Finally, the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship returned to a state of normality over in the Netherlands this past weekend. Really this is the GP that we have been waiting for, is it not? Following the controversial opening rounds in Qatar and Thailand, it was nice to see some good, traditional racing on the historic Valkenswaard circuit.
There was no doubt in my mind that we would be privy to some excellent racing, in the past we have seen some great action at the GP of the Netherlands. But, the track that the riders arrived at was quite different to what they have seen there in the past; interestingly, the circuit was run anti-clockwise for the first time since 2004. Of course a handful of the riders have raced the track in this direction previously. But, most of the riders on the line joined the series in the years following 2004, so it was something new for a majority of the participants.
In my opinion, the change in direction was good. I am always pleased to see a change to the layout of a track, and you cannot argue with the fact that the racing was pretty good over the course of the weekend. The only complaint that some riders had was that the track was quite fast in places, which it was. Specifically, the finish line straight seemed to be quite fast; but aside from this the change was quite well received, there were some tighter sections as well.
Understandably, the cold conditions were quite testing for the riders; it did seem as though the track did not cut up like it usually would of, because of the freezing temperatures. How cold was it? Antonio Cairoli burnt multiple pairs of his gloves on his exhaust whilst trying to warm up his hands. Despite this, the crowd turnout was very impressive. Another aspect of the race that I was impressed with was the new structure behind the starting line. It will be present at all of the GP’s this year, but it is definitely a welcome addition. In my opinion, it was much more professional.
If anything, the GP of the Netherlands proved just how much better the two-moto format is. Although the Superfinal is a spectacle, in comparison the two-moto format is a lot better for the series, I do believe. You could see how happy the riders, and the teams were to have the traditional format back in place. The fans were too, and for good reason: we were treated to four great motos from the MX1, and MX2 riders.
Already on the Saturday there was some controversy involving Jeffrey Herlings; the reigning champion was disqualified from the qualifying race, after receiving some outside assistance following a crash. Before that, Jeffrey wasn’t gaining too much ground on the leaders; some have speculated that this is why he crashed, because he started to get frustrated. You see, in the sand Jeffrey is his own worst enemy. Herlings does seem to expect a lot from himself on this surface, because he is the self-proclaimed “sand king”. So, when he was not making up the time that he thought he would some think that he started riding a bit over his head.
The fall was actually quite bad, and the outcome could have been a lot worse. Just one look at Herlings’ helmet following the race serves as proof of this. In the fall, Jeffrey shot straight over a berm and into a fence. The fence then fell on his head, with the bike stuck on his legs. In my opinion, he was lucky to not hit the tractor that was parked just inches from where he crashed. So, quite obviously he was unable to move; some helpful Dutch fans then ran over to lift Herlings free. But, this was considered to be outside assistance, hence why Jeffrey ended up on the far outside of the gate in the points paying races.
Now, most are asking whether it was fair to disqualify Jeffrey Herlings. If he had received no help, would he have got free before the end of the race? I very much doubt it. So, surely the help was warranted? Perhaps the fact that the fans held his bike for him, whilst he collected himself tipped the scales? On one hand, the decision was maybe a bit too harsh. However, I am happy to see that Youthstream and the FIM are enforcing these rules.
In the end the decision did not have an impact on the overall results anyway; as Jeffrey Herlings was able to collect fifty points still, and further cement his position as the greatest sand rider in the world. Jeffrey started outside of the top fifteen in both moto one and two; the victory was certainly well deserved. Perhaps it was because he was fighting through traffic, but I did not think that Herlings seemed as fast as he has been around Valkenswaard in recent years? He was still head and shoulders above the competition however, as his lap times were quite a bit faster than the rest of the field. Honestly, I was quite shocked when I saw that Herlings has a forty-nine-point lead in the series after just three rounds.
It is fair to say that most of the riders that contest the MX2 class are quite inexperienced, because of the age restriction rule. Perhaps this is why there is such a big gap back to second place? At the moment it is Herlings’ teammate, Jordi Tixier that is sitting second in the series standings. But prior to Valkenswaard, he had not even finished inside the top four. Aside from Jeffrey, the MX2 riders have been quite inconsistent this year.
What about Jordi Tixier? If you had asked me which rider would give Jeffrey the hardest time around Valkenswaard, I definitely would not have picked the Frenchman. KTM have revealed that Jordi made some massive gains in the sand over the winter, so obviously the team expected a performance similar to this. But still, it was definitely a surprise. When Herlings caught up to his teammate, you could see that Jordi was able to pull away slightly in some sections of the track. How much better was Tixier than the rest of the MX2 class? In moto one and two, his fastest lap time was more than a second faster than the rest of the field (excluding Jeffrey).
It took a little longer than we expected, but Jake Nicholls finally landed up on the impressive new podium structure. A lot of riders seemed rejuvenated to be back on European soil, with a familiar format; Jake was one of these riders. Honestly, the first two GP’s were sub-par for Jake; his performance in Valkenswaard was a great way for him to rebound, and build some momentum moving forward. It was evident how much it meant to Jake to meet that goal of landing on the overall podium, the success was well deserved. The only downside is that he is buried down in ninth in the championship standings following his lacklustre performance at the first two rounds.
Whilst one British rider tasted the champagne on the overall podium, another came close. I expected a lot out of Max Anstie going into the weekend, I do consider him a sand specialist. Although he missed the podium by three points, it was still an impressive performance. Max was up on the moto podium again in the first moto. But, after starting just inside the top ten in moto two, he could not cut through the pack like most would expect him to. Max was still able to salvage a sixth, which was good enough for fourth overall when paired with his third from moto one.
Glenn Coldenhoff finished down in fifth overall, but I expected a bit more from him after his impressive qualifying heat win on the Saturday. I think that Glenn is going to breakthrough in the coming weeks; he has shown flashes of potential so far, soon that will all come together for his first overall podium. It is only a matter of time. I thought that he would be able to stay at the front for a little longer in moto two, rather than drop back after a few laps. But like I said, that breakthrough ride is not too far away.
Just like the MX2 class, the two MX1 motos did not play out as I expected at Valkenswaard. I thought that the GP was Antonio Cairoli’s to lose, and it was. However, I thought that whilst he was on his way to his fifty-sixth GP victory he would be a bit more dominant. Now, Cairoli has won the last four GP’s at the Valkenswaard circuit (including today). Evidently, he is very strong around the Dutch circuit; each time he has been quite dominant. However, today his competition came from his Red Bull KTM teammate, Ken de Dycker.
If de Dycker hadn’t of crashed in the first MX1 moto (after catching and passing Toni), things could of turned out differently. Clearly de Dycker has the raw speed to match his teammate, but he just could not avoid mistakes late in the race. This cost him dearly in moto one, and it very nearly hurt him in moto two also when he went over a berm. Just how quick was Ken in comparison to his teammate? The lap times from the beginning, and the end of moto two reveal this:
Ken de Dycker
Evidently, Ken de Dycker was very fast early in the moto; he cut through the pack quickly to get to the front. Actually, this brings me nicely to something that really impressed me: what about the pass that Ken made for the lead? I definitely did not expect him to make the pass there, and I am sure that Evgeny Bobryshev didn’t either! Honestly, that was impressive; it also proved just how comfortable the Belgian was in the conditions.
For a second there, I thought that Antonio Cairoli was going to make one last run at the win in that second moto. This is something that we are used to seeing from the Sicilian, he does seem to start off slower and then gradually build speed throughout the race. Astonishingly, Cairoli set his fastest lap time of the day (Monday) on the last lap of moto two. Quite clearly, his fitness is on point; this will always be one of his greatest strengths. In the end, he came up just over a second short of the second moto win. It was still a great performance for him.
For the first time since the GP of Europe (Gaildorf) in 2011, Evgeny Bobryshev landed on the overall podium in third. You could see how delighted the Honda World Motocross team was with the result; it is clear that it meant a lot to them to get the factory Honda on the podium again. But, Bobryshev very nearly threw it away in the closing stages of moto, just like he did in Thailand at round two. Fortunately, he was able to get back on his bike without losing a spot. However, we are seeing these crashes from him quite frequently; this is something to keep an eye on.
Just like I stated above, a few riders had their best performance of the year on their return to European soil. Max Nagl finally posted a solid result on his Honda World Motocross machine; it was the first time that we have seen him run up front on it. Undoubtedly, Max has some work to do still; however a fifth overall following a pair of sixths was definitely a step in the right direction for Nagl and the team.
Kevin Strijbos had a good ride at Valkenswaard, also. The Belgian finished seventh in the first moto, which is where he has found himself in most of the motos so far this year. It seems as though he was struggling with arm pump once again, this has been a problem for him at the first two rounds also. However, he had no problems in the second moto as he landed on the podium in third. Following the race, Kevin mentioned that he changed the front fork and the rear shock in between motos; perhaps this is why his results changed so drastically?
Clement Desalle seemed to struggle at Valkenswaard, he needs to finish closer to the front if he is going to have a shot at the title; already Cairoli has a twenty-six point lead. Already that seems like a lot of points to close down, especially when you consider that Clement does not have the raw speed and fitness to match the Sicilian. In moto one, Clement was left facing an uphill battle after falling in the first turn; however he still captured eighth in that moto. I was surprised how long it took him to pass Max Nagl in the second moto. In my opinion Clement should be able to pass Nagl quite quickly, instead he was battling with him for a number of laps.
Sixteenth overall does not seem like a great result for Jeremy Van Horebeek. However, if you take a closer look at his performance you will notice that he actually showed some potential. Jeremy has been dealing with a broken finger since the start of the season; this may seem to be a minor injury, but it has actually hindered his performance thus far. Already on Saturday he showed some potential with a sixth in the qualifying race; clearly Jeremy still has more to give. Van Horebeek fell in the first chicane in moto one (in a separate incident to Desalle). I was impressed to see him fight back to eleventh; this was his best result of the year. An issue in moto two forced him to pull out on lap ten.
So, the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship is looking a lot brighter after the GP of the Netherlands. However, the title chances of those riders not named Jeffrey Herlings or Antonio Cairoli are starting to look slimmer by the second. The title fight will arrive at the Arco di Trento circuit in Italy in two weeks time, which is another alternate surface to what the riders have experienced thus far.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of KTM Images/Ray Archer