The Ekstraliga has now been running for one month in Poland and that gives us the first chance to look at our five finalists for this year’s Speedway Euro Championship.
All five riders have raced in all four of the rounds so far, except for Częstochowa’s Leon Madsen and Bartosz Smektala who had their away match against Gorzow cancelled due to bad weather forecast.
We will look at each rider in turn based on their heat average in Ekstraliga so far.
1. Leon Madsen, CZE, 2.294, 6th overall
Madsen has started the season at the same scorching pace that has seen him come 1st, 3rd and 2nd in the TAURON SEC between 2018-20. He collected 14 pts from six rides in both his first two matches and was Częstochowa’s top scorer, even though the team lost the ties. In their first win of the season, he scored 11 pts and that was only bettered by Swedish teammate, Fredrik Lindgren.
The match at Częstochowa on 23 April brought three of the five competitors against each other with Madsen and Bartosz Smektala representing the home side and Mikkel Michelsen riding for visiting Lublin.
And on the personal level the winner was 31-year-old, Madsen. He won all three of his duels against fellow Dane, Michelsen.
2. Nicki Pedersen, GRU, 2.217, 8th
Three times World Champion and 2016 SEC winner, Nicki Pedersen was 44 yrs early this year. But he shows no signs of dipping in form even if he is one of the oldest competitors in the Polish league.
Whilst Grudziadz have lost all three of their four matches, that’s definitely not because the Dane has underperformed. He has been the top scorer in every outing, including scoring 16 pts against his former club, Zielona Góra, when he won five out his six heats.
The Dane has already had the chance to meet one of his 2021 SEC rivals, Robert Lambert, when Grudziądz travelled to Toruń on 30 April.
The two met three times with just one point separating them on every occasion. But it ended as a win for the British rider, 2-1, with the combative Dane only winning their meeting in Heat 10 on his way to 14 pts in six heats for his team.
3. Robert Lambert, TOR, 2.100, 13th
Lambert, you may remember, took bronze in the U21 World Championship in 2018, the year it was won by SEC rival, Bartosz Smektala - the British rider is just under 6 months older than his Polish rival.
Of course, he is now more well known as the current European Champion and will have the opportunity to race in the SGP series as well as defend his title in Europe in 2021.
This is his second season as a senior in Poland and for the second year in a row finds himself at the newly promoted club from League 1, this time Toruń.
The young Briton has twice top scored for his team who have won three out of their first four matches. His best performance was at home against Grudziadz where he was just one point from a maximum with 14, a point taken from him by SEC rival, Pedersen.
4. Mikkel Michelsen, LUB, 1.800, 22nd
The 26-year-old Dane plays an important role in his team, Lublin, who have won three of their four matches this season. He has top scored twice, once in their loss to Gorzow and in their surprising win against Wroclaw, where he was just one point off a paid maximum with 12+2.
However, even the best riders can have a bad day. Last Friday, the 2019 SEC champion had a nightmare evening only finishing one heat after having three defects with his bikes. He described the performance as “mega unprofessional” on social media and surely will not be that unlucky again this season.
As mentioned above, when Lublin travelled to Częstochowa he had the chance to go head-to-head against Smektala. And even if he could not get passed Madsen, the younger Dane will at least be able to take comfort from the fact that it was a double victory over the Polish rider.
5. Bartosz Smektala, CZE, 1.714, 28th
The 2018 U21 World Champion is now in his second season as a senior and first outside Leszno. Unlike the other four qualifiers, he has not yet won the SEC series and in his new club, Częstochowa, he is currently the team’s third heat leader behind the Scandinavian SGP duo of Madsen and Lindgren. No doubt it should be a great environment for the 22-year-old to develop.
Whilst currently the rider with the lowest average of the five already selected for the 2021 SEC, he is performing at a similar rate to last year where he finished with a 1.863 average. And don’t forget this will be his third SEC season and has always finished in the top 5.
His best league performance this year was at home against Zielona Góra where he scored 11 which comprised 2 third places and 3 heats wins. His final win in Heat 15 was against an all-star cast of Patryk Dudek and Max Fricke as well as teammate Lindgren.