Jeffrey Herlings is undoubtedly the man of the moment. Wins at the Ironman National and Monster Energy MXGP of USA have boosted his profile tremendously, so it is hardly surprising that everyone wants to hear from the MXGP rookie. The MX Vice editor, Lewis Phillips, managed to catch Herlings for a twelve-minute chat after the chequered flag flew at WW Motocross Park.
MX Vice: Before we tackle today, people will shout at me if I don’t talk to you about last week. 1-1, so you went there and did what you wanted to do. Just talk us through the emotions, how the day was and all of that.
Jeffrey Herlings: I think it was really good. It was all-new to me. I had some expectations to hopefully get on the podium. To go 1-1 – especially in that second moto after coming from dead last – that was special. We made it happen. It was pretty hyped up on the internet as well. I felt like if I wasn’t going to do good I wouldn’t look good. I would get a lot of critics, but we did what we had to do and we came out 1-1. That was amazing. Then this weekend, first moto I had a bad start. I came from like fifteenth to second, but by the time I was in second Eli had a big gap.
It was hot and humid outside, so I didn’t want to go all crazy for that one. Second moto I put down a better start, was around fifth and then worked my way through second really quick. Then crash for Tony; he made a little mistake, I took over the lead, won that moto and won the overall.
It was like people outside of MXGP didn’t really know how much stock to put in your victories when you were in MX2, because obviously the field wasn’t as strong. Ever since Ironman, it feels like everyone has suddenly realized you are good. Everyone in Europe obviously knew this all along, but it must be kind of cool to finally have the recognition that you deserve.
Yeah, definitely. People on social media are always either for you or against you. If you take for example a hundred people or a thousand people, they will never be all for you. They will always have some people who hate you or be against you, no matter what you do or how perfect you maybe are. It is like it is. I just try to be as good as I can for KTM, for myself, to promote the sport the best possible way and to bring as good as possible results.
I worked hard this year and we came from a long way back. We had a tough start to the season with the hand injury, but the last couple of races I have shown I was always there. I won the two GPs before Sweden. Normally I was going to win Sweden, but then I got a DNF and I missed out on that win. I won last weekend and I won again this weekend. I feel like I’m on a roll right now. Assen is still coming up, my home GP, and obviously Tony can win the championship there. I’ll just go out and do my best. If he wins the championship, he totally deserves it. He was the best guy from round one. I just missed the boat.
Did the win last week take away pressure coming into here or did it add it, because you felt the need to back it up and prove that last week was legit?
No, I did not feel like I needed to prove anyone a point. I just go and do my best. That’s all I can do. For me, it’s most important to stay healthy and not get injured. That is our main goal. With the injury at the beginning of the season, we potentially missed out on a championship. We’re looking good now in second. Hopefully we can get second in the championship. It will be great for KTM if we can get first and second in the championship. It is one of the biggest championships there is, together with the AMA series (supercross and nationals). It will be nice if we can get it done and finish off the year strong, so we’re all looking good for next year.
This track maybe was not the greatest to base any big decisions off of, like how fast you are compared to Tomac or Tony or anything. We saw in the first race it was tough to come through and actually make up time. At what point did you realize that maybe it wasn’t going to happen and start to back it down?
I think by the time I got into second the moto was already almost twenty minutes on its way. He had like a ten or fifteen-second gap. I pushed and I was closing in a little bit, but you are talking maybe half a second or so. I was like, it is all about second moto. Second moto is all about the overall. I could put in all my energy to try to close down the gap and maybe get his rear wheel, but then getting in his rear wheel is one thing. The second thing is that I have to pass him. I felt like I didn’t want to burn that energy and save the energy for the second moto. That’s what I did. Second moto I felt strong all moto long and even after the moto I still felt good. Definitely I was a bit tired, but it is not that I was really suffering.
You must have been pretty gutted when Tony fell. I could kind of see you were starting to ramp it up. There were a few fast section times and all of that, so it looked like you were about to make a push. Now people are obviously saying Tony crashed and that is the reason you won, but you could have got it properly.
Yeah, but there is a reason why you crash. If you would ride alone and maybe be having a twenty or thirty-second lead, would he have crashed? Perhaps not. I felt like he was riding on his limit. After the race, he also told me at that point he was really starting to suffer. He was tired. At least that’s what he told me, but still, if this and if that, and what if that. He crashed and I won the moto. It is not like I cleaned him out – that is a part of racing. We were really close.
I passed him on Saturday and I passed him again in the first moto. I felt like I could do the same in the second moto. I was just riding behind him. I didn’t really want to ride in his roost, so I gave him one to two seconds. I felt like I wanted to make the push in the last five minutes and then go for it. I felt like I was still doing good and I felt strong, but then he made life easy.
I was watching the times really closely in that second moto and Tony was always making up time on you in sector two. Do you have any idea why that was? Something that he was just doing better that you couldn’t quite nail down?
Actually, no. I was really following and following his lines. I think it is really milliseconds. It is not that he would gained two seconds in a section, maybe half a second or whatsoever. But, mainly, I was staying close to him. I just felt really good all weekend long. I felt good last weekend. Like I said, I feel like I’m at the best I was all year so far. It’s good to have some good battles with Tony, man. He is one of the fastest guys on the planet, I would say. He has been there for a long, long time and has a lot of experience. He knows how to get the job done, so a lot of respect to him. It is nice to battle with him. He is one of the greatest in the sport.
You screwed up your championship at the beginning, as everyone knows. Does the fact that you have managed to push him to the penultimate round mean anything to you? Just the fact that you have been able to delay his celebrations that tiny bit and kind of prove you are there, so next year you are going to be right in it?
Yeah. I think he just needs a couple of points. First of all, I need to win all four motos probably. If nothing crazy happens – he won’t get injured here – he’ll win the championship. Even if he would get injured, he probably still will win the championship, because otherwise I have to go probably 1-1-1-1 or something like that. He deserves it, like I say, as he has been the best if you look all-year long. I got injured and it was my own fault. He didn’t take me out or he didn’t tell me to get injured. I got injured, because of myself and it is part of racing.
I got injured, so he gained a lot of points at the beginning of the season. But, since the point when I was fully healthy again at Valkenswaard or something like that, he did not really gain points anymore, if you look at the total picture. Especially with my DNF in Sweden, I would have had twenty-five points or twenty-two points. It is like it is. If he wins the championship, hands down he was the main guy this year. He really, really deserves it.
Five wins on the season now, including Ironman. Which one means the most to you? Obviously, each one is special in its own way.
I feel like the last two mean the most. To win Kegums, it was like a sandy base, and the same with Lommel. I was a bit lucky in Swiss going 6-1, but I feel like I really had to work for this one. I had to work for last weekend’s one. Those two are actually the two most special of the season, I would say.
The track was all-new here and quite different to what we have. We have man-made tracks, but we don’t have jumps like this. Did you like it? I noticed that they built all of the lips up before the second race, which made every jump a bit of a booter. Did you feel like that was a weird decision?
Some jumps were pretty soft. The takeoffs and the landings were pretty soft. It was a bit dodgy, but it was the same for everyone. I knew how the dirt was, so I didn’t want to take risks on that one. I’m going to say they always rebuild the dangerous parts – they really make sure our safety is good. But, by the end of the moto, it got a little bit sketchy, because the lines got pretty deep.
Obviously you spent a couple of weeks with Aldon. What was one thing you took away from the experience? What about something that was maybe a shock to the system?
No, I learned a lot. He is one of the best trainers in the sport. I really liked working with him and just checking it out. We have heard so much about him in Europe, but to finally experience how he trains and how he thinks about training, regarding the food and whatever. I really learned a lot – I’m going to definitely take a lot of things out of that and bring it home. They bring a lot of intensity to their training. Like I said, I learned a lot.
The last two weeks have been awesome. The race also in the AMA National, everybody talked so much about it on social media, but I feel like you can never do everything good. You always get people for you and against you. That’s the same with social media, either I or Eli or whoever. We still get crap. They talk bad about us. It is not nice for both of us. We both try to do our best, but only one guy can win.
I guess that’s kind of the toughest thing about doing these races. You don’t want it to be built up to this massive MXGP vs. AMA thing. No one wants that. You cannot make those judgements off of one race, can you?
No. I feel like you need to race a world championship against each other, not because I won today and I won last weekend. I can't say, I’m the fastest guy at the moment. I’m faster than Eli. Definitely not, because you should not underestimate the guy. The guy is good and when he has his day he’d probably smoke me and Cairoli. It just depends on the day. We only had two races. I don’t want to say because I won now and I won last week that I’m better than Eli or I’m the fastest guy on the planet at the moment. I definitely don’t think that way. I just want to stay with both feet on the ground. You’re just as good as your last race, so if I get tenth next weekend they won’t speak about the last two races anymore. You know how it is going.
Finally, was it nice to jump back on your works bike this week after having to go by the production rule at Ironman?
Yeah. It is not that it is a world of difference. It is just some small changes we have in Europe on the bike. It’s just really, really small changes.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX