Interview: Joel Smets on training Adamo and Prado plus his Herlings thoughts and more!

We caught up with Joel Smets to discuss another amazing season for the KTM group that saw the two riders Smets trains, Andrea Adamo and Jorge Prado, become world champions, Liam Everts challenge for the title in another season of success for a group that constantly delivers titles.

So what is the secret? We ask Joel who also delivers his honest thoughts on Jeffrey Herlings.

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Joel. what were your thoughts on the MXoN?

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Fantastic event, I am such a fan of this event, for me it is the best event in the world for motocross in the year. I think I am not the only one with that opinion, you see how many people turn up for the Motocross of Nations, people just like that fight between the nations. MX is an individual sport but I am a really big fan of building a team and fighting for your home colours, that’s pretty cool. Today again proved that MXoN is the best motocross event of the year

Going back to the season, you worked with Jorge Prado and Andrea Adamo and both are word champions! What are you doing with these riders to make them so fast and strong!?

You are not the first to ask! There really is no secret, the only thing we do and we did it in the past with Rene Hofer and Tom Vialle, we try to create a really nice, comfortable atmosphere for these guys. Of course, good physical preparation is part of it, a good bike but especially, with the mechanics and everyone, it’s a team effort, I know it’s a cliché but it is and I think my big role is I am really the glue between the whole team, between the suspension technicians, engine technicians, race technicians, practice technicians, the whole group, we really work together as one. And that really gives the riders the extra confidence they need to kill it.

Jorge always had to the talent to win but this season he looked really strong physically, the moto Jeffrey crashed out of he was putting the pressure on, had you changed what his physical routine was in the winter?

The physical preparation is not the secret, all these out here work hard. At some stage in the races, the mental strength is going to command the physical strength and is going to take over. I think we would all be surprised how strong the head can be. Of course, Jorge was very ready physically. Don’t forget he is only 22, his body is still developing, his body is not fully grown I would say. Jorge Prado is only, for me is still not at 100% of his potential, Jorge will still be growing the next few years and that is nice to look forward.

It’s not that we made big changes to his physical preparation, but I have made him feel, and that’s my part in the whole project, I have made him feel comfortable and believe in his potential, I think that is my part and he has shown it on the track.

Andrea Adamo, unbelievable, really good under pressure when the crux came as well! Were you expecting this?

No, I have to be honest, I would be lying if I said I could see this coming in the winter, no I couldn’t. Our goal was to be consistent top five and fight for podiums and to see where we would end up if we could fight for a podium finish by the end of the season. This was a little bit the same story with Jorge Prado, step by step, he started believing more and more. Okay, we worked on his technical skills, that’s a difference with Jorge, Jorge technically, I think everyone agrees, is such a nice and smooth riding style. I didn’t have to add anything, I could never ride like he did!

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But with Andrea, we took one step back to go two steps forward and that really worked really well. He worked on his technical skills in the winter and then slowly, step by step, he really started believing more and more in his potential because of that whole structure I am trying to create around him. But that it was going to turn our how it was going to turn out? I could not predict!

And Liam, he came one really strong towards the end and it because a Red Bull KTM teamamte title battle! Was that difficult for you to manage or not so much?

Yeah at some stage but I am working for the KTM group, so I consider Liam and Jeffrey, who of course wasn’t there too often, but they are all our riders just as much as Jorge. Liam was also profiting from that comfortable atmosphere that we are always trying to create, where the riders know that everybody in the team gives 100% effort just for them. That feeling, I think we are pretty good at transferring that to the riders and that makes them stronger in the head.

Jeffrey Herlings, talking of strong in the head, I don’t know how he comes back from all these injuries and is still so fast, how do you deal with it from your perspective?

Yeah, to be honest, I don’t understand (how he does it) myself. I was a tough guy back in the day, but I’m happy I never had that many injuries. I had injuries just like everybody had but not as many as Jeffery luckily. I’ve really got respect for how he comes back but also he keeps on getting hurt as well. From the team side, there is not so much you can do.

You know the boy is putting the work in but at some stage, we have to accept that at some stage he judges certain situations a bit wrong which keeps him getting him hurt. That’s a bit sad for us because we know when he is fit, he is still the fastest kid on the planet as he has proven at times this year.

To me it sometimes looks like bad luck, the last two injuries, just the way he fell. Do you feel it is just bad luck or is it decision making in certain moments?

Well, Jeffrey has been getting injured all his career, you could say one or two injuries could eventually be bad luck but the way he has been getting injured, yeah, I would not be honest if I would say that’s bad luck, then I wouldn’t believe myself, that’s not just bad luck. Then you have to analyze what you are doing and try to do things better.

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Finally, Lucas Coenen unbelievable talent, he showed the lap times again this weekend at MXoN, and to have so many Belgian riders coming through now?

Yeah since I’ve been with KTM, there hasn’t been a Belgian rider yet, so I’m still Belgian and proud to be Belgian, so to see Lucas and Sacha develop within our group is a pretty cool feeling for me and yeah it has been a big learning year for them but if you look at the raw speed, that Lucas has already shown, but also Sacha, it’s amazing at the age of 16, we are looking forward to the future with them.

I got a bit carried away last year and called Sacha the Belgian Ricky Carmichael because he is small but rides fast and intense, you seemed to have smoothed him out a bit this year?

To call him the European Ricky Carmichael is actually a good comparison because size-wise and riding style wise, yeah he’s very similar! But yeah, to be compared to Ricky Carmichael, I prefer not to to do because that puts a lot of pressure on the kids shoulders, we can see already he is making too many mistakes, but we try to take the mistakes out and let’s hope he can become half as good as Ricky it would be perfect!

Interivew: Jonathan McCready

Adamo/Herlings image: Ray Archer

Prado image: JPA