At the beginning of 2004, five-time world champion Joel Smets was riding and developing the new Suzuki RM-Z450 in the MX1 class, the most prestigious of the Motocross World Championship. But for the strong Belgian rider this has been a year to forget. During a pre-season race in Italy, he fell and tore the ligaments in his right knee. He opted not to have surgery and in spite of this handicap he took part in the GP all the same, always arriving in the first positions. But riding in his condition was very difficult—nearly impossible—so he finally decided to undergo the operation. While he was in the hospital, the doctors gave Smets some devastating news: the 35 years old champ had contracted a life threatening bacterial blood infection.Smets recounts the event, and talks about his downtime and the future.“I had planned to undergo the operation on Friday, June 4th, but on the Monday following the GP in Great Britain, I started feeling a strong pain at my hip, and I was urgently taken to the hospital. Unfortunately the doctors there were not able to identify the kind of infection I had. The bacteria was attacking my lungs, heart and liver through my blood, so I was transferred to the intensive therapy ward of Leuven hospital.”The first thing I thought was, Why me? I remained under observation for days, until the doctors finally found the right therapy. I’m recovering now, but I’m very weak and I’m still on antibiotics to be sure that the virus will be completely defeated. If everything is still okay, I’ll undergo the ligament operation in August.”This infection has changed everything. Without it, I would have been operated on earlier and ready for the Winter races. Now everything is postponed and the surgery recovery time is a four-month rehabilitation. I hope to be back onto my bike in December. Until then, a long relaxing period is ahead of me now—maybe this is the only positive aspect of the whole thing.”It is the first time in many years that I wake up in the morning and I have nothing to do, I can do whatever I want. That is a strange sensation. In the beginning it was quite hard to accept the situation but I’ve started enjoying this relaxing. I’m going to use the time I have to spend the holidays with my family. I have been taking part in the World Championships for 15 years and I never had time to rest. I think that being away for a while from the psychological pressure will be good for me; perhaps I’ll come out of it stronger and more ambitious.”I’m aware that next year I’ll be 36, but I started racing quite late when I was 17, so I still feel motivated and I feel like racing. Last year I won the 650 World Championship and was second in the Motocross GP. This year, in spite of my knee, I was always fighting among the first. As for my physical strength I think I can bear another racing season, the only unknown factor could be the small injuries; at my age the recovering time is longer. One thing is sure: in 2005 I’ll be behind the starting gate just to be able to say ‘I am here, too. I’ll fight.’”Everts, Pichon and the rest of the company are warned.