Jake Nicholls is ready to move up to the MX1 World Motocross Championships
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich motocross star Jake Nicholls is confident he’ll be ready to take on the world’s elite next year.
Having turned professional at the tender age of 17, Nicholls’ seven-year apprenticeship in the MX2 World Championships – the sport’s prestigious junior support series – is coming to an end after he recently turned 23, the competition’s age cap.
Next year he will finally step up to the MX1 World Championships, with all of the injuries and sacrifices – most notably his decision to move to Belgium two years ago – having been in preparation for this very moment.
For now though, there are still seven rounds left of the MX2 season and a very real opportunity of improving on his best-ever Championship finish of fourth-place overall following some impressive form.
“MX1 will see me racing a more powerful 450cc bike,” explained Nicholls, who regularly races in front of crowds of more than 40,000 people, with the MX1 and MX2 Championships taking in rounds at far-flung destinations such as Qatar, Thailand and Brazil.
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“I raced one in a Belgium Championship race recently though and finished fifth, beating some really experienced riders, so that’s given me a lot of confidence.”
Nicholls, whose catalogue of injuries over the years include a punctured lung and more broken bones than he can recall, continued: “This was a one-year contract with KTM (the Austrian manufacturers he represents) and I haven’t got a deal for next season yet. I’ll start negotiating with them, as well as other teams, next month and see where we go.
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“I’m a bit of an unknown quantity with regards MX1 so it could be hard for me to get a ride, but hopefully my experience in MX2 – combined with a strong finish to the season – will see someone to take a gamble.”
Following a frustrating start to the season, Nicholls has hit top form in recent weeks with strong rides at the French, Italian and Swedish Grand Prixs elevating him to seventh in the overall standings ahead of this weekend’s trip to Latvia.
He said: “I went into the season targeting a top three finish in the Championship, but the first five or six races didn’t go to plan. There were a couple of crashes and a few of mechanical problems.
“Everything seems to be coming together now though and suddenly a top three finish is reachable again. It would be great to end my last season in MX2 on a high.”
Jake Nicholls lives in Belgium and travels all over the world to compete in the sport he loves. Yet, as STUART WATSON found out, life as a world-class motocross rider isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds.
Jake Nicholls has already been to Qatar, Thailand and Brazil this year to race in the MX2 World Motocross Championships.
In Belgium, the home of the sport and the place he now calls home, he is a mini-celebrity.
Every weekend there is the adrenaline rush of putting his body on the line around unforgiving dirt tracks in front of crowds regularly numbering more than 40,000.
There are financial rewards too, with some big name manufacturers backed by sponsorhsip heavyweights such as Red Bull.
Living the dream? Of course, admits Nicholls – who fell in love with bikes when he was first put on one as a toddler – but it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds on paper.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love it – this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” said the 23-year-old, who grew up in the village of Brightwell just outside of Ipswich.
“At some of the international events there are 50 or 60 thousand people there. They love the sport in Europe and the crowds seem to be getting bigger every year. During the race you don’t really take it in as your so focused, but before and afterwards it’s great to take in the atmosphere.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough though. Take this week for example. I raced in Sweden on Sunday, on Monday we drove two hours to Norway, got a flight back to Belgium, had a two-and-half hour drive to where we live, then I picked up my practice bike, loaded up the van and made the seven-hour drive back to Ipswich.
“This weekend I’m in Latvia, the following weekend I’m in Finland, but to be honest you don’t see any of these places – it’s just hotel rooms and tracks.”
He added: “I’d say the travelling is actually harder than the racing. It’s hard to get your recovery in and stay motivated for training when you’re exhausted from all these long journeys. It’s tough on the body and the mind. I only went out for an hour or so this morning, but I’m absolutely knackered. It takes it out of you.”
Like every motocross rider, Nicholls’ body has taken a fair bit of punishment. He admits he has long given up keeping track of the number of bones he has broken, with a punctured lung also among the more serious injuries suffered.
“There is some good money to be made as a rider,” admits Nicholls. “But you have to remember it’s performance-related, plus it’s a short career and we’re taking a lot of risks. There’s only a small window of opportunity to make your money.”
In order to maximise that window of opportunity, Nicholls – who started racing in the MX2 World Championships as a 17-year-old – decided to move to Belgium two years ago. It’s made him a better rider ahead of his planned step-up to MX1 next season, the very top of the sport, but has come with its down sides too.
“I decided I needed to move there because that’s where everything happens,” explains Nicholls. “My girlfriend quit her job and moved with me, she does all my nutrition and deals with all the travel arrangements and things like that, so that’s made things easier.
“I wouldn’t say we enjoy living there though. Everyone speaks English, but we don’t have much of a social life. It’s just an existence where I train all week and then fly out to wherever the next race is.
“Any weekend I have off we tend to come home. I miss little things like being able to go out cycling with my mates or calling around my parents’ house. We’re not sure where we’ll be based next year. We may move back here. If we don’t we’ll certainly look to split our time more evenly.”
Following six years in MX2 – the sport’s prestigious junior series – Nicholls has hit the age cap of 23 and will be stepping up to the MX1 World Championships next year. “It’s always around this time of year, the mid-point of the season, that it can begin feeling more like a job than the sport you love,” said Nicholls.
“Motocross riders tend to retire somewhere between 28 and 34. Ultimately it comes down to two things – how your body has held up to all the injuries and whether you still love doing it.
“You’ve got to stay fresh and motivated. I have days where I feel homesick or get fed-up of all the travel, but as soon as the off-season comes around I’m always itching to start again. I know this isn’t something I’ll be able to do for ever, so I’ve got to enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve still got a chance at finishing in the top three this year and then next season will be an exciting new challenge. I’m really looking forward to it.”