This is a nice problem to have.
After several years of patching Team USA together for Motocross of Nations events in Europe, the announcement that the 2018 edition of the event will take place here in the U.S., at RedBud, has removed all restrictions. Every top American rider has said they’ll race if selected for the team. With that, even the rash of injuries to established 250 riders like Zach Osborne and Jeremy Martin might not slow Team USA down. Aaron Plessinger, the current 250 Class points leader, says he would not only like to race the ‘Nations, but said he’ll even dye his hair red, white, and blue for the event!
The 250 Class has been nutty, but if Plessinger can keep on chugging, no one is going to question his selection as Team USA’s 250 rider. Eli Tomac, the current 450 Class points leader and defending 450 champion, said he’s in for MXoN this year, too. If these guys stay healthy, they’re easy picks.
What about the other spot? It will be in the Open Class for another 450 rider. With RedBud’s own round of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross popping up this weekend, it’s time to have this conversation.
At the moment, there are two prime candidates for this spot. Justin Barcia is the second-best American in the current 450 standings, and he’s said he’ll go if picked and has had individual success at the MXoN before. If Barcia gets hurt or slumps through the rest of the season, maybe Blake Baggett becomes the next-best candidate, but currently Barcia has beaten Baggett in nine of 12 450 motos this season.
Barcia has raced for Team USA three times, and while the team didn’t win any of those events, Barcia finished third, first, and first in his individual classes at those races. He also won a moto in France in 2015, which was Team USA’s first outright moto win since 2011. In that 2015 season, Barcia was riding a wave of success during the second half of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, which included an overall win at RedBud. So he’s won at des Nations and at RedBud before. What’s not to love about putting Barcia on the team?
Well, remember the Monster Energy Supercross Champion? Jason Anderson has stated clearly that racing MXoN at RedBud is a huge goal for him, and he hasn’t wavered from that even while sitting on the sidelines with a foot injury. This week, Anderson’s Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team manager Bobby Hewitt informed me that Jason is still on track to be back to racing at Unadilla next month and desperately wants to be on Team USA. Anderson has unfinished business at the MXoN after he tragically won a moto in 2016, only to be landed on at the finish-line jump and taken out of moto three. Between his return at Unadilla and the October 7 MXoN date, Anderson would have two full months to prepare. To further make the case for his rider, Hewitt has said this June-July injury break for Anderson might make him fresher for racing in October. Anderson was in a similar scenario in ’16, when he missed most of the nationals with a broken collarbone, got a Team USA slot anyway, and came back to race the final national of the year in Indiana. He went on to get that moto win at the MXoN, so he’s run this schedule before and has performed when it counted.
Let’s say Tomac and Plessinger go on to win the 450 and 250 National MX Championships.
You have to admit Team USA boasting three champions—the two MX titlists and the 450SX champ—has a nice ring to it.
However, Team USA is usually announced at Unadilla during opening ceremonies, so Anderson would have to be selected to the team before he actually races again. It reminds me of a similar scenario in 2010, when James Stewart chose to come out of his supercross-only contract exile and race some moto. Stewart said he wasn’t doing it just to get picked for Team USA, but most figured he actually was, since the Nations were taking place in the U.S. at Thunder Valley. Well, the AMA announced the team just before the gate dropped at Unadilla, so Trey Canard, Andrew Short, and Ryan Dungey got to greet the crowd as the new Team USA. Stewart was sitting there on the starting gate, watching. He raced Unadilla, then didn’t come back to race any more nationals.
This situation is a little different because team manager Roger DeCoster certainly has an inside line on Anderson’s condition—DeCoster and Stewart never got along famously, while Anderson’s Husky squad works within the overall KTM Group that also employs DeCoster. Roger will know if Anderson is ready, but with Barcia, there aren’t any ifs at all. He’s good to go.
What’s going to happen?