The 2021 Motocross of Nations has begun at the compact track of Mantova in Italy. There was a lot of talk in the weeks prior to this event: Team USA withdrew from the race and many leading riders opted to watch from the sidelines rather than compete in anger. It is quite a surprise that there is some excitement in the paddock, because of that. There is anticipation in the air.
This feels like a Motocross of Nations, even though there are not many fans (thought to be limited to 5000) and the depth is lacking in each individual class. There was some intriguing action in each heat though; Ben Watson led for so much of the MXGP qualifying heat, Conrad Mewse came alive in MX2 and Jeffrey Herlings had to fight from the very back in the Open category. There was a lot going on, even though the results do not tell that story. The heat winners (Antonio Cairoli, Tom Vialle and Herlings) were expected to win.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer
Time is moving very quickly here at Mantova, but here are some quick notes and thoughts from day one at the 2021 Motocross of Nations.
- Antonio Cairoli was questionable going into the 2021 Motocross of Nations, as he only confirmed that he would represent Team Italy on Thursday. There were reports that he tried to ride this week and was looking rather strong – one would be inclined to believe that after his ride in the qualifying heat. Cairoli ended lap one in sixth and claimed the lead when the two-lap board came out – he erased a ten-second gap to the leader in just two laps and then stated that he did not feel good!
“We want to be on the podium, that is the goal,” Cairoli stated in the post-qualifying press conference. “I was not feeling so well but it is enough to ride good. I hope to have a better feeling tomorrow; I think tomorrow will be a difficult race and especially the second heat. I feel a little bit stiff now, even today in the qualifying race the pain was there. This race is important but also the world championship is still important to me. I was really happy that I could race here. This comeback was difficult but it was necessary, so I am really looking forward to tomorrow.”
- Ben Watson was the man who Cairoli had to track down, as the leader of Team Great Britain took the holeshot and sprinted away in an impressive fashion early on. Watson appeared to have the race under control – he was two seconds a lap quicker than anyone else at one point – but lost momentum in the closing stages and was powerless. It was still a strong ride and he needs a contract for next year by all accounts, so it was a great example of what he can do.
It was not too much of a shock to see Watson take the holeshot in the MXGP heat. The sixteenth gate pick was not ideal for Team Great Britain, but it was much better than The Netherlands (twenty-ninth) and Italy (twenty-eighth). The only factory bike to the inside of Watson was the FC 450 of Thomas Kjer Olsen, but he has rarely started inside of the top ten this term. Watson has been consistent out of the gate. Heck, he was second out of turn in Sardinia just last weekend!
- Dylan Wright has been one of the standout riders thus far and had many MXGP regulars scrambling for their programmes in pit lane this morning. Wright held the top spot for a significant period of time and did not look out of place amongst Grand Prix winners like Thomas Kjer Olsen and Benoit Paturel. It was an impressive start for Team Canada as a unit too, as they qualified in eighth and ensured there was a bit of international flavour towards the front. Expect some MXGP teams to sniff around Wright.
- Conrad Mewse was phenomenal in the MX2 heat. Mewse has good and bad days, as everyone is aware of by now. This was certainly one of his good days, as he oozed confidence and had success on his mind from the moment that he entered the facility. The start that he had was not ideal – he got pinched off halfway up the start straight and ended lap one in sixth – but he preserved instead of floundering down the order and losing himself mentally. It was a very positive sign heading into tomorrow.
This is the best way to demonstrate just how good Mewse was. Unbelievably, he set the fastest lap of the race on four consecutive laps. The bar kept on getting raised in what was a battle with himself! The lap times that the top three riders posted on those laps can be viewed below.
- A strange observation from the Open heat: Jeffrey Herlings did not have his start device locked in when he was sat behind the gate and started without it (mechanics are not allowed to step onto that metal). The way that he started was bizarre, as he casually left the gate and then just cut across to the inside. The funny thing is if he had gone for it, it is very likely that he would have hit like Alessandro Lupino (to his left) and a few others.
- Mathys Boisrame was rather impressive aboard a KX 450 in the Open qualifying heat and that may just pay dividends. There is a factory team that is watching him closely aboard the bigger bike this weekend, as he is one of six contenders for a top-tier seat in the 2022 FIM Motocross World Championship. It would not be a surprise if that ride today just secured him a contract for his full-time debut aboard the 450F. Heck, something may happen sooner rather than later…