After a beautiful day of qualifying on Saturday, the anticipation levels all around the world were at a fever pitch for the opening moto of the 2006 Fox Motocross of Nations, including myself, as I was attending this storied event for the first time. You hear the stories of how amazing this race is, and it's true.
Although the Americans were without team captain Ricky Carmichael on the track, the multi-time MxoN winner was on hand to lend moral support to the team in any way feasible. He also took time to show his appreciativeness of the enthusiastic crowd, who always welcome the Americans with open arms.
On Sunday morning, after a day full of sunshine, everyone at or around the Matterly Basin circuit was awoken to rain. But shortly after 7 a.m. there was a break in the clouds, allowing the sun to show its rays. Although the course was a bit muddy in practice, the track shaped up nicely for the main motos of the day. Rough and rutted, the track didn’t look to favor any nationality.
The gate drop for the first moto couldn’t come fast enough. But when it finally did, it was the 10-time World Champion Stefan Everts racing into the lead, snaring the holeshot away from Team USA’s James Stewart, who was donning the #1 on his Team Kawasaki KX450F.
The stage was set for the battle that every fan was yearning for between Everts and Stewart, and while those two started to inch away, the rest of the top five were jockeying for position throughout the first lap. At the end of lap one American MX2 pilot Ryan Villopoto settled into fourth place on his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki, and things were looking up for Team USA as Stewart closed up to the rear fender of King Stefan’s Yamaha.
But just as the loud, lively crowd prepared for what many hoped to be an epic battle, Stewart’s front wheel knifed into a rut going into a lefthander and he hit the tacky, English soil, stalling his Kawasaki and allowing Everts to open up a sizeable lead on only the second lap. It wasn’t a hard crash, but it was time consuming. He frantically kicked his bike back to life while dropping to third, fourth, fifth... He rejoined the fray barely inside the top 10.
With no pressure, Everts stretched his lead ever so slightly over Villopoto, who passed New Zealand’s Ben Townley after he made a mistake squeezing passed Stewart’s bike. With Everts out front, it was a train of MX2 riders with Villopoto, newly crowned MX2 Champion Christophe Pourcel, and Ben Townley in tow.
When the gate fell for the second moto (MX2/Open), it was Makita Suzuki’s Ivan Tedesco taking the holeshot. Meanwhile, it was a shuffle for second place between Christophe Pourcel, Ben Townley, Ryan Villopoto and Antonio Cairoli. Tedesco looked to be putting a little distance between himself and second place, which was briefly occupied by newly-crowned MX2 World Champion Christophe Pourcel. Pourcel would then slide out on a small downhill double jump, losing positions to Villopoto and Cairoli. Much to the delight of American fans, Villopoto then got around Townley for second, and Team USA ran 1-2 early in the early stages of the moto.
Replacing Ricky Carmichael on the team, Tedesco was racing in his second-ever MxoN, his first being last year. It was a last-minute decision for him to be racing on this year’s team, as he found out that he was definitely racing on the Thursday prior to the event.
Suddenly, the American luck took a turn for the worse as Villopoto overshot a rough left-handed turn and almost ended up in the fence. He miraculously saved it, but this minor miscue allowed Townley and Cairoli to get by, and the rider that was really on the move was Cairoli.
Around the halfway point, it was becoming obvious that the bigger bike and the rough and rutted course was taking its toll on Tedesco, as this was only Tedesco’s second-ever outdoor race on a 450. Tedesco backed it down a notch, not wanting to risk a major crash. Meanwhile, Cairoli battled briefly with Townley, and after getting around he set his sights on Tedesco. He caught and passed IT, and quickly put some time between himself and the New Mexico native.
Villopoto then regained his composure after his close call and caught and passed Townley, but BT101 returned the favor and passed him back. Villopoto then got around Townley, and then both riders were able to get around Tedesco.
But the big development of the second moto was when Belgium’s Kevin Strijbos crashed near the end of the race, resulting in a 33rd place finish. Coupled with his 11th place in the first MX2 moto, Strijbos proved to be the weak link in the Belgium team. So after two motos, USA extended their lead in the quest for the MxoN title.
Going into the final moto it was apparent that something drastic had to happen to Team USA for the Peter Chamberlain trophy to slip from their grasp. Villopoto did his work and won the overall in the MX2 class with a solid 3-2, and now it was up to Stewart and Tedesco.
When the gate fell, it was Italian David Philippaerts displaying the quickest reflexes, muscling his KTM into the lead. Everts started around fifth with Stewart and Tedesco farther back than that – near 10th. It took a few laps, but a three-way battle then developed between Everts, Philippaerts, and Stewart, which really got the attention of the massive crowd. Airhorns were blaring and flags were flying as fans witnessed quite possibly the best battle of the weekend. Stewart made a move on Everts and passed into second behind Philippaerts. Unable to make a move to get around the Italian, Stewart then became prey for Everts, who railed around Stewart on a sweeping right-hand corner, standing up!. Everts then shot past Phillippaerts, and Stewart quickly did the same. This set up the battle between Everts and Stewart, but it would never come to be. Everts would maintain a three to four-second cushion over Stewart for the rest of the moto. As for Tedesco, he rode quietly just inside the top ten.
It was a fitting end to a great race in which everyone got something that they wanted. Team USA wanted to win, and they did. But the emphatic crowd, who all praise King Stefan, got to see their grand champion go out the only way that seemed fitting—on top of the world with a perfect 1-1.
Now if we could only coax him out of retirement to come over to Budds Creek for the 2007 Motocross of Nations...