Raga – Gas Gas, who followed Bou home on the night to grab the runners-up position in the final standings. On paper Raga remains Toni’s nearest and strongest challenger having pushed him right to the limit in the 2013 FIM Trial World Championship as well as being in his shadow indoors during last season. On his day, Raga still offers a real threat, but will need to be at his absolute best to keep Bou off the top step of the podium in Sheffield.
Although Jeroni Fajardo – Beta produced three-rostrum performances during 2013, many believe that the twentyeight year old has not yet realised his full potential. Jeroni opened his account last year with a solid third place behind Bou and Cabestany inside the Motorpoint arena, though never really threatened for top honours despite his other pair of top three finishes in the German city of Bielefeld and Nice, France. Cruelly Fajardo was to lose out on the final podium placing in the closing general standings after being beaten by Cabestany in a tiebreak situation, which went in the Sherco rider’s favour.
Veteran campaigner Takahisa Fujinami – Repsol Montesa expressed his disappointment on finishing fifth in last year’s FIM X-Trial World Championship. Although now the oldest of the eight permanent riders, Fujinami remains hugely popular with the thousands of fans that pack the arenas throughout the series and is sure to want to take his place on the rostrum in Sheffield to get his 2014 assault off on the right footing.
Britain’s very own James Dabill – Beta will share similar thoughts to his Japanese counterpart, as he makes a welcomed return to the series as a fixed rider after having finished fourth at his home event last season during one of his only two wild card outings in 2013. Dabill is bound to get plenty of support from his native fans, whilst France’s Loris Gubian – Ossa and Spain’s Jorge Casales – Gas Gas, are also assured of a warm reception in a country where the sport of Trial was first born.
Two wild card entrants in the form of Jack Challoner – Ossa and Michael Brown – Gas Gas will complete the Sheffield line up.