On Saturday morning and some 4,901 miles away from Hurricane Mills, Tennessee and all the comings and goings and non-stop racing that has been going on at the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Motocross Championship, 24-year-old American Thomas Covington sat alone in his hotel room in the town of Riga. The capital of Latvia and home to the 627,487 inhabitants who hold station on the Gulf of Riga, a mere 50 kilometers away from the town and Covington’s high rise hotel room exists the hamlet of Kegums and the sprawling hard sand circuit known as Motocenter “Zelta Zirgs.” Site of Sunday’s MXGP of Latvia and the long awaited spooling-up of the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme Motocross World Championship, it is here that the Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha team rider will roll out onto the hard sand circuit atop his Yamaha YZ450F to take on Jeffrey Herlings (KTM), Tim Gajser (Honda), Antonio Cairoli (KTM), Gautier Paulin (Yamaha), Romain Febvre (Kawasaki) and many other feared world class motocross racers.
“Riga is a pretty cool town,” said Covington on Saturday morning, pausing for a moment to ask how things were going back in Tennessee and at Loretta Lynn’s, an event in which he won national championships in the 51cc (4-6) Stock, 85cc (9-11) Stock and 250 B Modified divisions on his way to becoming a full-on factory rider. “It’s not a bad place to be for 10 days. It could be a lot worse, for sure. It’s like it always is with traveling around and doing the GPs and seeing all the familiar faces. I think a lot of guys are actually camping out at the track in motorhomes for this race, so I’ll see all of them tomorrow.
“It’s all been going pretty good,” continued Covington, a newcomer to the 450MX classification. “I’ve done a couple of warm-up races. I did a Dutch championship race and then I also did a British MX National race in England this past weekend, so I’ve just been trying to get back into the swing of things and back behind the gate again and getting some more race time on the 450.”
Off of a season of racing in the USA in 2019 where injuries and the Epstein-Barr virus basically sabotaged his hopes for 18 months, Covington quietly took a deal with the aforementioned Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha organization to ride the 450MX division in 2020 and moved back over to Europe with new wife Amy.
“At the end of last year, my wife and I moved back over to England where she is from,” said Covington. “We rented a place there and we were just trying to get settled it and at the same time, we were trying to get ready for the MXGP season and then all of this stuff happened with the coronavirus. The break we’ve had was actually nice for us just to go back to England and get moved in and settled in because it has been a crazy last couple of years for us. It was nice to have a little bit of time to settle in and get into a routine. For sure the uncertain times were a bummer in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it was good to take advantage of all the spare time that we had.”
Like many other racers the world over throughout the mandated lockdown all have been forced to adhere to, what has frustrated Covington the most throughout the past five months of COVID-19 nothingness has been the absence of a target to hit. In other words, when and where would racing resume and what did he need to do to be prepared?
“You have all this time to get better physically and train and do whatever you need to do to race, but it’s hard to kind of build up for something when you don’t have a date. It’s like what are you building up for, you know? For sure it was a struggle to stay motivated throughout the whole time and to stay on the program and to keep going with it whether there was going to be a race or not. Now, it’s good to have some dates put into the calendar and we’ve been able to look forward to working towards them and having a plan put together.
“Now, it’s finally coming to a head here for the first round in Latvia tomorrow,” continued Covington. “A lot of people weren’t sure if it was going to go ahead. So many things could have gone wrong with all of us traveling from all over the world. Traveling all the way here to a place such as Latvia, there were a lot of unknowns, but so far, it seems like everything has gone real smoothly. I haven’t actually been out to the track yet, but all of the teams seem to have gotten there. All the trucks are there. All the riders that I now have gotten here fine and without any trouble.
“We’ll have to have a coronavirus test before we enter the paddock and we’ll probably be tested several times throughout the next week and a half. I’m not really looking forward to that, but if it’s what we have to do to go racing, I’m fine with it. I’m just thankful we’re able to do a race, you know?”
The FIM MXGP class is replete with riding talent and factory support. Just look at the current MXGP point standings and the surnames such as world champions Herlings, Febvre, Cairoli and defending champion Gajser and it’s enough to make any rider — even Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen — shiver in their boots.
“Yeah, there are probably 10 or 15 guys in the 450 class that have all podiumed or won GPs in MX2,” offered Covington, who has himself won four 250 Grands Prix during his FIM career. “Guys that have a shot at being top five or even being on the podium? There are a lot of them. For me, I think just the start is huge just because it is so hard to come through the pack when you’ve got that deep of a class. It’s so important to get out with the front group and to hang with them. Yeah, I’ve been doing tons of starts and I’m just going to try to hang on for as long as I can.”