Most of the major Motocross of Nations ingredients were in place for the 67th running of this competition through the rutted, rough hard-pack of Teutschenthal in Germany: bounteous and noisy crowd, bench racing potential, sunny skies, hype, expectation, pressure on Team USA, a full compliment of countries (41 entered), a gripping duel and an element of unpredictability. Another component of this annual festivity was the last moto, last lap drama with the final result hanging in the balance until the final minutes of the weekend.
On paper Belgium won by three points/positions for the fifteenth time in the history of the contest and for the first time since 2004. The USA adopted their familiar podium position and improved by one step over 2012 and the Italians broke a hoodoo by lifting some silverware on the first occasion since 2002 and the ‘Nations that never was’ in Spain.
The Monster Energy MXoN blasts off in front of a massive crowd in Germany. Most teams gave the 250F (MX2) riders the good gate picks, and Dean Ferris (in green gear) and Ken Roczen (middle) took advantage with great starts.
Roczen would put his small bore into the overall lead before long, to the delight of the German fans.
But Tony Cairoli (13) was just too strong, rolling from outside the top ten all the way up to Roczen's tire. Soon he was into the lead and gone.
Roczen was struggling with arm pump, and amazingly Eli Tomac, who was outside the top 20 off the start, caught him in a battle for second. Then Tomac had a huge crash that he was lucky to walk away from. He ended up 16th.
Ryan Dungey was okay but not great in moto one, with a sixth.
Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli went 1-1 for the second year in succession to own the MX1 class and crown a two year spell of dominance and performance that puts him perhaps only second to a certain American Kawasaki rider (missed in Germany) in terms of global speed, stature and supremacy. Ken Roczen now waves goodbye to his 250SX-F and after owning the Nations MX2 division for four seasons in a row will relinquish his grip. His second moto victory over a bustling Eli Tomac brought the house down for a Sunday attendance of 40,000 spectators; the official number hit 85k for the three days the gates were open. The young German’s demeanour was noticeably lighter for the release of pressure Sunday afternoon, even if the outgoing champions could rise no higher than seventh overall with Max Nagl and Dennis Ullrich fighting their own fitness and race crash demons. Justin Barcia wore the silver medal for the event, team wise, but at least picked up a ‘gold’ for his ruling of the MX Open category, a scorecard of 4-11.
So how did it play out? How did Ken De Dycker (KTM), Jeremy Van Horebeek (Kawasaki) and Clement Desalle (Suzuki and out of the final moto after dislocating his shoulder in a first turn melee that also collected Barcia and Team GBR’s Shaun Simpson as well as French debutant Christophe Charlier amongst others) rise to the top? Well, while De Dycker and Desalle each shone in one of their two races. But it was Van Horebeek who put aside his nerves of returning to the 250 after a decent maiden MX1 GP season who was the backbone of the achievement with his 7-7. The new factory Yamaha rider for 2014 wasn’t spectacular but his consistency was essential. Desalle would bounce back from a shocking start in his first moto (the second) to pass Barcia for 3rd place and then later depart the scene with a walk to the medical centre his injury providing a bittersweet finale to the day for the 2013 FIM MX1 championship runner-up. In the final moto, with Desalle out of the running and therefore using the team’s ‘throw away’ in the final race, De Dycker knew he not only needed the best result possible but couldn’t afford a single mistake. He responded, powering to second place behind Cairoli at the track where he memorably aced the 2010 Grand Prix (still his last GP success to-date). “It was a bit stressful in that last moto but I just focussed on catching Max [Nagl, running second most of the way] and thankfully he made a little mistake at the end. The first race for me wasn’t that good because the track was pretty fast but no complaints about the second.”
Ferris nailed the start again in moto two! Australia was solid all weekend en route to fourth overall, tying their second-best performance ever.
Roczen (2) and Tomac (8) were right there off the start, too, and they took the measure of Ferris to begin a spectacular battle for the moto win. Note Team USA's Barcia (9) with a good start.
Roczen inched away early, Tomac turned it up late, and the kids dueled to the checkers in moto two. They beat everyone else, including the Open Class 450s, by over 45 seconds!
Roczen held off Tomac for the moto win, and the fans went nuts. Belgium's Clement Desalle came through for third as the first Open rider, edging Barcia, who finished fourth. In total points, Belgium led after two motos, but removing Tomac's 16th (each team gets a drop) Team USA led heading into the final moto.
Disaster struck for the Belgians off the start of moto three when Desalle went down and dislocated his shoulder, knocking him out of the race.
But Barcia was down as well. He was able to get up, but was way back with the trophy hanging in the balance.
With Barcia in the back, Dungey needed to put in a spectacular moto, but he seemed to struggle. He made a few charges, but an off track excursion cost him. He would end up seventh.
With Ryan Dungey gaining attention on the track but not for the right reasons, Team USA’s hopes rested on Barcia’s comeback charge from the floor in turn one. It was a good charge, but 11th place was not enough and when De Dycker cut through past Nagl in the death throes of the moto then the Belgian contingent of the crowd could snap off their latest beer tops. At the circuit on Sunday the biggest area of post-mortem for Team USA was the performance of Dungey. Some American media colleagues were mystified for the reasons behind the errors and discomfort of the 2012 AMA Motocross Champ, with two mistakes in the closing stages of the third moto while chasing Gautier Paulin highlighting an usual lack of focus. There wasn’t much in the way of explanation coming from that KTM side of the awning but it looked clear that the 23-year-old was neither comfortable with the track nor the way he could get the KTM behaving through the long solid ruts. Not much was alluded to in the post-race aftermath. “To lose once again is tough,” he said. “You haven’t seen the real me for a couple of years. We need to get that figured out. All three of us put out there what we had and we came up short. We are hungry for another chance and just have to add this to experience.”
In truth Team USA could have probably won comfortably if Tomac had not suffered a spectacular crash trying to relegate Roczen to third place in the opening moto of the day. A mistake on the giant near-vertical jump sent the AMA Champ through the air like a high jumper who has never heard of the Fosbury flop. He recovered to sixteenth place (thankfully without any outside assistance) but that was the ‘throw away’ dispensed with. It was the only glitch on an otherwise impressive day for Tomac. In the second moto, his chase of Roczen – the German pushed along by the energy and sheer will of the crowd – was so relentless that the two 250F riders foraged a path some 48 seconds clear of Desalle on the factory Rockstar 450 Suzuki. “It was so close between us but Ken did have a whole country behind him today and that helped him make a push all the way through to the end,” he said. “No excuses from my first moto crash. I went up a little too fast, got cross-rutted and it tore the bars out of my arms. At that point I was just hoping I would land OK! It was a good experience to see just how much the European fans are into the sport. Now I’m hungrier to get back here next year.”
Barcia hinted a little more at the technical challenges that the crew faced and it was strange not to see an American rider at the front at all throughout the weekend. “The weekend was good but I struggled a little bit,” the Honda man commented. “Big respect to these guys. The tracks here are extremely tough and a lot different to our U.S. tracks. It is hard to find a place like this to ride back home…and we kinda said that as well last year about the sand but these guys ride some gnarly stuff. We all did our best but it did not turn out like we wanted.”
Outside of the podium and part of the Nations ritual appeal is the openness of the final moto. France and Australia could also have been in with a chance of uncorking podium champagne. For France, Charlier’s crash meant he had to pit for a wheel change while Paulin did his duty as team leader with a 5-6. The Australians were looking very strong on Saturday and Yamaha’s Dean Ferris was the starter of the meeting with three getaways on the Cosworth-powered Yamaha YZ250F that put the lemon-coloured GP winner at the peak of the pack. Brett Metcalfe and Josh Waters could not quite summon the same prowess out of the gate despite 200cc extra and although they equalled their second best finish of fourth (taken in 1986) it was still seven points from dislodging the Italians. The ‘Azzurri’ had the powerhouse that is Cairoli but it needed Alex Lupino to deliver and importantly David Philippaerts to hold his nerve for a top ten finish in Moto 3 to confirm a result that was celebrated with almost as much joy as the Belgians.
Ken de Dycker is fifth in this early moto 3 photo. He would rally to second to clinch it for the Belgians in a clutch ride. Barcia got to 11th, valiant but not enough.
Belgium celebrates! That's van Horebeek, De Dycker, Desalle and team manager Joel Smets from left to right.
Two tough years in a row for Team USA.
Tommy Searle benefited from a new WP suspension system on the CLS Monster Energy Kawasaki and the Brit’s renewed confidence was evident as he rode to second place overall in the MX1 class. Jake Nicholls went 18-11, the first ride being the throwaway, but it was the bad luck that befell Simpson that saw GBR slide down the table. A rock smashed and broke the Yamaha rider’s front brake while in the top five in Moto2 and he was taken out at the start in Moto3 and kept Barcia in sight as they worked their way back through the ranking.
Cairoli took the third and final moto, giving him four-straight moto wins at this event. Respect!
For the show, entertainment and platform that Teutschenthal offered for this behemoth of a meeting there were only three things missing: the two other champions from either side of Atlantic [Villopoto and Herlings] and a decent telecommunications service as mobile signals barely registered. It is hard to understand how the Nations can get any better and with these kinds of standards on and off the racetrack then the really pleasurable facets of the spectacle can shine through such as the sense of fun-and-following that the pockets of fans bring and the idiosyncrasies of a special or historic track. Latvia next year will be curious. Not a heavily traditional motocross territory but a compact sandy layout Kegums will stage the next chapter both in its story and that of this FIM institution.
67th Motocross of Nations classification
1. Belgium (De Dycker, Desalle, Van Horebeek) 27
2. USA (Barcia, Dungey, Tomac) 30
3. Italy (Cairoli, Lupino, Philippaerts) 33
4. Australia (Ferris, Metcalfe, Waters) 40
5. France (Charlier, Paulin, Tixier) 44