Kevin Strijbos ended a career rich in history at the last stage of the 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship, the Grand Prix of Citta di Mantova. Strijbos has been flirting with the idea of retirement for quite some time now – the idea has crossed his mind often – and so it’s shocking that he actually pulled the trigger on the move. Strijbos has had a strange career in the sense that she is very unique. Few runners have reached the top, hit bottom and then come back to the top.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Main picture: Ray Archer
In this new MX Vice feature film, ten poignant moments of Strijbos’ career are discussed. It’s rare to spend time celebrating motocross history and that means some, like Strijbos, don’t get the farewell they deserve. So much has happened in his career that there will be additional features in the not-so-distant future, but it’s a great place to start! What is your favorite memory of Kevin Strijbos? Don’t forget to share it on social networks (@motocrossvice on Twitter).
1: It is only fair to start with his first summit jump, that of the Italian Grand Prix in 2004. Strijbos had had a successful season in the eight events leading up to the round; he had three podiums in motorcycles and a podium in the general classification (which really happened in the sand of Lichtenvoorde). It was in Italy that he really made it known he was going to be a force – he led every lap of race one to beat Stefan Everts for the one-second victory. Simply put, it would be like Wolf’s Kay pushing Jeffrey Herlings to a motorcycle victory now. Strijbos took another motorcycle victory in Sweden and finished the term with two podiums.
2: Expectations changed ahead of the 2005 FIM Motocross World Championship, but a thrombosis in his arm sidelined him for much of that tenure. There was still time for him to move forward, even though he only made ten innings and was not in great shape for many of them. Strijbos won the first Grand Prix of his career in the Czech Republic via scores 1-4 (ironically the same results he achieved at Gallarate in 2004). It was the only race victory and the overall podium of his campaign. Limited success, yes, but such a poignant step in the right direction and an event that some remember to this day.
3: Stefan Everts assured that few stars would be able to taste success at the 2006 FIM Motocross World Championship, but Strijbos was one of four stars to claim a motorcycle victory (which occurred at the Grand Prix d ‘Spain in Bellpuig). Strijbos was closest to Everts throughout the year – he finished second in the final championship standings and was forty-six points ahead of esteemed teammate Steve Ramon in third place. Above all, it was the first time he had won a medal at the end of a Grand Prix campaign.
4: The 2007 FIM Motocross World Championship could be discussed at length, as it was Strijbos’ best season and the one in which he should have been world champion. Strijbos was twenty-five points ahead of future champion Ramon after the sixth round, but damaged cartilage in his left knee forced him to miss two events. Strijbos returned, broke and finished second in the championship for the second year in a row. Thirty-three meager points separated him from the gold plate, but he finished with four Grand Prix wins and six motorcycle wins.
Everything changed after that. Strijbos and Suzuki went their separate ways, which sparked horrific seasons for him in which he considered retiring. Strijbos moved from GPKR Kawasaki to Martin Honda in the years that followed, before joining smaller private teams like Beursfoon Suzuki and Delta Suzuki. Countless injuries kept him from getting on the podium in four terms, let alone winning. Keep in mind that those years should have been his prime years – it’s no wonder so many people rejected him and looked to the next wave.
5: The 2011 FIM Motocross World Championship was when things started to change for Strijbos, who hovered around the top ten on private equipment. There was a clear turn that most ignore – he was drafted into the Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MX1 awning for the last four laps and really started to hit his old level. There were still no podiums, but he finished third overall in the final. In hindsight, ten years later, the result was much more poignant than one might think. It was the start of his second chapter.
6: HM Plant KTM UK (now Milwaukee-powered Hitachi KTM) signed Kevin Strijbos for the 2012 FIM Motocross World Championship, a season that saw him return to the overall podium and notably reached the checkered flag first in the second motorcycle of the Latvian Grand Prix. It was Strijbos’ first victory in 1779 days. Not only that, but he also reached the overall podium three times and clinched sixth place in the championship standings. A significant step forward from where he was and a performance that earned him a full-time contract with Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MX1. Strijbos has come full circle!
7: There was another layer in the campaign with HM Plant KTM UK that may have helped him return to factory status. Strijbos won the MX1 title in the 2012 Maxxis British Championship, quite comfortably, and you’d think it did wonders for his confidence. Becoming a consistent winner again, even if it was at the national level, would have given him back his confidence and given him the momentum he so desperately needed. Shaun Simpson was his closest rival for the title, a man who casually announced his retirement on the same day as Strijbos.
8: Strijbos has been a regular in the Motocross of Nations throughout his career – he has represented Belgium eight times (2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019) and has had individual points success. The 2014 Motocross of Nations was another example of his resurgence, as he led his country to second place and won one of the individual bikes. It was his second motorcycle victory since returning to “yellow” – something he could only have dreamed of three seasons ago. Strijbos has risen to the top of the Motocross of Nations box four times during his career. An impressive record.
9: When Strijbos, still a Suzuki World MXGP rider, qualified for the fourteenth round of the 2016 FIM Motocross World Championship, i.e. the Belgian Grand Prix, it had been 3,256 days since he had not achieved victory in the general classification. It was on this day that he won the sixth and last Grand Prix victory of his very impressive career. A 3-3 scorecard ensured that after many years of hard work and heartache he returned to the position he should have been in from the start. It was only fitting that he handled it with the same team that helped catapult him into the spotlight and home no less.
ten: If the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix was his last time on the Grand Prix podium, it wasn’t the last time he tasted champagne. The 2019 Motocross of Nations, held in the Netherlands, was another reminder not to doubt Strijbos. After enduring an injury-ridden season on a private Yamaha, he made it to the most prestigious event of the year and showed more shine. By finishing second in his qualifying heat on Saturday, just one second behind the eventual winner on a factory bike, he led Belgium to pole and helped them secure second place in the final standings.
In many ways, this is the best way to sum up the final years of his career. While the results were rarely consistent enough to attract attention, those who kept a close eye on the proceedings would have spotted steady flashes of speed and potential. In what turned out to be his last season, still aboard a Yamaha, he finished in the top ten and proved that he still belongs in the FIM Motocross World Championship. He scored his first race victory 6,371 days ago – few manage to stay relevant for such a prolonged period. Well done, Kevin.