It never disappoints, does it? The biggest Motocross race on the planet, the Motocross of Nations is a unique event. Where else do you get to see the best riders in the world square off against one another? Only once a year does this occur, hence the prestige surrounding the race. With the added variable of a nations pride being on the line there really is nothing like it.
Already in 2011 there was a lot of talk about just how much the American’s would struggle in the bottomless sand of Lommel, Belgium. However, seeing as back in 1981 the USA took their first victory ever at the very same track, it obviously was possible they could win. If there was ever a team that could overcome the adversity of travelling to a circuit they had never experienced before, it was the Americans. However, before we get to that, what about the circuit itself? Lommel is undoubtedly one of the toughest tracks in the world as the power sapping sand coupled with the waist high bumps is nothing short of treacherous.
The entire facility has undergone some massive changes in recent weeks in order to accommodate an event of this magnitude. The track was a lot shorter than in recent years, however the circuit became a lot slower as the weekend went on because of how rough it was; lap times eventually were over two minutes for most riders – barring an exceptional few. Lommel was the perfect place to host a race such as this, as only the toughest and best riders could get round, let alone ride with such intensity. The track has evidently grown in recent years, as the five-year plan of Eric Geboers has come to fruition.
There are a number of questions that most used the Motocross of Nations to gauge an answer for. Who is the fastest nation in the sand? How does Lommel compare to what the Americans are used to? Just how good are Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings in the deep sand? Are there any teams that have three riders capable of dethroning the Americans? All of these, and more, were answered over the course of an extremely sandy weekend in Lommel. Chad Reed – a man who has plenty of experience racing in various continents – mentioned on Twitter on Sunday night that it takes years for some riders to get their bike setup perfect around a track such as Lommel. This perhaps explains why the Americans setup was so off over the course of the weekend, something Roger DeCoster reiterated stating that they perhaps were off with Ryan Dungey’s suspension setup.
The established world championship riders clearly put their years of experience to use over the course of the weekend. It was just like a GP at the front of the pack as the current world champions, Antonio Cairoli (Italy) and Jeffrey Herlings (The Netherlands) simply put on a riding master class. The Motocross of Nations poses an interesting conundrum, as the race for individual honors takes a backseat to the fight for the Chamberlain trophy. Whilst Cairoli and Herlings were unstoppable individually, they didn’t really have a team behind them that was capable of standing atop the podium. So, maybe you could state they were riding for themselves more, without the pressure of carrying a team to the top step? However, for every rider their priority is helping their nation gain the highest position possible.
Consistency would be the determining factor as to who would hoist the Chamberlain trophy above their heads on a track as rough as Lommel. For Germany, they only finished on a moto podium just once; however the consistency from Max Nagl, Ken Roczen and Marcus Schiffer saw the team prevail and claim that elusive Motocross of Nations victory for the first time ever. Whenever a nation not named the USA wins, I think it is an upset victory; the Germans were fully deserving of the win, as all three done exactly what was expected of them. Max Nagl was impressive in moto one especially, as he claimed third place in the mixed MX1/MX2 race. Max’s skill level in the sand was not doubted, as he has proven time and time again to actually be a little better in the sand than he is on the slick hard pack.
For Ken Roczen (MX2) getting reacquainted with the bottomless sand proved tough in the lead up to the event. Ken himself stated that he found the going a bit tough at first, however the German had clearly got back up to speed in the softer stuff by the weekend – as he was dominant in the MX2 class. Roczen won the MX2 individual honors convincingly; he was the only MX2 rider to mix it up at the front of the pack with the very best 450 guys. Ken has always impressed at the MXoN; this was his third straight individual win in the MX2 class.
Riders contesting either the MX2 or Open groups face a challenge that the MX1 riders are thankful to escape. Both of these two groups had just half an hour in between their first and second moto, and on a track as physically demanding as Lommel it was certainly a grueling format. When a rider that contests these two groups goes out and thrives in both moto’s, it truly is a testament to just how fit and prepared they are coming in. For instance, Roczen actually bettered his finish in the second moto, taking fourth alongside his fifth from moto one.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that was really impressed with Marcus Schiffer. As the third rider on team Germany, all Marcus needed to do was back up the results of his superior teammates, which he did in an impressive fashion. Even he was surprised by his top ten-speed in moto two, and then a fourteenth in the final moto ensured a sensational and well deserved win for the Germans. Can you imagine the crowd turnout next year, when they run number one, two and three whilst defending the crown on home soil?
Team Belgium so desperately sought after a win on home soil, Joel Smets (team manager of the Belgian squad) stated the only result they would be content with was first; but alas they came up just a few points short. In my opinion, the Belgians had quite a quiet day; they didn’t really make so much of a splash that they were really noticeable (aside from de Dycker in moto two of course). However, if they hadn’t of suffered a mechanical failure with Van Horebeek in the second moto; maybe they could of grabbed the victory from the Germans? However, it’s all ‘what ifs’ now, and the Belgians were impressive in grabbing second overall.
What about de Dycker in moto two? You just never know whether de Dycker will show up with race-winning speed or be buried mid-pack. But, luckily for the Belgians he showed up ready to do battle this past weekend. There was a little bit of controversy surrounding de Dycker when Justin Barcia crashed following a collision with the lanky Belgian. Now, some people out there are suggesting this was Ken’s fault entirely; however I would have to disagree. Barcia came into the corner too hot I believe, and attempted a pass that wasn’t really realistic. Perhaps Ken did make a slight mistake on the entrance into the corner that slowed him down and contributed to Barcia running into him, but I do not believe it was deliberate.
The USA’s win streak was ended in Lommel, as they climbed onto the third step of the podium surprisingly. Lommel was undoubtedly the toughest challenge for them, as there is nothing like it on their AMA National schedule. The only sand track they have in that championship is Southwick; however that has a harder base rather than being bottomless like the Belgian sand. By the end of the weekend, it seemed as though Ryan Dungey, Blake Baggett and Justin Barcia still weren’t too keen on the surface, as Blake stated “my worst nightmares weren’t even like this.”
The most controversial pick for the team, Justin Barcia looked like the fastest of the three Americans, as he was certainly the only one riding quick enough to climb onto the individual podium. Surprisingly, Ryan Dungey was the weak link in the American team I believe, as he ended up laying in the sand a lot over the weekend. Those little falls he and his teammates suffered from were ultimately what cost them the victory. One factor that led me to believe Dungey was struggling the most out of the Americans was that after his fall in moto three he never really advanced through the pack. He only captured a few more places, surprisingly.
Put simply the Americans weren’t quick enough. They were never on the pace in practice, or the qualifiers, or more importantly, the main races. Whilst most will point a finger at this or that being the determining factor, even with a weeks practice under their belt they weren’t prepared for the challenge that faced them. But, they can’t be expected to win every single time, right? Consistency was what was needed from a team looking to claim the Chamberlain trophy and the Americans just didn’t have that this year, which saw their win streak stopped at seven. One thing is for sure, they will be back next year and hungrier than ever.
Our team proclaimed they didn’t want to finish fourth again this year, and team Great Britain didn’t! But, unfortunately they were down in eighth instead, tied with the Estonian’s for seventh. Like the Americans, the most controversial pick on our team, Max Anstie actually looked the best out of all our riders – a highlight being his ride from twenty-fifth to ninth in the second moto. You can’t deny that Max gave it his all out there; he was definitely an asset to our team. Max backed that result up with an eleventh in his second moto against stiffer competition and with little time to prepare – which was an issue for all Open riders as mentioned earlier. Those wondering why Max was picked surely can no longer question his involvement in the team?
To be completely honest, I expected more from Tommy Searle. He didn’t have the best weekend, although there were some flashes of brilliance. In the first race he moved from eleventh to eighth in the closing stages, which definitely helped the team in the overall standings – every position counts at the ‘Nations! We were at a bit of a disadvantage after Jake Nicholls bike blew up in moto two. Nicholls stated he felt there was no power from the start of that second moto, and it was only a matter of time before it gave up. However, we weren’t the only nation dealing with a DNF; Van Horebeek and Coldenhoff (The Netherlands) both suffered from DNF’s in the moto also. The sand was just eating away at the bikes all weekend long.
Team Italy actually had a good weekend, all things considered. Although Cairoli loves the bottomless sand, it is definitely not what his two teammates (Alessandro Lupino and Davide Guarneri) prefer. Obviously, Cairoli was simply magic all weekend long – it all started in free practice really as he immediately set a lap time three seconds quicker than his opposition. Personally, I’m glad to see Toni finally have a dominant performance at the MXoN. Year after year he seems to be struck by problems when either he or the bike breaks! Finally, the Sicilian can add individual victory at the Motocross of Nations to his extremely impressive resume.
His results might not have been the greatest, but Alessandro Lupino deserves a round of applause after two gutsy rides on the roughest track riders have seen all year. Before a wheel had even turned on the freshly prepared circuit Lupino was suffering, as he injured his finger in a Go Kart race on the Friday night – Lommel is certainly not a place where you want to be fighting niggling injuries! His troubles continued when he went down in moto one and dislocated his shoulder. However refusing to give up, the Italian got it put back in place and went out in moto two – salvaging a twenty-fifth place.
To prove just how much that helped the Italians; if he had sat out moto two they would have finished eighth rather than fifth. Many have suggested Lupino was at a disadvantage anyway, because of the alleged lack of power his Husqvarna delivers. Davide Guarneri deserves credit for his ride, after a sub-par year where he rarely saw the top ten in the world championship; he came out and posted a fifth in the second moto on his least favourite surface where he normally struggles. Some riders can find an extra gear or two when they are riding for their nation; Guarneri is one of them.
Gautier Paulin, the rider that helped France to a sixth place finish, was extremely impressive I felt. Paulin has never been that good in the sand, and following a late season slump in the GP’s I certainly didn’t expect him to challenge Cairoli in moto one! At one point, Gautier was closing in however in the latter stages he lost sight of the Italian; but still the ride was extremely impressive. His teammate Musquin wasn’t as good as I expected him to be, to be honest. In the latter stages of his GP career he was practically unstoppable in the sand, however he clearly struggled to adjust as he finished nineteenth and eleventh in his two moto’s, following some crashes.
I was unsure prior to this year’s event how the inexperienced Australian team would fare in their international debut. However, Lawson Bopping (21-19), Luke Styke (26-20) and most notably Todd Waters (8-15) impressed on a track they had certainly never experienced before. Australia was hit hard with injuries this year, which meant there was practically no chance of them repeating their podium success of 2011. A tenth isn’t what Australia would normally expect, however from a rookie team such as this I think it was a really good showing.
You’ve got to feel for Puerto Rico, troubles had already begun for the team on the Thursday before the race when Jimmy Albertson crashed at Honda Park and suffered internal injuries. Somehow, the team managed to get Kyle Chisholm over from America by Saturday morning to fill the berth on the team. Kyle was riding Seb Pourcel’s bike from this year, however when his suspension failed to arrive he was put in a very tough situation.
Riding jet-lagged around Lommel was never going to be easy; but the American gave it his all – however crashes meant team Puerto Rico failed to qualify. It’s a shame for Kyle to travel all that way in such a short space of time with zero preparation and not even make the A final. It was also disappointing to not see Zach Osborne (Puerto Rico’s MX2 rider) in the A final. This was his farewell to Europe and it looked quite promising at first when he topped the MX2 free practice times. However crashes from him also didn’t help the teams cause and he was left watching from the sidelines. Zach will now head stateside in the coming weeks and begin testing with Geico Honda.
Lommel was a very important race for Jeffrey Herlings, as it was his chance to cement his position as the fastest sand rider in the world. What he did was impressive; however he failed to walk away with both moto wins, as many expected him too. In the Open qualifying heat he hit the gate, however after five laps he was already in the lead passing some very fast competition such as Justin Barcia. However, even whilst performing at that level he proclaimed his setup was not where it needed to be; which left many wondering just how much better he would be in the main races. The mixed MX2/Open moto was simply a Herlings runaway; the Dutchman holeshot and rode off into the distance to a fifty-eight second lead, lapping up to fifth in the process.
Moto three was what everyone was focusing their attention on; not only would it decide the MXoN winner but it would also showcase a match-up between Cairoli and Herlings, something that had never been seen before in the deep sand. Although Herlings fell on lap one, he still came from very far back to close right in on Toni, but he “ran out of time to make a pass”. Perhaps catching Cairoli proved he was the faster rider; however the Sicilian states he had such a lead he had no reason to push. But, when his mechanic finally let him know Jeffrey was closing in (something he didn’t do until quite late), he struggled to pick up the pace again. However, when you consider Herlings had to visit the medical unit with a suspected rib injury following the race you realize just how hard it must have been for him to run that speed. Would he have been able to make the pass if he was one-hundred-percent? We’ll never know.
Unfortunately for the Dutch, they missed the podium by a mere five points; if Glenn Coldenhoff hadn’t of suffered a DNF in moto two they probably would have climbed onto the podium for the first time since 2004. However, fourth is still a solid result for the nation – but with the exception maybe of Herlings they seemed capable of more. Lommel more than likely also marked the last Motocross of Nations of Marc de Reuver’s career. The popular Dutchman was extremely solid in moto one mixing it up with our very own Tommy Searle among others; however the second moto was a little tougher for him.
The Irish had an extremely impressive showing in Lommel, as they exceeded their goal of avoiding the B final. Martin Barr was particularly impressive as he finished thirteenth in moto one and at one point was battling with Blake Baggett! Graeme Irwin crashed on the start straight of moto two and after getting run over by a handful of bikes, got up thirty seconds down. He managed to claw his way back to twenty-second, which was undoubtedly pivotal in seeing the Irish finish thirteenth overall. Stuart Edmonds struggled a little more, finished just twenty-seventh and thirtieth in the two moto’s. However, it was most certainly a successful day for team Ireland.
Well, that’s it; the Motocross of Nations is now behind us. Whilst many questions were answered a lot more are still open for debate, the speculation surrounding the 66th edition of the Motocross of Nations is ongoing and will undoubtedly see most through the off-season.