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Loket Wrap

For me, Loket defines World Championship Motocross. The fast, hard packed layout that runs around a hillside buried in the Czech Republic is part of a dying breed, the “old-school” track. Whilst more Supercross style circuits are quickly becoming more popular with Youthstream and the FIM, and are beginning to populate the world championship calendar. The GP of the Czech Republic offers a unique challenge that evidently gives some of the current superstars of the sport some troubles. Admittedly, most riders will tell you Loket is “not one of their favourites” but maybe it’s because it is so unique.

Loket has been known to defer some riders’ title efforts over the years; most notably Josh Coppins back in 2007. With the knowledge that many have felt the wrath of the hard Czech Republic soil, and not returned for the rest of the year – there was definitely a sense of “anything can happen”. Of course, maybe this was spurred on by the off-track antics that have occurred since Semigorje. As most will know, Jeffrey Herlings found himself involved in a car crash on his way home from his triumphant Russian victory. Although he only suffered a minor concussion, it did keep him off the bike for 7-10 days. Coming into Loket, the Dutchman was surely less than one-hundred-percent.

The mild concussion wouldn’t have so much of an affect that it would erase Tommy Searle’s double DNF from Kegums. But still, it opened the door for the Brit to possibly take a double moto victory. When you factor in that the hard-pack circuit should favour Tommy more than Jeffrey, it looked as though all the stars were aligning, and it could be a good weekend for Searle. However, watching Herlings there was no indication that he was feeling the effects from the car crash, as he was perhaps as impressive as he has been all season long. Despite supposedly suffering with a couple of sore ribs, the Dutchman pushed until the very end of both moto’s, which in the end saw him climb atop the podium with a double moto win to his name, for the second GP in a row!

As with any GP this year, there was some controversy amidst the MX2 class title contenders. Despite the well publicized on track rivalry between Jeffrey Herlings and Tommy Searle, they haven’t actually straight up battled on the track very much this year. The first moto again saw the two nowhere near each other all race long. Herlings (and six other KTM’s!) were running at the front of the pack, whilst Searle had to work his way up from what can only be described as a terrible start. Something the Brit has got used to doing the last few weeks.

However, in the second moto we did actually see the two battle straight up, with no backmarkers etc affecting the race. Whilst in a position where he could study Herlings lines, Searle looked to have the upper hand. Admittedly, the two both had their strong points on the Czech Republic circuit. Herlings seemed to be stronger on the first half of the track (often stretching out three to four bike lengths on Searle). But Tommy would always close back in on the second half, and jump right onto Herlings rear wheel again.

You could see the Brit eyeing up a pass on either the first corner, or the corner before that as every lap he would try to perfect his line, before he actually tried to make a pass stick. Eventually he went for it, trying to stick the bike up the inside of the Dutchman in the first corner. Except, there ended up not being enough room for two bikes, and the Dutchman got the short end of the stick as he watched Searle ride off whilst laying face down in the dirt. In my opinion, the pass wasn’t too dirty, because now that the championship is dwindling down, small point swings in each moto could prove crucial. It’s not as if Searle went out of his way to put Herlings on the ground.

To be fair, most would have thrown the towel in and given up. But Herlings got up and went after Searle. The rate in which he caught Searle might be one of the most surprising things from the whole weekend. When the two were just centimeters apart they were virtually the same speed, clocking lap times not to different from each other. However, within around four laps the gap – that was at one point as high as eight seconds – was virtually nothing. The way Herlings passed Searle back proved the point’s leader interpreted the pass Tommy made earlier as dirty. As Herlings ran Searle wide and stood him up in the corner, it was reminiscent of the pair’s antics earlier in the year.

At the end of the day, Tommy left the Czech Republic with second overall to his name – by virtue of a second and a third across the two moto’s. Which further damaged his title hopes. With just eight moto’s left to run, a fifty-seven-point gap is practically impossible to overcome without some kind of bad luck striking Herlings. One of the biggest surprises for me in that second moto was how Tommy visibly had no more to give, once Herlings re-passed him. Even after the race he admitted to it, which was definitely a bit peculiar.

Tommy just didn’t have that extra little spark to take points off Herlings in Loket but we’re sure he’ll be all fired up in two weeks for his home GP.
Jeremy Van Horebeek proved to be just as quick as the leading duo this week, as he was actually in contention for the win. If he had continued in the second moto focusing on his own race, rather than his teammates, maybe he would have won the second moto? Yet again, Van Horebeek made a blatantly obvious attempt to let his teammate through, and into the lead right in front of the mechanics area. Where he basically checked up, looked over his shoulder and rolled out of the racing line until the Dutchman had gone by. The move was then later confirmed to be what it looked like, as Herlings on the next jump looked behind and thanked the Belgian. With a fifty-seven-point lead in the series, does Jeremy really need to hand Jeffrey an easy three points?

Since round six, team orders have been evident between the pair and more often than not they have been uncalled for. It’s not as if this will have a massive implication on the final points standings, or any affect at all. But still, in the world championship you would think it would be “may the best man win” rather than a team game. Even without the run-ins with Searle or the team orders, Herlings was still the best man on the day, and deserving of the overall victory. Especially when you consider hard-pack is definitely not his specialty!

It was good to see Zach Osborne up on the podium for the first time since the GP of Portugal last year! These last few GP’s are the last we will see of Zach in Europe for a few years, or maybe ever. Although his goal this year was to be world champ, a GP win before the year is out would be a nice consolation for the American, and I believe he will be able to do just that. The break prior to Loket clearly helped him, as the niggling back pains that hindered him in Russia were not even a factor and he was back to producing the results people expect, with a solid 4-4 on the day.

It was good to see Zach back on the podium, shame it was at the expense of Jake Nicholls though.
Once again, Jake Nicholls was so close to the overall podium – as close as he could possibly be without getting up there! A third and a fifth across the two moto’s meant he tied with Osborne in the overall classification, however Zach broke the tiebreak by virtue of a better second moto finish. Still, the podium in moto one was the first of his career, and surely the first of many. With the confidence and momentum of knowing he can do it, Jake is setting himself up nicely to maybe climb onto the box at Matterley Basin in two weeks time.

Is anyone else really pleased Elliott Banks Browne finally got some points on the board in Loket? The World Championship series can only be described as disastrous for Elliott so far this year with mechanical gremlins and niggling injuries hindering him all year long. However, he was finally back on the gate this week despite feeling around eighty percent. A twelfth in the first moto isn’t a true indication of what EBB can do, but it’s a start and hopefully this momentum will see him prove to everyone what he is truly capable of. Every week he has top ten-speed, but that isn’t showing up on paper – only results will persuade a team to take a chance on him next year!

Romain Fabvre got a career best fifth overall and was ripping. A future title contender?
Most were left scratching their heads when a virtually unknown Frenchman was giving Zach Osborne all he could handle in Loket. As it turns out, the rider in question was Romain Febvre, the reigning EMX2 champion. The end result proved to be the best of his career, a fifth overall. Despite his previous success, he failed to find his way onto a top-tier team this year and he has really been flying under the radar. A look at the points gained thus far this year show that the Frenchman has slowly improved each week, after what was evidently a tough start to the year. With some of the top talent in the class leaving next year, Romain’s ride in Loket might secure him a good ride for next year, where he will undoubtedly post results similar to this on a regular basis.

Max Anstie used the momentum from his impressive Hawkstone Park performance last week and put it to good use in Loket, as the Englishman may have got his year back on track. Max has evidently been struggling in recent weeks, but a solid top five in moto one may see him back on top form for Matterley Basin in two weeks time! His first moto fifth was followed by a twelfth in moto two. Although unimpressive on paper, Max was forced to fight through from outside of the top twenty. All things considered, it was a good weekend for Anstie and a step in the right direction. Sixth in the championship is almost certainly out of his reach now, but he does have Butron and Ferrandis snapping at his heels for seventh position. Any more mechanical DNF’s (that have been a problem for Max in recent weeks) could be costly in the point’s standings.

With team orders and aggressive passes taking the MX2 class by storm, the MX1 class was a little uneventful in comparison. Like the MX2 class however, there was one clear winner – as Antonio Cairoli won his third GP in succession, by virtue of a double moto victory (his second in succession). Not only did the day mark another successful outing for Cairoli, it also saw him take the 50th GP win of his career and solidify his position as one of the greatest Motocross riders ever. The way in which the Sicilian took the win was impressive, as in the first moto he controlled the race over Christophe Pourcel. However in the second he started behind his main competitors, and studied their lines for a number of laps before pulling the pin and moving from fourth to first in just a handful of laps.

1-1 to take 50 GP wins. That Cairoli bloke is quite good at this dirt scooter lark!
Whenever a rider visits a circuit that they have had previous success on, they always seem to have a little extra confidence. For this reason, most thought Christophe Pourcel would be a favourite for the overall win. However, he never seemed to have the level of intensity to match Cairoli, despite putting himself in a position to capitalize on any mistakes the Sicilian would make in both moto’s. Pourcel has stated that all of the tracks coming up are some of his favourites, so the Frenchman should be a firm fixture on the podium for the rest of the season – however the chances of him clinching the title are very, very slim.

Clement Desalle again was just a tick-off of Cairoli, which has cost him even more points as the Belgian now sits at a thirty-point deficit. The rate in which Cairoli has rebuilt his point’s lead has been extremely impressive, but in part it has been because of some lackluster results from Clement. Desalle is clearly capable of beating Antonio around Loket, he did it just last year. However, he just wasn’t good enough this past weekend, but then again no one was good enough to beat the champ. If Desalle hadn’t of spent so long sat behind Max Nagl in moto two, maybe there was a chance he could of sprinted away? But by the time he got into the lead, Cairoli was right there and followed him past Nagl just two laps later.

Undoubtedly the standout performer in Loket was Max Nagl, the German who hasn’t raced a GP since Fermo at the tail end of 2011 exceeded everyone’s expectations after returning from a back injury. Both times out he was dicing with the title contenders, and he even led eight laps of the second moto, with the track at it’s roughest! Over the course of the year, Nagl’s return was consistently pushed back as he wanted to be one-hundred-percent. Despite being only 80% and suffering from arm pump, KTM couldn’t have asked for a better showing from the German, who was unlucky to miss out on the overall podium.

Nagl was quick and had a point to prove. Where he goes from here is now a good guessing game.
The extremely impressive showing from Max has undoubtedly sparked interest from a whole host of Factory teams with a spot free on their team for 2013. It also makes many wonder why the KTM team did not want him back on the team for next year, without even seeing him race once this year. The German has already proven himself to be capable of challenging for wins, and podiums – and you have to presume he could be in contention for the title, if healthy. With Max’s spot under the KTM awning free, many were wondering who would get the spot, and now we know…

Ken de Dycker, the man drafted in for just five GP’s originally will be returning to the Factory squad next year to ride alongside Cairoli, but going off of the Loket results you would think Nagl would be a better candidate. De Dycker only managed sixth overall, following a seventh and an eighth. However, his day was plagued with bad starts (something the lanky Belgian struggles with) and on a surface that he is more comfortable on; he is a podium threat – as he was in Latvia and Russia.

The STR KTM team had one of the best GP’s of their short time contesting the series (despite their star rider missing with injury), as both Jamie Law and Nathan Parker scored points. Most impressively, Parker scored points despite not completing a GP since round three and he was also given the news on Friday whilst travelling to the Czech Republic that he had torn his ACL. Twentieth and a nineteenth marked the best GP of Parker’s career, despite his troubles. In the second moto he chased his teammate Law across the line, as Jamie also collected the best result of his career!

The series now has another week off before the ‘GP of the year’, the British GP at Matterley Basin. Tommy Searle will be hoping to impress his home crowd with a double moto victory, whilst another Brit, Jake Nicholls will be hoping to get his first overall podium. Tickets are still available for the MXGP festival online, with eight support classes as well as MX1 and MX2; it will be one not to be missed!

Lewis Phillips

Pictures courtesy of Youthstream

MX Vice Editor || 25

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