One of the more unfortunate event cancellations this year was the 2020 Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations. Originally set to be held in late September in Ernée, France, the race saw a venue switch in mid-July when Matterley Basin in Great Britain was then announced as the new event location before finally the full cancellation news dropped at the end of July.
This is the first time since 1947 that no nation will receive a crown. This year took away everything that normally goes with the event. Aside from the race, country pride shines through with the massive crowds and the bench racing is immense. So, what would it looked like if the race had actually gone off like it originally was planned in Ernée? We’ll never know what the results would have looked like, but we do know bench racing about team selections is a critical (and fun) part of the MXoN experience. We can at least do that part right here. Let’s take a look at how the teams might have stacked up!
The reigning Motocross of Nations champions would have had a tough time repeating this year. Multi-time World Champion, Jeffrey Herlings, was severely injured at Faenza in early September and was forced to the sidelines for the rest of the year. Reigning Open Class champion Glenn Coldenhoff then suffered a broken back in October that would sideline him for the rest of the year as well. However, that injury would have happened after the MXoN would have already occurred. Or would it? Hard to say with this ever-changing calendar, but we do know Coldenhoff was healthy on the date the MXoN was supposed to take place. If he was healthy and ready to compete, the MXGP class slot would have probably been set for him to rock the #1 plate.
There’s certainly room for debate as to who would take the Open class spot. Calvin Vlaanderen helped the Netherlands take the title as the MX2 rider in 2019 and ended up 16th in MXGP class standings for 2020. But the Open slot on merit alone would have gone to Brian Bogers who had a quietly strong MXGP campaign ending up 10th in points with Marchetti Racing KTM. It’s hard to ignore the strong season by Bogers, who earned himself a spot on the Factory GasGas team for 2021, and he would have been a perfectly suitable choice for the Open Class.
Netherland’s MX2 rider would have been a fairly easy choice unless they wanted to pull an audible and put Vlaanderen back on a 250. Roan Van De Moosdijk finished seventh in the MX2 World Championship in 2020 and even won a moto late in the season at Lommel. Sometimes, politics come into play with team selections but the next Dutchman in MX2 was Bas Vaessen who finished over 300 points behind Van De Moosdijk in the standings. I’d say Roan gets the nod here.
United States of America
The Team USA problem would have been fascinating to dissect in 2020. Aside from the Motocross of Nations being ran on a weekend that an AMA Pro National eventually occupied—which, again, isn’t happening in a normal year, the team selection would have been riveting. The first choice would have been easy. Zach Osborne won the 450 Class in Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and has never been shy about his desire to lead USA to the top of the world again in motocross. When the phone rings, Osborne answers, no questions asked. Put him in the MXGP Class.
The other 450 ride should then go to the man second in Pro Motocross, Adam Cianciarulo. But that means you leave three-time Pro Motocross champion and reigning Monster Energy AMA Supercross champion Eli Tomac off the team entirely. You could put AC on a 250 but Team USA almost never takes a 450 Class guy and moves him back down to the 250s. So, do you take AC over Eli? Or would Kawasaki even allow either rider to participate? They have openly pulled their riders out of selection contention before, including last year, when they decided not to allow Tomac or Cianciarulo to compete. If Kawasaki said no again, then Chase Sexton is the next highest American in the standings but that means you leap over a rider like Justin Barcia who has been there plenty of times and always rides well at this race. Would Honda have let Sexton race and take time away from supercross testing for his rookie season on a new bike? Would the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas team have a new bike ready for Barcia to race?
Fortunately, the MX2 selection would have been fairly straight forward. Jeremy Martin was the highest placed American in the 250 Class by almost 100 points and has been on Team USA before. The only strange caveat there would be his impending switch from GEICO Honda to what eventually became Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha. But as this wild hypothetical is already so outlandish, we’re going to assume he says yes when he receives the call, and Star, which has supported lots of riders in this event before, gets a bike prepped for him right quick.
Oh boy, the French would have been in a very tough spot. This team in recent years always seems to have some political struggle with selections and has resulted in changing their team after they announce it for some odd reasons. Yet, quite often they end up winning the event anyway! They would have been backed into a weird corner this year. Gautier Paulin announced he would retire at the end of 2020 and given that he has captained Team France to a load of success in the 2010s, I cannot imagine a scenario where they don’t pick him to do it again. So, put Paulin in MXGP and let the chaos begin.
The second 450 Class slot then should go to Romain Febvre, who beat Paulin to fourth in the MXGP standings in 2020. Again, fairly easy decision, until you look at what they have going in in the MX2 selection. If you pick Febvre for Open, which in all likelihood they would have, you leave the sole remaining MX2 slot for the two most successful Frenchmen in 2020. Dylan Ferrandis repeated as 250SX West Champion in supercross and then became the first French rider ever to win the 250 Class in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. He is slated to jump to the 450 Class for 2021 and France could have pulled the audible of placing him on a 450 in the Open Class. But let’s say they don’t and put him in MX2 instead.
That means that France then leaves off newly crowned MX2 World Champion Tom Vialle from the team. Unfathomable decision if it were made that way, but remember that last year France left Vialle off the team due to a hat logo conflict with the French Federation and Red Bull. Yes, that really happened.
So, what do you do? If you want both champions, Ferrandis and Vialle, you put Ferrandis on a 450? But then you must kick Febvre, who was the best 450 rider for France in 2020, to the sidelines. So then, boot Paulin off the team in favor of Febvre? That seems impossible for Paulin not to get the swansong he deserves for his home country on home soil no less! I think what likely happens here is Ferrandis is the one without a chair when the music stops, which again, seems unfathomable, but you know he’d be part of the “have to get ready for supercross on a 450” camp like Sexton would be for Team USA. We’ll just have to assume Team France settles the cap logo dispute with Vialle and puts him in MX2
Despite them finishing second last year, I waited to talk about Belgium until now because this team should be really easy to figure out. You have Clement Desalle retiring at year’s end just like Paulin. Put him in MXGP. You have Jeremy Van Horebeek as the clearly second-best Belgian MXGP rider this year. Despite a very late season injury, like Coldenhoff above, Van Horebeek would have been healthy for the initial MXoN date and I feel you have to put him in Open.
The MX2 selection is the easiest of them all as Jago Geerts fought Vialle all season for the MX2 World Championship in 2020. If Belgium had come up with any other team besides this, it likely would have been some very strange outstanding circumstances to do so (Geerts got hurt in the final GP this year, but likely the ‘Nations would have taken place before that date).
The British are coming off three straight third-place finishes in the MXoN and had some good options to potentially create a fourth-straight podium for the nation. It was a quiet year in MXGP for Great Britain without Tommy Searle or Max Anstie, but there’s plenty of reasons why both riders would still make the British team. Searle won the British Motocross Championship while Anstie had a strong campaign in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Sure, you could argue for Dylan Walsh, Shaun Simpson, maybe even returning MXGP Class rider Nathan Watson, but I think you’d have to give the nod on the 450 to Searle and Anstie again.
Put both of them alongside Ben Watson in MX2 and you have a strong team no doubt. Watson ended up fifth in the MX2 standings for 2020 and picked up three races wins and two overall victories down the stretch as well. Conrad Mewse was eighth in MX2 and could be argued for maybe filling an Open Class spot if Searle or Anstie don't race. Though it wasn’t an extremely strong year for Great Britain, they still always bring power in numbers as many riders could fill those spots and take them to a podium.
I’ll end this discussion by talking about two teams that didn’t exactly have the 2019 Motocross of Nations they wanted but could easily have done some damage in 2020. The first of which is Australia, who is building a superpower list of young riders that could legitimately take this nation to the top step one day in the next decade. You have the Lawrence brothers of Hunter and Jett, Mitch Evans, Jed Beaton, Bailey Malkiewicz, Nathan Crawford, and a host of riders competing in Australia like Todd Waters, Luke Clout, and so many more.
Australian Motocross went through a tough season as the series was cancelled and Williams Event Management stepped down as the promotional organization for the summer nationals. So, we don’t know for sure who would have been the best selection between Waters, Clout, Kirk Gibbs, and all the others. In all likelihood, at least one of those guys would have been selected to compete at Ernée. But taking a look at tangible evidence, I’m left wondering if Australia could have pulled a bit of an audible themselves.
Mitch Evans was injured in early October which meant he was still healthy and eligible for that late September MXoN date. Put him in MXGP and let’s jump off the wall for a second to determine Open. On one hand, you have Hunter Lawrence working back to full strength in the USA and competing for wins down the stretch. He has been a cornerstone for Australia’s recent success at this event and could warrant being on the team. But how about they take Jed Beaton and throw him on a Factory Husqvarna 450? Beaton won a race in Mantova, finished fourth in MX2 standings, and was very consistent down the stretch. Why not put him on a 250 then? Because if Australia doesn’t pick Jett Lawrence for that class, there may be riots.
Jett in MX2 would make the most sense because he’s younger than Beaton and has less experience as a pro. Forcing him to an unknown bike or class would be tough for a guy that could probably carry you into serious contention with a great performance in MX2. Leave Beaton on a 250 if you want, but I think you put him in Open instead.
I want to finish by quickly touching on Italy just so we can talk about Antonio Cairoli. The aging Italian had a solid year in MXGP finishing third in the standings and even winning three more Grand Prix to add to his impressive tally of 92. Cairoli is running out of years to claim the illusive 'Nations crown that his country has brought home twice before. Though this year would have been just as tough as any before, there was still the possibility of fielding a fairly competitive supporting cast around Cairoli.
There are several riders you could put alongside Cairoli on a 450 but I’m going with the easy choice of Ivo Monticelli. The Factory GasGas rider finished 15th in the MXGP standings but had days where he showed competitive speed. The Motocross of Nations is unique as you really just need one magical day for it all to come together and Monticelli has shown the potential to do just that.
For the MX2 selection, I’m digging into the EMX250 class where Mattia Guadagnini narrowly missed the championship to Thibault Benistant. Guadagnini won nine races to Benistant’s eight and just couldn’t stay consistent enough with his results to put a championship season together. Could Alberto Forato or Morgan Lesiardo fill that MX2 slot? Sure! But it seems like Guadagnini is showing more promise as an up and comer and might have added some young punch to that Italian team in the crucial MX2 class. At the very least, he would get valuable experience that could pay off while the team still has Cairoli active.
With these team selections above, who could have won the 2020 Motocross of Nations? It would have been a very fun debate to have, and hey, we can still have it hypothetically! If you think there are nations I left off that would have been competitive as well, or perhaps some changes that should be made to the teams listed above, please feel free to let us know below! Racing is the biggest part of the Motocross of Nations, but the bench racing isn't so bad either.