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MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

Soviet Riders Back in the Saddle--in U.S.

August 16, 1990|SHAV GLICK

Gennadi Moiseev showed that Soviet motocross was competitive when he won three world 250cc championships in 1974, '77 and '78 and led his team to the Motocross des Nations world championship in 1978.

Moiseev rode a KTM, an Austrian make, but when friction developed between the KTM factory and the Soviet cycling federation in 1979, Soviet racing took a nosedive.

"The interest in motocross has been there, and the desire, but without new equipment or new parts for the old equipment, there was nothing we could do," Moiseev said Wednesday through interpreter Anna Borjeson.

"I won my last Grand Prix in 1979 in Bulgaria, but the trouble started right after that between KTM and the federation."

Moiseev, who won 14 world championship motos, remains a national sports hero in the Soviet Union. When he rode in his final Grand Prix in his hometown of Leningrad, the event drew more than 200,000 spectators.

Now, as a result of glasnost and perestroika , Moiseev is in Southern California with two of the Soviet Union's leading riders, Viesturs Gaushis of Latvia and Andres Krestinov of Estonia, who are entered in the 500cc Motul U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross Aug. 25-26 at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino. They will ride Hondas provided by the U. S. distributor.

Roger DeCoster, former five-time world champion and promoter of the 500cc event, is also coach of the American Honda team, which includes Supercross champion Jeff Stanton and former multinational champion Rick Johnson.

Gaushis, a lookalike for tennis star Boris Becker, won the Soviet championship in 1987 but was not permitted to ride internationally because he was from Latvia.

"No riders from the Baltic States were selected to ride on the Soviet national team the last few years," said George Mazo, who with Moiseev has formed an organization called Cross to promote and develop Soviet motocross, both amateur and professional. Moiseev is chairman of the board, Mazo the managing director.

"Our first objective is to get some good equipment and establish a relationship with the Japanese manufacturers," Mazo said. "Motocross is the No. 1 sport in the western Soviet Union, especially the Baltic States, where there are cycle clubs in every little town. Most people ride a motorcycle as their transportation, so they enjoy racing them, too.

"The citizens in that region are also influenced by TV from Finland, which shows many European motorcycle events. There are thousands of potential racers, if only we could get something worth riding."

Most Soviets ride a Czechoslovakian-made CZ, which was DeCoster's bike when he first began racing in his native Belgium. But the evolution of Japanese bikes such as Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki in the past 20 years has made the CZ all but obsolete in competition. The last time a non-Japanese bike won the 500cc championship was 1974, when Heikki Mikkola of Finland rode a Husqvarna.

"We are hoping that the race here will give our two best riders a taste of Grand Prix racing and start getting them ready to race the full season next year," Moiseev said. "We want to return the Soviet Union to the world championship circuit and plan to bid for a race in 1992 for Leningrad."

Moiseev has ridden twice in the United States, in world 250cc Grand Prix events at Unadilla, N.Y., finishing sixth and third, but did not ride in the 500cc races in Carlsbad, where the world championship was contested between 1973 and '86.

Even though the world has been opened up for Soviet riders, it is still difficult for them to travel aboard.

"Moiseev and the riders could not purchase tickets to Los Angeles because there was no way to do it," explained Arne Larsson, a Swedish businessman who is acting as liaison between Cross and American race officials and cycle manufacturers. "The tickets had to be purchased here and sent to them in the Soviet Union. Even so, they could not fly direct. It took 30 hours and four changes of planes, first from Moscow to Ireland, then Ireland to Cuba and Cuba to Mexico City and Mexico City to Los Angeles."

Gaushis and Krestinov, both 27, will work out on new Honda bikes at the factory's training track in Simi Valley until next Thursday, when they will test the 2,030-meter track laid out by DeCoster in Glen Helen Park.

Eric Geboers, who clinched his fifth world championship two weeks ago on his home course in Namur, Belgium, will head the 40-rider field. Geboers, who won 125cc championships in 1982 and '83, the 250cc in '87 and his first 500cc in '88, also won the U. S. Grand Prix two years ago when it was held at Hollister, Calif.

The riders will practice on Aug. 25, with the first moto at 1 p.m. the following day.

SPEEDWAY BIKES--Shawn Moran led three U.S. riders into the World Finals when he won the Intercontinental Final last Sunday in Denmark. World champion Hans Nielsen of Denmark finished third, with U.S. riders Rick Miller fifth and Ronnie Correy tied for sixth. The World Finals will be on Sept. 1 at Bradford, England.

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