Reigning women's world motocross champion Courtney Duncan has arrived safely in Europe ready to reignite her tilt at winning a second world title.
Having been back in New Zealand since the 2020 season was put on hold due to Covid-19, Duncan did not have to go into isolation on arriving first in England, and nor will she in Italy for the race this weekend due to New Zealand being on the approved list.
After two rounds Duncan sits on 90 points at the top of the table with German Larissa Papenmeier just behind on 85 points and six-time world champion Italian Kiara Fontanesi a further five points back.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time," Duncan told the Herald from England. "It's been a crazy year that's for sure with all the uncertainty and not knowing when we could go back racing.
"It's a later start than it was originally thought, but hey, better late than never. I'm super excited to get back behind the gate doing what I love. The break's actually been longer than our normal off-season. It's going to be important to mentally zone back into racing and it's pretty much the same for everyone.
"Obviously New Zealand is in a much better place than a lot of the world and I was able to get plenty of practice under my belt and also chuck in a couple of races, which was really cool."
In a development that's brought a smile to Duncan's face, Kawasaki has provided her with a 2021 specification bike for the rest of the season. Along with a number of changes to engine and chassis, the biggie for Duncan is there is no kick-start lever — the Japanese manufacturer has gone electric, which will help Duncan a lot.
"The Kawasaki has been great, and I've had two weeks on the new bike already. It's been quality time for me training on the new bike at home with my mates.
"This is pretty much a new bike with a new frame, a new bottom end, a hydraulic clutch and electric start. There's been some big changes.
"Not being the tallest woman out there, it's great having that button. There's been multiple times I've struggled to start the bike due to the height and now I have peace of mind not having to worry about trying to kick start the bike.
"However, the other day I caught myself trying to find the kick starter," said Duncan, laughing.
Duncan has been the dominant rider since she first arrived in Europe to contest the world championship. In her early attempts Duncan was so good there was daylight between her and the rest of the competition by midseason and then the wheels would fall off.
Instead of having four world titles already, she suffered so much disappointment that most other people would have hung up their helmet. In 2016 a photographer thought they could stand in the middle of the track and take pictures when Duncan hit her crashing heavily. A dodgy race official call in 2017 ended that title chase and a serious foot injury curtailed 2018's title race.
In 2019 the planets aligned, and Duncan won nine of the 10 races. She is again the fastest rider in 2020 but isn't looking to be complacent.
"You always have competition. You can never underestimate your competition especially at an elite level. There isn't one athlete or team who isn't putting their heart and soul into it.
"Everyone is trying to win races and championships and with that comes competition. It would be a boring world without it.
"As far as having a points lead, I don't really look at it like that. It's been a long time since we last race so I'm going into it like we're all on a level playing field.
"I like being in a bit of a dog fight for a championship rather than running away with it. On the other hand, of course it's nice to go out there and clearing off and keep winning.
"Whatever happens I'm going to be ready for it whatever the competition is. Also, the only way to get better is to be challenged."
Duncan is in action this weekend at Montova, and races at the same venue on September 30 before the final round at Trentino at the end of October.