There was always going to be some uproar surrounding the riders selected by Neil Prince to represent Great Britain at the 66th edition of the Motocross of Nations. Although Tommy Searle (MX1) and Jake Nicholls (MX2) were almost guaranteed a spot on the team because of their impressive results thus far this year, the race for the MX3 spot on the team was wide open. Max Anstie and Shaun Simpson were the main protagonists, but you also had names like Brad Anderson chucked in the mix. Of course, at first glance Simpson and Anderson seemed most likely to fill the berth, seeing as both had a couple of seasons of riding the 450 under their belt. Except, that ended up not being enough to see either of the two fill a spot on the team.
Tommy Searle (MX1), Jake Nicholls (MX2) and Max Anstie (MX3) are the team that will officially be lining up in Lommel next month, with Simpson acting as first reserve should anything happen to the selected three. On paper, having three 250f riders on the team might worry some people. But Tommy has already proven he is capable of getting the job done on the bigger bike, and in my opinion Anstie’s riding style should suit the 450 perfectly. Although most feel Simpson should have got the final spot on the team, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this year. He has been close to the podium at world championship level once or twice, but aside from that he has been on the fringe of the top ten, which would definitely make him a safe bet. Whereas Anstie is more of a risk, and it might end up being a risk worth taking – if the team can get up onto the podium.
In recent years, we have missed the podium by the slightest of margins (missing the podium by one point last year is a prime example). Maybe taking Anstie will finally see us break the streak and plant the union jack up on the podium. There is of course the argument stating Shaun has a full factory Yamaha beneath him. However that argument is practically invalid, as it has been confirmed Anstie will receive a 2011 full factory Honda specifically for the race. Of course, Shaun already has settings from places like Lommel and Leirop to fall back on. Whereas Max will not really have a base to work off of, but with the factory team in his corner that surely won’t be a problem for him. At least, he won’t be on the clearly underpowered Gariboldi bike that he has been fighting all year.
Of course, when comparing the two we don’t really have a lot to go off of. Except, the one time the two lined up against each other at Hawkstone Park. Although on paper the bikes were similar, there was actually quite a big difference as Simpson was on the highly competitive Monster Energy BikeIt Yamaha – and Anstie was on a stock practice bike. However, Max still managed to beat Simpson in two out of the three motos, and even challenged the practically unbeatable Strijbos for a number of laps. Something Simpson hasn’t been able to do thus far this year.
Although sandy, the conditions at Hawkstone aren’t really comparable to the bottomless sand of Lommel. Nonetheless, the race still gave everyone watching a good indication as to who would get the spot. Undoubtedly, it was that race that really made Anstie the firm favourite to fill the MX3 berth on the team. To secure a spot on the team was probably the only reason, or at least the main reason behind Max’s appearance that day, but it sure paid off!
Personally, I feel quite confident about Anstie’s ability to do well in Lommel, of course the time he spent in the Dutch championships growing up has made him quite the sand rider. His results at Valkenswaard this year are a testament to that, and really that is what we need on the team this year – a very strong sand rider. Sure Tommy and Jake are good in the sand, and capable of podium finishes, if not wins (in Tommy’s case). But it is by no means their specialty. If I have one concern about Anstie’s involvement in the team, it’s how he will cope in a high-pressure situation such as the Motocross of Nations. Whereas Shaun has contended for titles, and has dealt with the extra pressure the MXoN brings previously, it will all be new to Max. There is really no telling as to whether he will thrive, or underperform. It’s part of that risk mentioned earlier. However, with the guidance of his teammates and Neil Prince he should be able to come up with the goods.
As a whole, I think we stand a good shot at climbing onto the podium this year. Whilst some other top-level nations have been struck by injuries and off-form riders, and some just simply aren’t good in the sand. We have three really solid riders, and the best riders we can come up with at this time (with the exception of Dean Wilson of course, who is out following surgery on both shoulders). A podium isn’t out of the question, it never is, but for once we just need the cards to fall our way. The main thing you could take away from the press conference, in which the team was announced, was that they just don’t want to finish fourth again. No matter what the team is we need to get behind our riders on September 30th. Just please, please don’t let us finish fourth again.