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Discussion: Jeffrey Herlings

A candid chat with Jeffrey Herlings

· 12 minutes read

Jeffrey Herlings was not available for a post-race podcast at the Grand Prix of Great Britain, but did make time for us earlier today and that gave us an opportunity to tackle every single hot topic. The pass is discussed, of course, as well as qualifying, the rhythm section, starts, sector one and much more. Settle down and tackle this in-depth discussion with the fastest man on the planet.

MX Vice: We will work through the weekend in order, so talk about that qualifying race. Tony [Cairoli] dominated that one, but it almost looked like you were not willing to push your limits. Were you still learning with your bike set-up and the track at that point?

Jeffrey Herlings: Obviously, you know, I missed the start a bit. I was around fifth, then Tony holeshot and after two laps I was still in fourth I think. I saw he was really pulling a gap and it was just a twenty-minute moto, so I felt like if I finished second or first it would not really make a difference for the gate pick for the Sunday race. I did not want to push too much or waste too much energy, so at one point in the race I was like, "Alright. If I finish second then I have the second gate from the inside, which is good, and if Tony goes more to the outside then I have still got the complete inside gate."

I was fine with the second place, so halfway through the race I started pushing and closed up to [Tim] Gajser and passed Glenn [Coldenhoff] to get second. I was not really stressing. I knew that if it was a race where there were points on the table then I would have pushed harder to pass Gajser and Coldenhoff quicker to get to Tony, but there were no points on the line and it was only a qualifying moto.

Jeffrey Herlings is on top of the world. There is no doubt about it (ConwayMX)

One of the big things I noticed in that one was Wayne, your mechanic, was putting on your pit board to do two, three, two in the rhythm section. When I was spoke to Dirk he said that Ruben even laid into you a little bit to try and get you to try it. Obviously it was not actually that much faster, so did you just feel like it was not worth the risk?

Last year, at the ‘Nations, I almost had a huge crash over that jump on the Saturday and this Saturday, in one of the practices, I cased it again and almost went over the bars. I was like, I do not want to waste my season by doubling, tripling, casing it and then almost doing a nose wheelie over the bars for the next one. I was just like, "Screw that. I am not going to pull the trigger when I do not really have to."

Then on the Sunday I knew that if I wanted to stay with Tony I had to pull the trigger sometimes. Obviously he did not win that much, but you did gain maybe a few tenths of second. It is not like it made a world of difference whether you pulled the trigger or not.

So, we need to talk about the pass in the first moto. From the angle that everyone got on television, which was from the front, you could not actually see the contact, so it just looked really bad. When I saw other footage though, it was not really a hit. It was more like you had just tagged him a little. Did you feel like you hit him quite hard? 

No, literally, I did not even feel like… I felt that we touched, but it was not like it was a big hit or whatever. I just wanted to go to the inside and turn really sharp to set myself up for the next turn, but then he also braked hard and turned really sharp. We basically gave each other a small elbow, but I think he lost his balance a bit and so did I. We touched and that was the point where he fell over. It was definitely not my intention to touch him and definitely not to put him on the deck. Whatever happened was not my intent and it is a shame it happened, but it was just a racing incident.

It looked like it came down to the fact that you got so much drive coming out of the corner, whereas he did not, so it was a racing incident. Had he gotten the same drive as you he would have been clear and that may not have happened.

Like you said, it was a racing incident and things like that happen. I was in the inside and, because we had the contact already from the drop off, he was out of balance and went a little wide, so wanted to come back inside. I was a little out of balance too and we just touched. I think I touched his front wheel or something with my bike, so I do not feel like I had body contact with him, so that might have happened when he fell over. It is a shame, because he is my biggest rival and it is a pity this happened with him. It really was not my intent to get in touch with him, especially because he is my teammate. When you have to fight the same guy week in week out you do not want to make him pissed, let's say.

Jeffrey Herlings now leads Antonio Cairoli by fifty-six points (ConwayMX)

What did the race director say to you straight after the race? I saw he pulled you to one side and had a quick chat. 

Yeah. He just said, "Jeffrey, watch out next time" and that he knew it was a racing incident, but kind of to use my brain in the future and hopefully it does not get to a point where one of us two takes each other out and one of us gets injured. Obviously he did not say the full story but that is basically what he wanted to say.

Dirk said that there was a bit of tension back in the truck, did you notice or are you removed from it? Do you just do your own thing between motos?

Obviously I did not see him between motos. We do not really see each other that much off track. Obviously both of our team trucks are together, but we just do not really see each other that much. We just see each other sometimes when we pass by each other at the track, then we say hello, and sometimes in the energy station. I think we both respect each other and I respect him a lot for what he has done in the past, plus what he is doing right now with how fit he is and how well he is riding.

I still have a ton of respect for the guy and, yeah, I like the way that we are battling. We are both on the same brand and trying to fight for the same goal, which is making it difficult. We are still one team and, even though we are one team, we are actually two teams. I want to win and he wants to win, so that is just the difficult part.

Is that how you view the second moto then, because everyone is talking about how he did not stop to shake your hand. Are you disappointed by that? I know that in every interview we have done you always make a point of saying how great he is and that he is not making it easy on you. 

Yeah, I mean, he lost a little bit of respect by doing that. I would have hated it too if I had led every single and then got passed on the last lap. My pass was really clean and we did not get in touch, so it was a fair pass. I won that moto and when I wanted to shake his hand, I think it was even on television, he just did not really want to shake my hand at that point. I get it, you know, I have made mistakes in the past, like the [Mel] Pocock incident.

When you just get beat and something like that happens, you are a racer. You are in the heat of the moment and you are really pissed at yourself and the situation that you did not win. I completely understand. There is a part of me saying he should have stopped, but then a part of me saying that I understand. If I would have been in his position, then I might have done the same. Everything has two sides.

Herlings set the quickest time of moto two on the final lap (ConwayMX)

Speaking of that pass in the second moto, which was really clean, did you have that spot picked out going into the last lap? Was it just a case of taking advantage of him drifting wide? 

There were two or three spots on the track where I was going to try and make the pass. I definitely wanted to try it again where I did it in the first moto, because he was just running the inside there. I had that place and some other parts of the track where I was thinking that if I was close enough I would be able to pull the trigger to pass him. Yeah, like I said, it was also a bit lucky, because had he defended that line on the inside I would not have been able to make the pass. I was going to try and do everything to try and make the pass anywhere on the track.

The pass in that long turn at the top was just incredible. Everyone is talking about it. This may even be the most hype that you have ever had! Did it feel special or just like something that was quite easy for you?

No, this was a really tough race and we both had to fight hard to get where we were. I think, as a spectator, this is one of the best seasons in history to watch. We have had many great races; Argentina, Valkenswaard, Kegums, here and then maybe a few others that I am forgetting to mention. We have had some close battles and some nice ones, so I think that for the motocross it is good. It is just good for the sport.

The first sector was a strong point for Tony all weekend and I know that your team told you that a lot. Towards the end of the second moto though, I do not know what you did, somehow you found another gear and gained a second. Did you do something different?

Not really, because I had basically been riding the same lines. I did not know where I found it. I just pretty much went faster anywhere in the sections. He was really strong and we should not underestimate the speed we were going. I feel like we were going really fast and Tony was having a great race. Like I said, I do not know a specific place where I found it. I had to push hard to make this speed happen.

I know he really pushed you hard around that track too, as it was tough to make up time and tough to make passes. I noticed in the first moto you were really aggressive and desperately trying to pass guys like Glenn immediately. Was it in the back of your mind that you had to get up there as quickly as possible?

Yeah. With how beautiful the track is and how great it is to ride, it is really tough to pass. It is wide, like I said, but there is still only one really good line and it is tough to overtake, especially when your main competition is exactly the same speed. If you have three or four seconds quicker than a guy then it is really easy to pass, but when you are running similar lap times it is tough to make a run.

I saw on Saturday that I had to be there from the beginning. I had to make sure that I was up there in the beginning and in both motos I put myself in that position. In the first moto I was into second within a few turns and in the second moto it took me one or two laps. I knew I had to be there and not give him the gap that he had on Saturday, because it would have been game over. I think that is going to happen on many occasions in the future as well.

Herlings has won fourteen of the nineteen motos this season (ConwayMX)

Are you disappointed at all with your jumps out of the gate? Obviously Tony zapped you right away, but then that is not really surprising.

In both motos I was struggling with my balance. For some reason, it felt like it took so long for the gate to drop. I do not know if it was actually long. It was just my feeling that it was really long, then in the first moto just before the gate dropped I got out of the balance. In the second moto it was exactly the same thing. It was a little bit my own fault. My starts were not great, but they were not bad. Both times I was out of the first turn in around third or fourth or something.

They were not good, but they were not super bad. I have had better starts than that and we will keep on working. I have seen that it has been raining a lot in France and the track is currently a little flooded. I have seen pictures, but I do not know if they are really recent or not. You need to have a good start there even if it is dry. We are going to work on that this week. We will not find the egg of Columbus, obviously, but at least we will keep working and keep trying.

Finally, you have had one hundred podiums. More important though, you have had one hundred podiums with the same group of people. I guess that makes it really special? 

It is actually a dream come true. I remember when I signed my first contract in 2008, which was basically ten years ago. I had that one year with Jacky Martens, but I have been with this group since the end of 2009. We have almost had ten years together. It is simply amazing to achieve one hundred podiums, seventy-four GP wins and three world titles in less than three years. I lost two due to injuries, unfortunately, but it is pretty amazing to accomplish that.

I probably could not have made it happened without KTM sticking behind me. They have always had a great bike from the beginning until now and have always supported me whatever decision I have made, even in the years where I did some dumb things they always stuck behind me. I have to appreciate that and give them a big thank you for always having my back.

Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX

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