MX Vice: We will start with your rider who is actually here. It looked like it was going to be a terrible weekend for Tom [Vialle] after yesterday, when he was stretchered off, but somehow that was not actually a problem and he was actually pretty good today.
Dirk Gruebel: Yeah, it looked quite terrifying yesterday when he went down pretty hard in the waves section. He came in halfway on the bike, just dropped it and collapsed. He said, "I cannot use my leg and the knee is so painful." He thought it was broken, so he got into the ambulance and everything. I think he just got a really big hit on the kneecap and it was really painful but, as it wore on, he said, "I can walk." The medics did not let him anymore, as he hit the knee and hit the thumb.
This morning the knee was fine. The thumb looked quite big and troubled him a little bit. A good start in the first race and he came around fourth on the first lap, and then on the second lap I do not know. Something happened. Scared him. He said he did not go down big or whatever but he just rode really scared, tense, tight and couldn't find his rhythm back. He finished twenty-fifth. I thought something hit the thumb again or whatever, but no.
In the second race, a completely different story. Took the holeshot from place thirty-two. Amazing. Good start and then he just stayed up front there as long as he could. Rode his rhythm. They passed him, but fell off so it was a crazy race for him. He was second, third, fifth, third, fourth, fifth and third. Pretty good. Still good points. If you look at the people around him, like all these youngsters, they all struggled obviously. I'm really happy with his performance. Not much more to say about Jorge [Prado] and Tony [Cairoli]. They did an awesome job. Maximum points and no technical issues in these heavy conditions, so very good.
I guess today was another learning experience for Tom, because obviously he has not raced in mud at this level and it is just a completely different story. Did you have to guide him on that a little bit? Was he a bit more nervous than usual or anything like that?
No. He was pretty good. Of course, it is always difficult for them. They cannot practice really like this. Conditions are never like that really in practice. Not so many guys there. The lines don't get so deep, but he took it pretty well. Something scared him in the first one, like I said, but in the second one he proved us wrong, so that was good to see. It's always challenging in the mud. Luckily also for the bikes, nothing happened. We see so much stuff out on the track today, it was not fun to see if it's your bike.
I have never spoken to Tom, but he seems like he has got quite a quiet demeanour Do you notice a difference in him since he has gotten a couple of podiums? Coming in after the first moto, for instance, was he still his normal, quiet self or was he quite mad and disappointed? Is level-headed a good way to describe him?
No, he was a bit disappointed, because he had a good start and was running fourth, so he could have easily finished top ten, but not super disappointed. He put it behind him and he was looking forward to the second race, so he takes it up pretty good and stays cool. That is good to see at that young age and in the first season, pretty good.
Moving onto number eighty-four, who still has not raced. Obviously, a lot of people thought Mantova was going to be the one for him. It did not happen. There was a video going around last weekend that showed he was back on a bike. Where is he at right now?
Well, the first time that he rode was last Sunday. Then Tuesday again, Thursday again and Saturday. He rides now every second day if it is possible. It is baby steps, let's say. He is riding, but if you see him riding it is of course not Herlings. He would probably smoke all of us anyhow, or finish top ten somewhere, but that is not him. He does not want to come back unless he is on a good level and also feels fit. He is still working on his fitness for the riding. We take it week-by-week, but I think Portugal is also a no-go.
Is that a change of strategy then? I had heard that the idea was he would come back and maybe finish twelfth, then seventh and build up. Are you now going to wait until it is a good time? Maybe not win, but when he can be in the top five or on the podium?
No. Today I am happy we did not call him in yet. In those conditions, everything can happen. Then you damage that foot again in bad luck or whatever with the deep ruts… He is not ready to ride yet. It is more enduro style when you watch him. You have seen the video probably and it is okay. You need to start somewhere. It is only three months if you look at that type of injury. Pretty heavy. Other people it would take them five or six months to be back in racing. It is going good. Let's see.
When you speak to him on the phone is he like, "I am ready. Get me out there," or is he similar to you and like, "Look. I don't think this is the right time. Can I just have another two weeks?"
He thinks the same as us. Take it day-by-day. He is not pushy at all at the moment. He knows the championship is too far out by now. He is not pushing to be back next week, let's say. He wants to be feeling good and be ready to come back, then he makes a comeback.
I guess one good thing is the injury happened towards the end of January, so I am guessing a lot of testing was out of the way. You don't really have to worry about that too much.
No, he was happy. We were done with the testing. Actually I was down in the middle of January when we did some other tests and everything went well, so it was fine. He was just looking forward to when the season starts, or the pre-season races, but the bike is fine. The bike was all dialed in for him. He was ready for it. It is just that accident happened.
Weirdly, I do not think anyone has ever asked this question. In pre-season testing, say January, when you were watching him ride at RedSand, did he look like he did towards the end of last year or on another level again? Could we have seen an even better Jeffrey Herlings, if that is even possible?
For that time of the year, he was really fast. I can tell you that. Actually maybe too fast. I think he would have been on the same level at least as the end of last year, if not making the next step.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX