The 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship got off to a rather pleasant start, as there were no significant issues or injury scares across the first three rounds. It seemed that Grand Prix fans were finally going to get the title battle that they had longed for over the last five seasons. Now, after round four in The Netherlands, everything is up in the air and there is drama wherever one looks.
Lost in all that excitement is the fact that Oss was new to the calendar and had large shoes to fill, as it was the replacement for Valkenswaard (a circuit that is showing signs of life now). The circuit was saved by the fact that it had character to it, in my opinion, as it looked the part in footage and resembled Lierop in some ways. The downside is that it was narrow in spots and not the easiest to make passes on. It did not flow or reward momentum as much as a typical sand track, but then do all tracks have to be the same? There is no doubt at all that it provided amazing racing.
Antonio Cairoli mentioned the lack of infrastructure in an MX Vice interview after the event, which is true. The paddock was packed in on one end of the track, a ten-minute walk from the press room and start area, then the car park for riders and officials was a fifteen-minute walk in another direction. There were a lot of gripes about that, but that does not have an impact on the final product and there are other circuits that are a nightmare in that department. Is it the best Dutch track? Not at all. Does it do the job? Yeah, okay. It is not bad, by any stretch of the imagination.
- Tim Gajser (3-2): It is tempting to just stamp Tim Gajser as the title winner at this time – the way that he performed at Oss is a perfect example of why. Gajser was probably the fourth-fastest rider out there, if not the fifth, but he just plugged away and got the job done. It is very impressive how he has transformed into the consistent guy who is easy to rely on in a matter of years. How do you beat that? Loket will be good for him as well, as it is a lot like his facility at home, so everything is trending in one direction. It is tricky to not get carried away here.
- Antonio Cairoli (8-1): Tim Gajser won the Grand Prix of The Netherlands with a 3-2 on his scorecard and this man, Antonio Cairoli, was the last rider to do that. It was 3606 days ago at the Grand Prix of Europe at Gaildorf. Even crazier is that Gajser went 1-1 on that day at Gaildorf, just in the EMX125 class! That is a nice look at how far Cairoli has gone with his career and a testament to how competitive he still is. Imagine if a guy had gone up to Gajser at that race and said that he would be fighting with Cairoli ten seasons later. The mind boggles.
- Romain Febvre (4-4): Very, very interesting to see what Febvre does in 2022. The Kawasaki factory effort is going to be a major player in silly season, in every way imaginable, so that is an interesting story to track. Febvre is riding better than ever now, which is quite the statement considering how good he once was. The fact that he did not win at Oss is disappointing – he was the best guy on the day (besides the rider who rode with a broken shoulder blade). It had to be so frustrating to fail to make a pass so many times in moto one, then watch Jeffrey Herlings do it almost immediately with relative ease.
Febvre tried everything imaginable to get around Glenn Coldenhoff, except for that line that Herlings used to get around guys. The line that Herlings was using should not have worked either though – look at how untouched that part of the track was. There was nothing to grab onto. It came down to being committed from the entry to the turn and hoping for the best. Febvre actually ended up being a case study for the two negatives about Oss, those being that it was tough to pass and there were fans too close to the track. Ask him about those two things!
- Jorge Prado (6-3): This is just fine. The results that Prado is posting are certainly not terrible. It is not like he is unrecognisable out there, but he is not quite fulfilling expectations. Something is just off. There have been rumours floating around that he is not that happy at KTM – those have been festering for a little while now. Prado was always a rider who I could easily interview because he would be hanging out beneath the awning for hours after the race, but I have not even seen his face through four stops. The guy gets out of there so fast! Weird. 34 points is the deficit to Tim Gajser at this point, so he is still in this thing.
- Ben Watson (9-6): This is incredible and probably not getting as much attention as it should. The opener was a disaster for him, as he is the first to admit, but he has just continued climbing since then. Watson has shown positive signs on all different surfaces too; he was great around the old-school track of Maggiora and the same goes for his ride in the sand of Oss. There is no doubt that he is the strongest rookie too – all is good in the Watson camp! Expect to see him on the podium at some point this term. It may even happen sooner than some would have thought.
- Jeremy Seewer (5-10): Seewer was struggling around the time of Maggiora, and there were red flags in his blood work. That was rectified in the weekend off – he took a lot of rest and then came out swinging at Oss. There were no signs of weakness on the roughest track of the season and in intense temperatures too, so everything looks good moving forward. Watch as Seewer keeps chipping away and eventually overtakes those who struggle with health problems as the season wears on, before taking a medal after the last event. Seewer has now raced 132 Grands Prix in a row.
- Calvin Vlaanderen (10-7): Kevin Strijbos is a rider for the Gebben Van Venrooy team, but his main role is to do a lot of the testing for his two teammates. Vlaanderen is obviously one of those guys. Both Vlaanderen and Strijbos have been struggling with starts, and then Strijbos did some ECU testing with GET and Athena over the weekend off. It turns out that Vlaanderen is not benefitting from that though because, for reasons that I am yet to get to the bottom of, he is using a different ECU to Strijbos.
“We are actually riding with two different ECUs,” Vlaanderen told MX Vice. “He is riding with a completely different brand to what we use. We can use the stuff that he is testing, but we are using a different brand now. We just changed this week. We did test this week as well, at a different track, so we are trying to improve on the starts, but it is not easy. When you are up against factory bikes, they get a better start than you. I will not be able to score a podium if I am starting in fifteenth place.”
- Jeffrey Herlings (1-DNS): I have no words. How can one person have so much bad luck? Wrong place, wrong time once again.
- Ivo Monticelli (18-11): Look, Monticelli cannot take all the blame for that Herlings thing. Herlings gets none of the heat though nor does Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Half of the blame drops on Monticelli, then half of the blame falls on just weird things happening in motocross. There was no rider error from Herlings. I think Monticelli must hold himself accountable, just because Herlings swapped at the bottom of the take-off and there was enough time for Monticelli to just check-up ever so slightly. I do not mean that he should have slammed on the brakes, but maybe he could have hesitated and not launched the thing like he was auditioning for the X Games.
That is my one issue with what Monticelli did. Febvre, in front of him, had a clear track and Monticelli went even further than he did. None of this would have gone on had the holeshot device disengaged though, so there are many moving parts there. Putting his reign of terror in The Netherlands to the side for a moment, Monticelli has had a horrid start to his stint with Monster Energy KRT. There are no bright spots to lean on through four rounds and he typically shows flashes. Twenty-third in the points is not good for a full-factory rider.
- Jago Geerts (1-1): I do not think that Geerts was the fastest rider at Oss – that was clear in person. Jed Beaton was quicker in moto one and the same goes for Kay de Wolf in the second moto. That made Geerts more impressive to me though, as he managed the situation and did not falter when under pressure. It has been a while since he last had a race as encouraging as this and thus he is my pick for the title now. Does he get loose at points? Sure does. Those other guys are not exactly pictures of consistency either though (pulling Tom Vialle from the conversation).
- Kay de Wolf (5-2): The crazy thing about this is that the idea of Kay de Wolf doing another season in the EMX250 class was thrown around, before he signed that MX2 deal with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing. Husqvarna entertained some big names before betting on their own talent and, well, that is turning out to be one heck of a decision. There is no way that I thought he would have the composure to handle a situation as intense as that of his home Grand Prix this early in the season. Colour me as extremely impressed early on.
- Roan van de Moosdijk (3-DNF): Look, Roan van de Moosdijk would have the red plate now had his bike not broken. The bike problem was not his fault in the slightest either. Has this been a successful season for him though? Moosdijk has been right there and consistent – there just have not been any flashes thus far. I feel like Moosdijk is so good and should be fighting for wins, especially when riders like Mattia Guadagnini and Thibault Benistant are. Moosdijk struggles with self-belief. Grabbing a win would help that, right? One would think.
- Stephen Rubini (20-DNS): Rubini is coming off a broken back that he suffered in the off-season, so he has been easing back into things. His EMX250 teammate, Emil Weckman, fell on Saturday and fractured his T5. Rubini really felt uncomfortable on the track in moto one on Sunday, when he finished twentieth, so that combined with the injury that his teammate sustained prompted him to pull out of the round between motos. The second MX2 rider on Assomotor Honda, Gianluca Facchetti, has been struggling with bike problems, but just wants to be inside of the top fifteen each time. That would make him happy.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer