Leok Second in Final Motocross of Nations Race

September 29, 2008 12:03pm
You have to hand it to the Estonians. Whenever there is a motocross race of some significance, the sinimustvalge (blue/black/white) is always present in numbers. Wherever you may go, it seems that the Estonian standards fluttering from the end of massive flag poles are outnumbered only by those of the host nation, if at all. It is not an easy task, mind. The diehard motocross fans from the tiny Baltic nation, population circa 1.3 million, always have a journey of at least 1 500 km before they can even set foot on the scene of a major international motocross race, yet time after time, they are there, making up far more than their pro-rata share of the crowd.

The fans of course have sound reasons for their support. Estonian motocross riders are blazing across the international stage with significant results. Although he only won his first GP this year, two-time junior world champion Tanel Leok is arguably the most successful Estonian motocrosser of all times. Cousin Aigar is always a good bet for top 10 GP finishes, and youngster Gert Krestinov stunned the motocross world with his first GP victory earlier this year. The fans, therefore, have ample reason to be proud.

The 2008 season has all but run its course, and the grand finale, the Motocross of Nations, was at hand again. Estonia has made its presence felt in no uncertain manner in this team-based event over the last few years, and hopes were high that the team would do their nation proud again at the 2008 edition to be held at Donington, England. The team suffered a setback when Aigar Leok had a less than gentle get-together with the Italian soil at the season's final GP, and discovered Newton's fifth law, which is that a collarbone is not entirely resistant to the forces being generated by being slung on the ground by a 50 horsepower motorcycle. Nevertheless, the depth of motocross talent in Estonia would make many far bigger nations blush, and in Juss Laanso the team found an able replacement.

Only 20 of the 35 entered nations would make the final of the event, and with national pride at stake, each of the team's 3 riders was going to go all out in his class to help Estonia to a qualifying spot. As the ubdoubted Estonianstrongman in the MX1 class, Tanel was selected for this important category, and he rode to a responsible and strong 5th place in his qualifying race, which all but secured Estonia's participation in the season's most pretigious event. Gert Krestinov in the MX2 class , and Juss Laanson in the Open Class did their bit as well, and the fans coudl sleep soundly on Saturday night.

Riding on a wave of confidence, Tanel charged into the race in the leading pack in the first MX1/MX2 class race. He held his own against the world's best, hovering at 4th and 5th positions, but with second placed Sebastien Pourcel in his sights. A strong result looked well on the cards, but after the sixth lap, Tanel was seen cruising to the pits. A mechanical problem had put paid to his challenge, and definitely took him out of the reckoning for a good overall result.

With the rest of the team also experiencing its share of its problems, a special performance in the final race was called for to end the season on a high note, and this time the Estonian Express answered the call. Again he bulleted into fourth position off the start on his factory Kawasaki, and soon he made his way to third position behind all-conquering American James Stewart and Sebastien Pourcel, making for an all-Kawasaki affair at the front. Stewart seemed to have matters all wrapped up, but as it sometimes happens, things went wrong for him with a few laps to go, and he was left tramping on his kickstarter to restart the bike. Pourcel was now in the lead, with Tanel a few seconds behind. As the race clocked into the last lap, the massive crowd went berserk. Tanel had bulldogged his way right up to the tail of Pourcel, and was looking ready to pounce. Unfortunately, he chose perhaps the wrong mom ent to make the lunge, and as Pourcel closed the door, the Estonian went down. He quickly remounted, and still finished second, a goodly distance ahead of third-placed Max Nagl.

A day beset by problems, kept Estonia down to a fairly disappointing 12th position in the nations classification, but the Estonian Express had yet again left his business card in top company, this time in a field that included the best of US talent, as good a way as any to close the book on 2008 and look forward to the 2009 season.

* The editoral board's gratitude goes out to Estonian cultural consultant, historian and style guru Rasmus Saarniit, without whose kind assitance this report would have been completed in half the time, but nowhere near as complete.