It is rather easy to forget just how dismal the start of the season was for Jeffrey Herlings. The turnaround has been simply remarkable, as he is undoubtedly the dominant figure in MXGP currently. Antonio Cairoli has not had to push his limits, as he has been sat on a comfortable advantage for quite some time, but Herlings has managed to respond whenever he attempts to make some sort of charge. With yet another victory in the bag, we caught up with '84' to find out more about his turbulent season.
MX Vice: Another win. I feel like you have dominated the second half of the season, so I guess this is a nice way just to finish it off.
Jeffrey Herlings: Yeah, definitely. To go 3-1 and win the overall is cool. At the last six GPs we won five overalls. We missed one because of a DNF, but I have been showing my good form. It is a pity the season’s off. I closed the gap to fifty points. The first four races I was like one hundred down or something. It’s pretty cool and I'm looking forward to next year already. We have still got ‘Nations. Hope to do good there for my country, for myself and for KTM and then focus on next season.
Back in 2012 when you were battling with Tommy [Searle] for the championship and all of that, whenever it rained it obviously did not suit you. For whatever reason, now when it rains on a 450F you seem to be great. Are you better in it on a 450F or have you just gotten more used to it?
At that point, I was still using a diaper probably. I sucked in the mud. I think that just comes with age. If you see [Jorge] Prado now, he has also been really struggling with the mud. Why? He is so talented and gifted, but he does not have experience in the mud. When the weather is like this, normal people do not really go out to go practice. The weather, you ruin the bike. You just have a bad practice pretty much. I get more experience in it and I just take my time.
I know I need to stand up a lot where I used to always be on the clutch, sitting and revving. It just does not make sense. Now I’m just taking my time. Most of the British guys are good at the mud, for sure, because they are used to riding in the rain a lot. But we obviously came second and were showing them up with a moto win and an eighth, and now we got third and first for another overall. Very pleased with that. I think I made some good progression.
That battle with Max in the second race was probably the best race of the year. After you crashed, I kind of thought you would just back it down. It was raining and there was no real need for you to get a win, aside from the overall, but you have got loads of those now. You obviously picked it up and dropped your lap times by quite a bit. Were you just going for the overall or were you pissed off? What was the thought process behind that?
I was a bit disappointed in myself. I was also behind a lapper, revved a bit and he just was right in front of me for a couple of turns. Then I went in too fast and just tipped over. I stalled my bike and then the bike was pretty hot from the mud, so it took a little time to get it running. That was a pity. I was like fifteen seconds down and had to close the gap again. It was really starting to rain and the track was really slippery. I could go faster than Max, but I just couldn’t find a line to overtake him. He has been riding really consistent and really good in the mud. All weekend long he has been good. I think he really stepped it up for himself. It was just tough to pass.
We were having a good speed, because we were pulling away from [Romain] Febvre and all those guys. We were good. It was just the last few laps, the track got so dodgy and slippery because of the rain, and there were many lapped riders. You just had to be lucky. Sometimes I could not make a jump and then I would just lose like literally three, four or five seconds. I was a bit lucky, but also unlucky because the last few laps I had to catch all the lapped guys and he could watch. I’m very thankful to go 3-1. I really want to especially give thanks to Red Bull KTM. They have always been there for me. Without them, I would not be where I am today.
Through the first half of the race, you were always faster than Max in the first two sectors and then he would always gain it back in the final two. Do you have any idea why you were faster or why you were losing time in the second half?
It is pretty weird, because for some reason he just pulled like a second or two in the waves. I was like, “I can’t go faster than this." For some reason he just made some good speed there. Like I said, it was really tough to pass. You go one dry line and that was the main line. We’re happy. Max just rode really good.
I guess now with the amount of wins you have had recently and how you have dominated, your confidence must be at an all-time high? You must feel just as confident as you did on the 250F?
Yeah, but just the competition is way stronger. I should never underestimate competition, but especially in the MXGP class. Those guys are all gnarly and they know how to ride. I’m feeling good, feeling ready for ‘Nations. Two more weeks to prepare. I will not get any better than what I am today, but looking forward to it. Just want to finish the year strong, so I’m really motivated for a team result but mostly the individual result.
I guess the confidence you had after the Motocross of Nations last year hurt you a little bit? I know you mentioned that you underestimated it all. So, with the confidence that you’re gaining at the moment, are you just kind of always keeping yourself in check and remembering to back it down?
Yeah. Even after I got my championship on the 250F, I just did not do anything for two weeks. I rode the 450F for like three days or something, because I thought I’d I won a championship and was good. Then I didn’t even test; I pretty much just rode the 450. Just jumped on the bike and, boom, won the qualifying heat. I went second and first in the motos [at the Motocross of Nations last year]. In the first moto I lost it because of a crash. I was just thinking that is going to be a piece of cake.
All winter long I was training, but I didn’t really watch my food or my drinks. I was just messing around too much with friends, going to bed late, waking up late, skipping breakfasts, this and that. Then you saw the results in the beginning of the season. It was mainly my hand, but still I wasn’t really focused. Once I saw that I had to adapt and I had to change my lifestyle, then the results came back. Now I live even more serious than Aldon Baker and his programme, I would say, with all of my food, drinks, sleep, having my rest, practices and testing. So I feel like I take one hundred percent out of myself and this is all I got.
I guess looking back you are happy with second in the series now? That is kind of weird just to see you happy with second, because all through your career it has been win or nothing.
Yeah – that is how it was. It almost was win or nothing this year, but we got second. I think that was the maximum we could get out of it for this year. It is what it is. I think being around fifteenth after four or five races in the championship to still come back into second and not being that far off. The championship is nineteen races and I finished the championship with fifty points behind Tony. Could have been better, but could have been way worse too.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer