It has been a long time coming, but Jeffrey Herlings has claimed the premier-class title in the FIM Motocross World Championship and thus cemented his position at the head of the sport. Assen was just perfect in every possible way. It was an amazing way to end a title fight that has thrilled fans across the world and will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest of all time.
The atmosphere at the Grand Prix of The Netherlands, which was run in Assen for the fourth time, was just phenomenal. It is funny how things work out though, as Jeffrey Herlings really should not have claimed the title at his home event. Had it not been for that collarbone injury, which was just a blip, he would have won in Turkey or even Bulgaria. Everything happens for a reason though. There may have been some dark days after that break, which was just three months ago, but he is obviously quite pleased with the way that this has worked out. It will be difficult to match the emotions that he felt on Sunday, but there are a lot of highs just around the corner. This is just the start.
It is actually humorous in a way that this title fight has been so enthralling, because it has not necessarily been that close. Jeffrey Herlings took control at the Grand Prix of Trentino in April and has not relinquished that since. The fact that the gap went down to twelve points in June made it seem as though this thing was wide open again. Was it really though? Antonio Cairoli obviously injured his hand at the next round, so that has to be factored in, but Herlings never missed a beat and was soon back to winning ways. It actually took absolutely no time at all for him to return to the front and, as mentioned previously, if you take that injury out of the equation then he would have been way ahead anyway.
There are so many factors to consider that make the whole thing a little confusing. There have been a lot of comments about the amount of injuries that Antonio Cairoli has encountered and those have obviously hindered him, there is no denying that at all, but Jeffrey Herlings left fifty points on the table at one round and actually had surgery. It is easy to forget about the injury, considering that he won the title three races early, but that really deserves more recognition. The points Cairoli lost whilst not at one hundred percent would not be quite as significant. It should not be possible to suffer that injury, miss time and still dominate in the premier class. It makes his season even more incredible! The atmosphere at Assen capped it off quite nicely.
It would have been intriguing to see if an old-school track like Lierop could have matched the atmosphere that was created in the grandstands over the weekend. The dynamic would have been quite different. Fans would not have been overlooking the action or gathered in one particular area, so it would not have created the same spectacle. It is common for one to insult the facility and track that is built on the road-race circuit. However, if a fan or agent attempts to convey just how popular the sport is to someone who is uninformed, it is a clip from Assen that would be drafted into the conversation. There is no denying the fact that mixing in a couple of events like this is advantageous for all involved. Imagine what the Motocross of Nations will be like!
The prestigious Motocross of Nations was actually a hot topic across the weekend, as fans across the globe were weighing in with opinions on what they would change across the next twelve months. The riders want the lap times to be extended, that was the common consensus, and there is scope to do that. There is plenty of room for improvements to be made. It is actually one of the best things about that purpose-built track. The track builders will start from scratch when the build for the Motocross of Nations build begins at this point next year, so it could be a completely different track. It is a blank canvas and that means feedback can be tackled head on.
Moving the start closer to the main strip, which is where the road-race grid is, could be a positive move. It would certainly make for an impressive setting! It would be almost impossible to execute though, because it would end up resembling the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. Maybe that depends on whether the area further up from the finish line is accessible? It would then be possible for more of the grandstands to be used, but again there is the risk of the main straight becoming too long. This conversation just emphasises that there are many avenues to explore at the venue and that if there is a problem, it can be overcome.
There has been a common theme in the MX Vice interviews that Antonio Cairoli has done in recent weeks: It is clear that his focus is on next year and he already knows what he needs to do in the off-season in order to bring Jeffrey Herlings down. Cairoli actually shed a bit of light on that on Sunday evening. "The endurance for sure first, because especially the first part of the season I was leading a lot of races until the last five minutes and then he got by me," he said. "This is difficult to improve, because it is one part that you need to work [on] a lot. This is the only way to try to beat him."
Is that going to be enough for Antonio Cairoli to claim a tenth title? It will not be known until the gate drops at round one next year. It may be enough on some weekends, like when Jeffrey Herlings starts around tenth in a moto, but one could argue that more speed is needed if the pair start in first and second. If Cairoli can somehow implement more endurance and intensity from the drop of the gate, then he may pose more of a threat. It is a tall order to expect all of that to change in a handful of months though. Pundits appear to be overlooking the fact that Herlings could come out stronger than ever before too. Has he really peaked? Those words have never come out of his mouth.
It would be rather surprising to see Jeffrey Herlings get beat straight up in a premier-class moto now, much like when he was in the smaller class. It is crazy that he has created that scenario in this class, which features many former Grand Prix winners, but that is the way it is nowadays. A new era is underway and it is honestly difficult to see an end in sight. There is absolutely no way that anyone would argue against the fact that he deserves this title. The statistics that he has wracked up in the last six months will be referenced for years to come, as a new benchmark for dominance has now been set. Remember, a broken collarbone was mixed into his season as well. It is just remarkable.
Max Anstie stood alongside those contenders on the premier-class podium, for the second time in as many months, yet that is still not enough for him to secure a contract for next year. That is remarkable too, but for all the wrong reasons. There are undoubtedly some who believe that he has more going on in the background than what he makes out when addressing media. All of the factory seats are full now though and those transfers have been made public. Gebben Kawasaki, Standing Construct, Wilvo Yamaha MXGP and other satellite squads have completed their signings also. The greatest problem now is that there are very few seats left to actually fill. There are one or two, but not enough spots to house all of the free agents.
There were options in the United States that Max Anstie explored prior to the Turkish Grand Prix and it did honestly seem as though he was going to have to head back over at that point. Those did not work out though and now it is most likely that he will remain in the Grand Prix series. Who with? Nothing has actually been confirmed or finalised yet. Everything that he said on Sunday was true. There are simply no words to describe just how insane this situation is. Anstie has finished on the podium as much as Romain Febvre this season, even though he has missed more events, and yet Febvre has a lucrative deal with a factory team.
Speaking of Romain Febvre and Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing, he obviously did not travel across to The Netherlands. The concussion that he sustained at the Grand Prix of Turkey, which really looked quite serious, is not actually the problem. The rib that he broke in that same fall left him in so much pain that he could not ride in the days prior to round nineteen though and therefore his status for the finale is currently unknown. The Motocross of Nations will take place a week later than that round and is obviously the greatest concern. Team France have not made any back-up plans public, like who will be their reserve rider, so there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment. There is a lot that hinges on Febvre and his health.
Jeremy Van Horebeek, the second guy on the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing team, is dealing with a bacterial infection that prompted him to withdraw from the Grand Prix of The Netherlands after just two laps. It is likely that he will be fine to race in Italy next weekend, but there is a chance that this thing could linger for a while. Johan Boonen, the team manager for Team Belgium, is undoubtedly keeping a close eye on proceedings to see if he needs to give Julien Lieber or Kevin Strijbos a call. Jago Geerts returned at Assen though and looked okay, so at least the Belgian fans do not need to worry about that position. There is no doubt that Geerts is still a safe bet.
Moving onto the MX2 class, the one that Jago Geerts resides in, where nothing that particularly strayed from what is considered normal occurred. Jorge Prado swept both races, which was to be expected, and is now sat in a very comfortable position with just one round remaining. Prado needs to finish in the top fifteen in the first moto at the Grand Prix of Italy in order to wrap the title up. It would take something catastrophic to stop him from managing to do that on the day so, yeah, he is going to claim a world title at just seventeen-years-old. Prado was always touted as the next great thing, but who would have predicted that this would happen so soon?
Most would have jumped on this bandwagon a couple of years ago, one would presume anyway, but last year did not exactly confirm that this was going to happen so soon. It was a good year and one that included three Grand Prix victories, but there were also some crushing lows. Correcting those within a couple of months was impressive. It would have been in a normal situation, anyway, but amazingly he fixed all of his faults whilst sat on the sidelines with a broken elbow. Prado came in behind the eight ball, as he only jumped on a bike a couple of weeks before the first round, but that just did not matter. It is crazy that such a rocky start eventually led to this.
Pauls Jonass still has a shot at the championship, but his chances are so ridiculously slim at this point. A knee injury, which actually sounds quite serious, just sums up how troublesome the second half of the season has been for him. It is unfortunate that things have ended this way, especially considering that he will not have a shot at redemption next year, but perhaps that is best for him? Having an opportunity to make a completely fresh start would be a great way for him to put the disappointment of missing out on a second world title into the rear-view mirror. Hopefully the little cut in his ACL will not need surgery and hinder his start to the next campaign as well.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer