There will never be another Christophe Pourcel. The Frenchman is one of the most unique riders of all time, with the ability to go as fast as anyone, saddled into a career surrounded by mystery, injury, rumors, and more. He grabbed the 2006 MX2 World Championship and won the Phoenix 250 Supercross in 2007 as a visitor, before returning home and suffering huge injuries in a 2007 crash at the Irish GP. He would return to racing in 2009, moving to the U.S. with Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki and win two-straight 250SX East Region Championships (and nearly two 250 Class Championships in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross).
Even those good years were surrounded with weirdness, though, as Pourcel was dealing with internal injuries that often sapped him in the second motos. Then it turned really strange for 2011, when he ended up not getting a 450SX deal, despite carrying the 2009 and 2010 250SX East Championships. What happened there? What was happening with all of those internal injuries?
Pourcel eventually did return to racing with Valli Yamaha and then Rockstar Husqvarna, but the speed—and the mystery—remained. We called Christophe last week while he was in vacation in France to talk about his career.
Racer X: What led you to the decision to call it? Were you thinking about this for a while or did it just hit you one day?
Christophe Pourcel: After the second neck injury at Washougal  when I was back on top of my game and fighting with Eli [Tomac] and all those guys—then I crashed again and broke my neck again. I kind of knew after that I didn’t want to take that much risk. It was probably going to be my last year, either supercross or whatever I did in Canada. I tried my best for the neck to get better, but I need time. I even need more time now that I’m on vacation, so I think it was the right time for me. I’ve been champion of a little bit of everything, I’ve been a French champion, a world champion, a U.S. champion, so I don’t think my goal is to be Canadian champion or something like this. The only goal would have been to be a U.S. champion again, and I wasn’t going to be able to do that with my injury. So, I think it was the better decision to stop now.
Is the neck still bad? Are you still dealing with it now even?
Yeah. Now it’s much better, especially with the summer I had, but the neck has been bothering me since my second crash. It was pretty close to being very, very bad. I just lose feeling here and there sometimes in the arms, sometimes in the legs. It needs rest. When you ride the impact is pretty tough on your body. That didn’t help. So, with the racing this summer for motocross it was okay but still I was in pain. After that, I had a good season and wanted to kind of finish on a good note and kind of stop now before it’s too late.
For your whole career, we always end up going back to this crash in Ireland that left you with some serious injuries. Were you actually dealing with that from the original injury the whole time? That’s the story we had, but from your perspective, was that always in your mind?
It’s tough to say. Taking risk, for sure I was taking less risk, even when I was two-time U.S. supercross champion. Like you said, when I was paralyzed it was tough. Then when I got back on the bike and came back to the U.S. and won my championship, I was still struggling to ride and to eat and to do all kinds of stuff on and off the bike. If I would have been fine without my crash and being in pain all the time, I would have had a lot more success for sure. That wasn’t a choice of mine. The crash just happened in front of me. It wasn’t my fault. It’s just racing. I wish it just never happened.
When you were paralyzed for that brief time, did you always know you were coming back? What was the doctor’s report at that time? Did you know you were going to recover, or were you actually not even sure at first?
I was paralyzed from the waist down. I couldn’t go to the bathroom and stuff like that. There was an 80 percent chance to stay paralyzed a long time, probably forever, depending on how bad the edema was in my back. So we waited it out and then 14 months later it kind of just clicked for me and it kind of came back. I lost about 30 or 35 pounds. I already skinny so I looked pretty bad! I was in pain. They gave me a lot of medicine for my pain. That was bad for the future when I got back to the U.S. because my stomach was in pain all the time. So, it was tough to eat before the race and stuff like this, so that wasn’t easy at all.
So you weren’t even thinking about racing at one point? The goal was just to be able to walk again?
Yeah. I couldn’t race for about six to eight months. There was no racing anymore for me at all. I was in the wheelchair. Even the doctors, they’re just thinking about the future and having kids and having a family and having a life. It was very tough. So, for sure, at least a year.
When you were able to come back and ride well, and win again, did that make it even sweeter that you had come so far back and you had even moved to the United States and won? Or were you always kind of like bummed out that you could not quite feel perfect like you maybe did before?
Your question is good because everything I did, I could have been so much better. It’s just like my struggle, with the injuries and stuff like this, it’s just been tougher for me. Like you said, I have had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. It’s tough to say. There’s good timing and bad timing. I think a lot of my crashes happened at the wrong time for me for sure.
When I came back, I was paralyzed and came back and I didn’t know… I always knew that I was very talented and that I was able to win. That was my goal. My only goal to come to the U.S. was trying to win a supercross championship. But for sure, it made it so special for me. I couldn’t really show it because I knew I could always be better because I was struggling so much with my body, but at the same time I won at least half of the races in either of the championships I won. So coming back from what I came back from and dealing with all my injuries, it was such a good time for me. It was a tough time, but I will remember those times forever. It was amazing.
The big problem was that people would see you ride well in the first moto or qualifying or one week, and then the next week, second moto, whatever it was, it would be tough for you to do it again. That just leads to weirdo mysteries and stories. We knew that you had some sort of injuries from this big crash, but do you feel like you almost got unfair treatment because people almost couldn’t understand exactly what was going on? You’d be the fastest guy for the first half of the day, and the next moto you would struggle. It was kind of weird. Did you sense that, that people couldn’t necessarily even figure out what was going on? Being not so consistent, like we talked about, my injuries, they never helped me. I had trainers, some French trainers, I had a lot of trainers in my years. It’s always tough because they’re like, “Can you go run a 10k today?” And I’m like, “No, I can’t. I don’t feel good.” But I can’t say I’m not feeling good, because nobody is going to employ me if I have health problems. So, I’m trying my best to get to where I’m at, but I have a stomach problem, maybe, and they’re going to be scared, even though they know I’m good.
You’d hear people say, “I guess he’s just lazy. He just doesn’t want to train.” But we also knew there were these mysterious internal injuries you were dealing with. It had to be just weird.
I was by myself also and my English wasn’t amazing at the time. Everything was tough. The injuries were tough. Dealing with the people was tough. Adapting to the people here also was tough. My stomach was giving me a lot of problems. So, I was trying to focus on myself and a lot of people talked and said bad stuff about me, but at the time I didn’t have the time to focus on that. I would just rather focus on myself. I had so many different problems that I had to take care of and flew back to Europe and did all kinds of stuff with my stomach. Even this year before the championship, they took my gall bladder out to help me finally even feel better, because of my injury and all the pills that I took in the past because other injuries. It was quite the big deal for about ten years.
Did taking the gall bladder out actually help? Are you doing better now with the stomach?
Yeah, much better. Even last year I was trying to eat with going out with friends and stuff like this and sometimes I would just tell them, “I can’t because just my stomach hurts.” I had some rocks or whatever you would say in the gall bladder and they took it out. So I feel so much better. Now probably 90 percent of the time I can go out and eat out with friends. I used to eat one or two hours after everyone. I always enjoy my food cold because of waiting every single day for my stomach to feel okay, then I can eat. So whenever I’m okay I’ll just eat right away. At the race it was the same thing. At the end of the day once I’m exhausted and my stomach is okay, I’ll just eat whatever I can. I was just like, I have nothing [inside my stomach].
Did I hear rumors that sweating was a problem too?
I don’t think I had problems like that. I think it was more I was getting hot because of all the [other] problems I had. My body temperature would be the same. It was just like if it’s too hot and I don’t have any food or I cannot drink, for sure I’m going to be exhausted. So second moto was usually tougher for me, especially when it was hot.
Can you explain what happened for 2011? You had two great seasons in the 250s in 2009 and 2010. Won two supercross titles, could have won two outdoor titles as well. You ended up not even getting a 450 ride. From your perspective, what happened? I don't know if anyone’s even asked your side of it.
The French media asked me many times and I told them the story. I told my agent, and my agent was 100 percent with me; we said we were going to stick with Kawi because we believed in the bike. It was the right direction for us, going with RV [Ryan Villopoto] at Kawi. At the time, it was Mike Fisher [as Kawasaki team manager] and we never, ever got the offer. Then Mike Fisher said that I wanted too much money, but we never got anything and never even asked for money. I refused Suzuki. I remember I met with [Roger] DeCoster and it was a great deal, but all I wanted is to ride the Kawi. The only thing I wanted to do after two championships is to win another championship on the 450, or at least give me the chance to win. I knew the bike was good. I won a lot of races in Europe with the 450 Kawi. I was like, “All I want is this.” They promised me the deal, and then never, ever gave it to me. I don't know why. I think it’s that Mike Fisher never gave it to me because that’s what my agent said. But I don't know what the deal is. I wish I would have made another decision, because I had [offers from] KTM and Suzuki, but at the time I was young. I was like, “All I want is Kawi.” My agent said we got the spot for you. There was nobody else. There was RV, and it’s your spot. Either my agent didn’t do a good job either or it was Mike Fisher at Kawi. I talked to the Japanese and everybody was on board, even Kawi Europe. They were all, “We’re signing CP.” I was very surprised.
Talk about the fit that you had with Bobby Hewitt at Rockstar Husky? It seemed like a perfect marriage.
Finally got an amazing team, especially Bobby as the team manager. The bike is good. Like I said, if I knew [that Kawasaki would not offer me a ride] I would have went KTM right away in 2011, but I don’t think they were the best bike at the time. I didn’t think Kawi would let me down like this. If I would have asked too much money, and you guys know me, I would have said straight up, “I asked too much money.” I’m pretty direct, but I’ve never got an offer for a dime, like even a thousand bucks. He [Mike Fisher] never gave me anything. I’m still waiting on the contract. [Laughs] I deserved the spot. I think also RV [Villopoto] was a friend of mine, and then we were not friends anymore. So I think he didn’t want me in the team as well because we stopped being friends. I beat him before and they were not very happy about that at the time. In 2007 when I came to the U.S. and won a race he was pretty pissed off.
So it’s not like Kawi gave you an offer and you rejected it and said, “No, this money isn’t right.” You never did that?
No, never ever. My agent knew my dream was to be on the Kawi team, that’s all. The money was just second for me because I won a bunch of money winning my two championships already. It wasn’t about this. When I was a kid, all I wanted is always to win. The money wasn’t a problem. It was just like, we have enough money, let’s go and do the best we can with the best bike we have. I rode Kawi since I’m on 65, so I don’t want to change. I want to ride that bike and then retire from that. That killed me. I was really mad at Kawi. I guess it’s business.
It’s just one of the all-time mysteries. Like Malcolm Stewart doesn’t have a ride right now and he won one title, but you could have easily won four. Everybody thought we knew the answer. We thought you asked for like five million dollars. I think Mike Fisher put this out there, because he got fired then. I have no reason. I had other offers I could have taken. Actually KTM was a lot more money than any other brand. It was just for the bike.
So things were good when you fit in with Husky here in the end. That actually worked out great.
Yeah. Now the bike is good, the KTM and Husky team and everything. Once you have a good bike and then a good team and everything, everything is good. I think I did some good things with them, some good podiums and finished top five outdoors. I think with all my injuries, it was a little bit too late for me. I enjoyed my time, but it was time to retire. There was no point for me to be just in the top 15 in supercross, and no point for them to have me there. I told them that my neck was bothering me. I talked to Bobby every day, so he knew all about it. I’m happy with how we ended. I’m not happy because all my injuries and I could have been so much better. You can always regret your life. You’ve got to move on and try to do something else and have fun.
Can I just ask you about your qualifying laps? When you came back that year with Yamaha on the 250 and then through these last few years on a 450, that was must-watch stuff. It was awesome. Was that something that ran through your mind? Did you look forward to qualifying? What was it? Those were some of the best laps anyone’s ever seen.
[Laughs] When I was young and we trained with my dad and my brother, we did so many lap times in our life that I can’t even count. The training for lap time was important, because we had to qualify a few years ago to qualify for the GPs, and we had to do a lap time. That was all about lap time. So, we trained so much for this. I finally got to go to my first GP and finally qualified because I was so good at lap times. Since then, I’m just very good. I can really put everything together just in one lap. In the U.S. it’s usually pretty wet for the first practice, so you have to wait second practice. Usually at the end of it it’s drying up a little bit. Usually it’s when you have to do your good lap, but you don’t want to mess up. At the end of the year, you guys were putting a little bit of pressure on me [by showing his last few qualifying laps during the live internet coverage to see if he could get the top position]. I was kind of thinking about it when I was riding at the end, but it was a lot of fun. There is not much to win and not much to lose in one lap. It was fun to be able to do that and be one of the fastest guys in the world.
The inevitable question here is do you know what you’re doing now? What’s next? Do you have any plans or thoughts yet?
I’m not sure yet. I have a lot of different projects, either in motocross or in the food business. I’m French so we are good at French food and all that stuff! I might do something like this. I might be doing a little bit of motocross stuff. I don’t want to be too involved but I’d like to help a little bit. I went back to France right now and I did a small school with my brother, just to help him out and have fun with the kids. I’m trying to be happy and be healthy and have fun. When it’s your job it’s tough to enjoy it as much, so you kind of forget all that. I’m trying to get all this back. It’s sad to say that we forget all the fun, but it’s our job, so it’s not fun anymore. You go to the gym, you eat this, you sleep. It’s very challenging. It’s a real job. I sold my house in Florida. We’re moving out. We’re not sure what we’re doing, where we’re going. We’re going to move to another state and we’re going to do different things for sure.
You think you are staying in the United States, though?
Yeah, for sure. My wife is American, and I’m a U.S. citizen now. I moved out from France in 2012 because they [burglars] stole my bikes and since then we decided to never come back. We come here just for vacation, but we don’t want to live here. We don’t like the way they run stuff. We really enjoy our life over there in the U.S. We have a lot of good friends. You guys should be proud about your country. Some people forget. It’s pretty tough in France and even in Europe. It’s quite dangerous. The U.S. is not perfect, but we have a lot of good things and we enjoy it a lot. A lot of American people understand that they are lucky to be in their country. American people usually really like American people, which I like that. When I come back here in France it’s like, let’s be happy for someone else. But you’re French. Try to support the French. We only have one French rider now, right? It’s Marv [Marvin Musquin]. He can be a champion so let’s go cheer for him. Then I’ll talk to people and they’ll be like, “No, I want to support Tomac.” That doesn’t make sense. You only have one guy. It’s just the mindset is different in France. I love to be in the U.S., so we are staying there for sure.