A 24-hour deluge of rain, swampy sand and miserable conditions for racing may have levelled a flat playing field even further at the 73rd Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations but an orange-decked Team Netherlands were still the brightest in the mire. Here are a few judgements on what we saw.
1. Good luck with the highlights
Sadly, the abysmal forecast held true for Sunday and rain lashed down from Saturday night right up until the early hours of Monday morning when this report is being typed. There were a few moments of respite but largely the skies didn't let-up: this was much wetter than 2017’s MXoN at Matterley Basin and 2018’s MXoN at RedBud, two events that were sufficiently scarred by the weather.
“I watched the B-Final in the morning and thought ‘There’s no way we can do it’,” said Denmark’s MX2 category winner Thomas Kjer Olsen (who went 8-8 overall in his motos).
Relentless track preparation may have annoyed the likes of Jeffrey Herlings, who believed the flattening of large sections of the sand equalled-out the running (literally and figuratively) but the temporary course held up well with the amount of water that could have dispersed tons of the stuff across the asphalt.
Here's footage of the B-Final from early Sunday morning.
Starts were a premium, passing was riskier, and goggle prep came sharply into light. MX2 World Champion Jorge Prado had a decent enough 450 debut on the factory Red Bull KTM (3-7 moto finishes for fourth overall in MXGP) and swapped track space with Jeffrey Herlings but a misjudgement with his tear-offs in the first moto meant a self-imposed handicap, “a rookie mistake” he admitted.
There were mistakes and crashes, backmarkers, pushes and fades and mechanical issues. It made for a compelling but demanding watch for anybody not under a semblance of shelter. The first moto was the pick of the three races. Team USA unwillingly undid weeks of earnest preparation in the sand in the opening seconds of the event as Justin Cooper veered into Jason Anderson and sent both riders to the floor. The main entertainment then came as the large crowd cheered Herlings’ every move through the pack and the Dutchman was half a lap away from showing Tim Gajser (MXGP class winner on the day and the first Slovenian to ever win an MXoN moto) his front wheel. Less than a second was the distance between the two at the chequered flag.
2. Anderson’s fortunes
The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider once again had his Motocross of Nations participation seriously influenced by another rider. British website MX Vice captured the whole thing.
“I took the worst gate pick and I was coming around in tenth or something like that,” he recalled afterwards from the dry and warm sanctuary of the Alpinestars hospitality. “With the track you could go left, right or whatever and I think Justin got a little bumped from the right and I had nowhere to go. It was a bummer but all we could do was get up and keep going. When I fell I got dirt in my goggles and my [radiator] shroud was flipped off. I was trying to keep it going. I had a result I was not too proud of but I tried my best.”
Seventeenth place was his end finish but he posted the second-best result of the day in the second moto with an eighth, which could have been at least two points better.
“I think I was sixth or something like that but ended up falling over with a couple of laps to go and went back to eighth,” Anderson said. “It has been another learning experience… but I would do it all over again.”
Anderson was content and untroubled. Team USA had failed to make the top three for the third year in a row, but the combination of the rain and the sand made an already difficult race that much harder.
“If Justin and I could have both stayed up then we could have had two decent results and that would have given us the points to be on the podium, and in these conditions that would have been a good job for us,” he assessed. “On paper it looks bad but actually I think we had a pretty good shot at battling and being up there. I feel like I put a lot of effort out there with my result in the last one. These conditions are nothing like we are used to. I am proud of these guys for stepping into the deep end and we went for it. I’m not bummed or anything. I’m motivated to come back and battle with the best in the world.”
Osborne seemed more narked by his 5-13, but his first outing effort was the best for the Americans.
“We were cautiously optimistic after yesterday,” he said, regarding the third overall team score in the qualifying races. “I felt like I had a lot of room to improve and ride better today but it went wrong from the very first lap of the very first moto. We were behind the eight ball right away and it was no-one’s fault. We got beat today.”
Cooper, who impressed on Saturday with his qualification win, came out of Assen with an injured left hand (a damaged but apparently unbroken knuckle) but still bearing some of the rookie curse that saw Blake Baggett sustain a 17-17 in 2011, Eli Tomac suffer a 16th-place score in 2013, Jeremy Martin break his foot in 2014, Anderson get landed on in 2016, and Thomas Covington and Cole Seely snapping a knee and rear suspension, respectively, in 2017. Full credit for Cooper’s attempt to finish the first moto without a clutch, and tasting the Dutch sand again, as well as defying the pain to line-up in the second MX2 sprint.
3. Go, go Glenn
Even some of the older members of the press room were struggling to recall the last time an athlete went 1-1 for two years in a row at the MXoN. Inevitably the name Everts emerged but Glenn Coldenhoff was certainly the first this century. The 28-year-old applied the same steady approach to the motos as he had to his third place qualifying run on Saturday but took advantage of two good start positions and used the power of the Standing Construct KTM 450 SX-F effectively. The first race was clear-cut but he had to limit mistakes to the bare minimum to deter Tim Gajser in their second race. The double was not as devastating as RedBud—particularly as Coldenhoff had been showing this form in MXGP with two wins and five podiums in total from the last five rounds—but “this one was definitely more; it was nicer than last year because of the home crowd,” he said.
Rain and sandy, loose soil is the common link between the triumphs but Coldenhoff could and should have carried RedBud into 2019 much earlier if it hadn’t have been for a team switch and a winter training crash that led to two broken vertebra and pushed his preparation for the season back by two months. Once he had the speed—and the efficient Standing Construct team had tweaked the 450 SX-F—then he was an MXGP podium contender and even more. Previous top three GP finishes at Assen meant this was a favourable location for ‘The Hoff,’ and for a rider that overtly feeds and shines on confidence then this classification was not the stuff of sorcery.
Onlookers might have expected it of Herlings, and you only have to stare at the way that he rabidly tried to make ground in both races to realise how the 2018 MXGP World Champion (who was crowned at Assen 13 months previously) wanted team and personal victory at this event.
“There’s two sides [to the day],” Herlings admitted. “From an individual point of view, I’m very not satisfied… but [what] we’re really here for is to win as a nation, and that’s what we did.”
Herlings correctly gave Calvin Vlaanderen his credit as the HRC man’s solid 10-10 forged the base of Team Netherlands’ tally. For the outgoing MX2 rider (he’s hit the 23-year-old age ceiling) the result helped eradicate the nightmare of RedBud when his mistake in throwing away goggles and wrecking his sight—“I couldn’t sleep for a few weeks, I felt terrible”—delayed a first ever success for the orange crew. To top-it-off for the Dutch a visit from the King, Willem-Alexander, added a classy and mainstream touch to their historic day.
4. Belgium keep holding on
Jeremy Van Horebeek is the Belgian version of what Gautier Paulin is for France: an athlete that has trouble with the consistency of a full championship campaign but never fails to deliver the goods in a one-hit deal. Here the Honda privateer drove his country onto the second step of the box with a 6-6 and in spite of some drivechain worries in the second moto. Belgium’s plight looked as optimistic as the clouds overhead at the end of the first race as Jago Geerts dropped his misfiring Yamaha with almost a lap to go. The 18-year-old responded with a class-leading seventh in his second attempt. In the third moto Kevin Strijbos made mistakes but his effort to pull back to 11th meant the Belgian’s recovered from their nightmarish three-year period without a podium appearance to again make the grade; fittingly it might well be the last time in national colours for Strijbos who produced a final hoorah on a loaned factory Monster Energy Yamaha.
5. Rain and a gloomy outlook? Bet on the Brits
For the third year in a row Team Great Britain laughed in the face of the odds and broke into the top three. Individual results for the likes of Estonia (Harri Kullas), Latvia (Pauls Jonass was great to finish 2-3 in the Open class), Switzerland (Jeremy Seewer on 4-5), Denmark (Thomas Kjer Olsen), Spain (Jorge Prado) were not enough to drag those countries into the frame and the Brits were able to spread the scores through the trio. It started badly though. Red Bull KTM Enduro star Nathan Watson fried his clutch in the first race, “I have to apologize for that,” he said. “I’ve never done a clutch in my life, but I think I must have been a bit excited or something.”
It meant an opening moto DNF for the third consecutive year for the Brits. F&H Kawasaki’s Adam Sterry fell and finished outside the top 20, leaving the team with a 24-36 first taste of Assen.
Shaun Simpson, the winner of the inaugural Grand Prix at Assen in 2015, scored a brilliant third place in the second moto on a KTM that he purchased and had privately tuned in an effort to turn around a difficult and underwhelming end to the MXGP year with the fledgling RFX KTM crew. The shot of confidence helped the Scot and he edged the British back into contention. Sterry’s 12th position on his final 250 run and 24-year-old Watson’s ninth in the final sprint of the day shoved the crew into the top three spotlight. Further back and the progress of Kevin Strijbos and Jordi Tixier from crashes in the decisive last moto meant the overall standings was jumbling all the time behind the untouchable Netherlands. When Gautier Paulin’s Yamaha expired on the last lap then the British spectrum of fortune swung to the other extreme.
The sight of the French captain pushing his #1 machine off the track (apparently an issue with fuel) was a vivid reminder of just how much luck is a key factor at the MXoN.
“Then Gautier [broke down], and [I’m] pumped, to tell you the truth!” admitted team manager Mark Chamberlain to an amused press conference; the Englishman’s sincerity and enthusiasm pouring out. “I was just like: Yes! Get in! I’m not going to lie. The boys, all three, just did an amazing job.”
The French will get ample opportunity to refresh, reset and get ready for the mammoth stage that will be Ernee in 2020—hopefully with less rain. For all the opinions and verdicts cast at the Assen facility there is little escaping the fact that few other motocross venues in Europe would have been able to cope with the torrents. The 2019 Motocross of Nations was lucky to have been held at all.