With the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and travel issues, the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations has seen numerous top riders from several countries drop out—mostly those in the FIM Motocross World Championship. Because the MXoN sits about in the middle of their season, top MXGP and MX2 riders such as Tim Gajser (leading MXGP), Romain Febvre (currently second in MXGP), Maxime Renaux (leading MX2), and more have all decided to sit out this year’s event on September 25 and 26. International travel restrictions changed at the beginning of September due to protocols from the European Union (EU), including tightening down on self-isolation upon entering Italy. Then, the official press release came through on September 3 announcing the American Motorcyclist Association would not be participating later this month in Italy. We grabbed editors Jason Thomas, Steve Matthes, and Jason Weigandt to get their reaction to the Team USA news and more on the MXoN.
Jason Thomas: Well, this is a bummer. As soon as I saw Italy reinstate tougher COVID-19 protocols, I was waiting for the inevitable announcement. I wrongly believed that Italy would hold firm and continue with their previous entry requirements but with the surge of the Delta variant, summer coming to a close, and vaccinations becoming more widely administered, clearly authorities felt that moving towards a more vaccine-friendly policy was in order. Knowing the general sentiment towards the COVID-19 vaccine, the policy change felt like the death knell to Team USA. Right or wrong, opinions notwithstanding, there are many riders and team personnel that are not going to get the vaccine, full stop. Attempting to navigate the new protocols without a vaccine becomes problematic if not impossible for a huge group of people all trying to coordinate one effort.
First, everyone would have to quarantine for five days after arriving into Italy. We aren't talking about spending five days in the riviera, soaking up the sunshine and cappuccino. This quarantine would likely be inside a guarded hotel room with meals delivered and zero outside exposure. That five-day quarantine is in addition to the full week needed to arrive, organize a test session at a local track, and set up at the venue itself. Now an eight-to-ten-day trip is pushed to over two weeks.
Further, if anyone actually contracted COVID -19 while in country, they will be forced to isolate for a minimum of 10 more days at a hotel at their own expense. That possibility in and of itself is enough for many to rethink their plans.
This year's Motocross of Nations wasn't going to be at full strength, anyway. With several rounds of MXGP to be held after the MXoN, many of the championship contenders have already declared their intentions to sit out the Mantova event. The risk of injury proved to outweigh the reward of potential MXoN glory. Even those that are not citing injury risk as a factor, the torrid pace of events throughout September and October wasn't helping anyone's excitement level for adding another race into the calendar. With Team USA's latest exit, it will be interesting to gauge the overall atmosphere at this year's event.
As for me, I will be in Italy to experience another Motocross of Nations event. For those that do race, take a bow. I would have likely taken a boat across the Atlantic for an opportunity to race this event. I would have gone to great lengths to race it then and I will navigate today's challenges to attend now, too. I don't blame anyone for their choices, I certainly understand the challenges I laid out above. My choice has also been made and I will be in Mantova, Italy, in late September, taking in the best event that motocross has to offer.
Steve Matthes: I take umbrage with JT's claim that he'll be taking in the "best event motocross has to offer" as this year’s MXoN is looking more and more like the hastily thrown together World Cup of Motocross at Glen Helen a few years back. Most of the top MXGP riders aren't going, Team USA is out, Team Australia is out and so on and so on. The event will have worse depth than a regular MXGP and nowhere near the star power. Hopefully the racing on the track will be good with the Dutch being the favorites and perhaps the UK right there as well.
Unfortunately, WELL past when any of us thought we'd still be dealing with a worldwide pandemic, here we are. With travel restrictions making it real tough on anyone who wants to race this event that's outside the EU, it seems like it's going to a shell of its former self.
As far as Team USA, well I understand the issues with not going. With COVID-19 rather easy to catch, what happens if one of the team members catch it while there? They're stuck there for a while at that point and never mind the five days beforehand if they're not vaccinated which I don't believe any of them are. It's just too much to overcome for the team and yeah, better off to wait. Which sucks but makes sense in my opinion. And hey, it's one more spot for Team Canada!
Jason Weigandt: You might be bummed that Team USA isn’t competing in the Motocross of Nations, but there are only three people who can truly be all-out bummed. One would hope Team USA is back to compete in 2022. By then the world will be back to normal…wait, we said that last year, right? Okay, let’s assume Team USA is back and actually races the 2022 event. You know who may or may not be on next year’s team? Justin Barcia, Chase Sexton, and RJ Hampshire. They were set to be Team USA this year and you never know how next year will play out. Barcia has raced the event plenty of times, but for Sexton and Hampshire this was the first chance, and you never know when another one will come. What if these guys are hurt at this time next year? What if they don’t get picked? That’s why I’d be bumming.
Plus, in many ways this event was lining up well for Team USA’s hopes. Let’s face it, American fans will take a Motocross of Nations win any way they can get it, style points be damned. With many top MXGP riders skipping the event for fear of getting hurt in the middle of the season, and the AMA riders coming in swinging with just one weekend off between the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and the ‘Nations, Team USA’s odds were looking better than usual.
Everything else is understandable. This COVID-19 deal is crazy, so any event based on international travel, or a set schedule was on shaky ground. JT explained the travel/quarantine issues above. In addition, the AMA’s Mike Pelletier told me last weekend there was a fear of spending a massive collection of time, money, and effort only to have a rider test positive for COVID-19 and effectively sink the team’s chances. That was a big risk. The saddest part is the timing. COVID-19 seemed under control a few months ago. It's ramping back up at the worst time for this event.
For Team USA, it's over now. Maybe next year. But will it be the same riders?