Interview: Stefan Everts on Liam, health and coaching
With ten world titles and 101 GP wins, Stefan Everts is in many people’s eyes the greatest motocross rider on the planet but even the best have difficult times.
After almost losing his life to Malaria a year ago, the tough Belgian defied the odds to somehow pull through, however, after numerous operations, things still aren’t easy and he is still battling daily foot pain as a consequence while also continuing to coach his son Liam into the professional motocross ranks.
At Hawkstone, Stefan saw Liam win the 125 class with a fantastic last to first performance to announce himself in style to an excited British public keen to get a first hand look at the third generation of the Everts motocross dynasty.
Stefan was kind enough to give us ten minutes of his time to discuss Liam’s progress, his own on-going health issues as well as his views on the this season’s upcoming MXGP world championship and Jeffrey Herlings’ riding style.
Liam put it to everyone there going from last to first in that second moto, you must be pretty proud of how he was riding?
Yeah, it was a good race although his starts were not that good, even in the first moto. He did the practice starts and they were all pretty perfect and then the two starts in the race, they were really bad, so I don’t know what happened there. But he came through the pack, I don’t know how he did it, especially the second moto, he crashed in the first turn because a rider came from the left and took him out and after one lap he was already fifth and went really quick to P1 and controlled the race. Once he was in the lead he was enjoying his riding and riding very well so yeah, it was good.
Did you say anything to him between motos, it looked like he as riding with extra intensity in the second one?
I don’t know, maybe he got a bit more confidence and he could see at one point that he was one of the fastest on the track. It’s always a gamble with the lapped riders and then he had to pull his goggles off so the first race it was kind of difficult for him to come through well. I think he saw what he could do in the first race and the second race the track got a lot worse with the rain. Again, I’m impressed with his first lap, even in the first moto I was impressed with his first lap.
His technique, is that natural because of the genetics of being an Everts or is that something you work with him on for years?
Some things you have or you don’t have. I think that’s a little bit in his blood. He knows how to ride a bike, he is only 15 and still needs to develop a lot of experience. I see some moments there, some things to work on, for example to try and put in a good lap time, you always have to look down and get the right moment to put in a lap. He always struggles with slow guys in front and yeah, I get a bit upset because that is an issue we talk about already quite a lot. Okay, today he came out third today in timed practice, that was quite alright. Last week in Italy it was a lot more difficult because he also had an engine problem and then he missed 15 minutes of practice but anyway, it was not easy again (at Hawkstone), but it was better for the start gate.
I remember when you were racing if you won you said your dad was still critical of you, are you conscious of not doing that with Liam or do you find yourself doing the same because that is what you know?
I am critical with him because today he showed some good things and we have been training for that. His speed needs to be there, he just needs to get his right mindset during the race. His fitness is there, his speed is there, the material is there, everything is there, it’s just up to him to do it. At times there are some things to improve and then we speak about them, you have to give it time, he is only 15. Some kids grow fast, some grow slow and Liam is not the fastest grower so he needs his time. I have noticed that since his childhood, he needs to have his time to grow. Some kids they are 15 and they are incredible. We need to give him time, when he gets to 18 we will see more the best of him.
Is that partly because you didn’t really have him racing when he was young? He has only raced maybe the last four or five years?
Not even five years. He did a bit of the 65s, then two years 85s then last year his first year in European on the 125. I think this is an important year for him to show some things he can do. I think he needs to be one of the guys who can run up front and fight with the guys for the podium places. That’s where I see he can be, he needs to be able to do that still. I know what he can do and what he can’t do.
On the 250, how do you feel he is looking on that?
Really good. He looks really good and really comfortable on the 250, we just have a stock bike for the moment. I think he still can improve on the 250, he should be able to quicker on the 250 than the 125 and the lap times are more or less the same but we are going to do some EMX rounds this year on the 250 just to get a bit of a feeling with that and see how that goes. But the main focus is the 125.
A lot of different riders have different opinions on you from when you were a team manager, you are coaching Liam and were coached by your dad, are you perplexed sometimes by different riders’ views on your methods?
I try to think about everyone. There are certain basics in this sport that you have to learn. That’s the basics I have been pushing with all my riders that I have worked with in the past and some they could deal with it, and not many could deal with some of those basics that I have tried to teach them. Some riders have been very negative about my approach to racing but they should not forget I am still the most winning guy with titles. I think the way my dad taught me to become champion is not a bad method. I hope I can do the same with Liam that my dad did with me and I hope that the others will one day know what I have tried to do with them and teach them back then. Like I said, some they appreciate it and some they don’t appreciate what I have been trying to do because those basics, they are what they are and that’s the way to go.
You had the technical side but at the start of your career it looked like you had a lot of pressure on you…
It’s the same thing for Liam, he has a lot of pressure with the name. This is a job for us to do and work on that part so he can be a free rider when he is racing. I still see a lot of improvement on that particular side on his racing. But again he is 15 and you need to give certain things time.
On your health, how are you? Is the future progress positive or are you going to have to keep dealing with how you are now?
For the moment it’s stable but it’s not good yet. I still have pain every time I am walking, even now when I am standing I have pain. My right foot is worst, my left foot is okay. I still have the wounds on the heels, they are still open, they will close eventually but it will be another six to nine months when this part will be better. The pain on my right foot, I don’t know if this will ever go away. I hope it will reduce but I don’t know. For the moment it’s still a pain in the ass!
And riding a bike, are you even able to think about doing that again?
With the wounds in my heels, it’s so hard even for me to get in these shoes. Every time I go over those wounds to get in the shoes it’s pretty painful, so to get in a pair of boots, at the moment it is not an option. First those wounds need to close then I have to work on a decent pair of boots, then maybe I can get back on the bike if my boots are right.
Do you miss riding or with Liam are you not focused on that so much?
I don’t miss it but for me it’s a challenge to get back on the bike one day, when? I don’t know. I have to restart my fitness again and get a bit more fitness in my body because the last year I have lost so much fitness and strength. I am slowly trying to build up, it’s tough to face the level where I am at the moment, it’s tough for me mentally to deal with that and to get through it. It’s going to take a bit of time to get to a better level overall body fitness but that’s the way it is.
Does being racer and that mentality, do you feel that has helped you deal with all this?
For sure it has helped me a lot to deal with certain things and deal with the situation. For sure being a racer with all I have been through and what I have done in the past, for sure it has helped me a lot mentally, yes. It was a really tough year for me, you don’t want to know how many days I’ve been in hospital, how many nurses I’ve seen, how many operations I’ve had – a lot, a lot.
Was it nice to see the wide range of support you had from people, even guys like Ricky Carmichael in America, and all the people in the GPs?
Sure it’s nice, I didn’t expect that much reaction. It came from all over the world and from some people it was a surprise and from some people I was expecting and it didn’t come. Overall, it was nice to see that reaction and to get the support from the people, definitely.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming GP season with Cairoli and Herlings back healthy to take on Gajser, as well as Prado coming in?
Every year is always interesting at the beginning of the season. It’s just a pity that Prado got injured already because I think he was a big competitor for all the others to get in there and show what he can do. I believe Jorge can do very well even in his first season because he is a very technical rider. I strongly believe in him but of course battling Herlings, he is one of the toughest guys when he is healthy. Tim, I hope he gets a bit stronger mentally, it looks like they have a really good bike set-up at the moment already so it’s going to be very interesting.
On Jeffrey, how he rides, he looks like he is always flat out but he uses his legs a lot, differently to you maybe, he lifts the bike a lot. What are your views on his technique?
You have got to understand the track and read the track and make the bike work as best as possible to go over the track conditions. I think Herlings has quite a good feeling with that, how he helps his bike go around the track and get the best speed out of there. I don’t see that with every rider. For sure Prado has that also, he really feels the bike really well. Maybe Tim feels it a bit less but they are all top riders and they all have their qualities, everyone has a bit of a different style but at the end the technique is the base and the same for everyone. It looks different from the outside but what they do is basically the same.
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