It’s finally the end of the outdoor motocross season and that can only mean one thing – It’s Nations time! In case you have been living in a cave with a poor WI–Fi signal, this year’s instalment takes place in the deep sand of Lommel in sunny fun time Belgium. The very best of the world’s riders (along with some of the world’s very average riders for the smaller countries!) will be making their way by planes, trains and automobiles to the crucible of motocross that is the MXoN (Youthstream had to rebrand the event from the Des Nations as the Americans weren’t sure who Des was….)
The first instalment of this prestigious event was held way back in 1947 when Bill Nicholson, Fred Rist and Bob Ray took home the honours for Team GB for the first time. Since then in the 63 annual events the British teams have won the Trophy an impressive sixteen times, but it’s the Americans that have had the competition in virtual lock down since their debut to the competition in 1981, racking up a staggering 22 wins. Their present run of seven wins on the bounce started in Ernee in France 2005 with Carmichael, Windham and Tedesco bringing home the bacon after the USA had been away from the competition for a few years. Since then, the US teams have steam rollered the opposition, winning at Matterley, Budds Creek, Donnington, Franciacorta, Lakewood and St Jean D’Angely.
Watch last years highlights and re-live the memories
Yet the results never tell the whole story, and on many of the above fixtures, the mighty US team have been on the cusp of losing the trophy to other countries, only to snatch victory in the final moto. Last year it looked like France were going to overhaul Dungey, Vilopoto and Baggett , right up to the point that Pourcel’s tyre decided it would prefer to be off the rim. In Franciacorta, Cairoli was about to pull off a dream home win and make himself a God , only to wipe out on the start straight and score a DNF. When it comes to luck, the Americans seem to have more than their fair share.
Yet that is perhaps too simple an assessment. The US team are quite so focussed, tight and coordinated that their wins are a justified return on their efforts. They never give up, they seem to have a far tighter team spirit than many of the other countries – hell they even give each other support and advice (can’t see Paulin and Pourcel doing that!) – and they so don’t want to lose that their determination stands out like veins on a junkies arm.
In many ways the other secret to the US dominance is the infamous ‘Third rider’ problem. For virtually every team outside the States, countries have often had two obvious choices from the AMA or World Championship ranks, but the number three slot leaves them struggling. It’s not that they didn’t have good riders; they just didn’t have three that could hope for a top five position within such a stacked field. Yet the Americans always do if they hadn’t picked Dungey, Baggett and Barcia, they could still find three, four maybe ten top flight riders that could take the fight to the rest of the world. Alessi, Tomac, Stewart, Tickle, Weimer – hell even Kevin Windham is still strong enough to make the grade.
Just in case you don’t know the scoring – each rider completes in two motos, scoring points as to their finishing place – 1 for first etc. Of the six scores accrued by each three man team, the best five results are counted, with the worst score discarded. In simple terms, the lowest team score wins the Chamberlain Trophy, but with two scores coming in the final moto, you won’t know who’s going to win until the chequered flag in the MX1 and MX3 race.
So what’s the competition like this year? Well strangely this year, quite a few teams are able to put out three top class riders that might well have the US team bang to rights. As said the Americans enter as favourites with a strong team certain to fight hard. We’ve all seen Dungey and Baggett at a Nations, but this is the first for Justin Barcia, and he is sure to impress his team mates and Team Boss Roger ‘The Man’ DeCoster. As one of the most exciting riders in the AMA series, Barcia will be an absolute joy to watch on the Belgian sand. People have said that the Americans can’t ride European sand circuits – by Sunday we will know whether this is really true…..
The French team now consists of Paulin, Boog and Musqin and on their day, this is a winning team. Yet whilst Paulin is super consistent, clocking up a third place in his rookie MX1 year, Boog has been less impressive and Musquin has been similarly variable in the outdoor nationals. The French so nearly won last year and with all three relatively strong in the sand, they have to be in a position to score well.
Belgium were perhaps the team most likely to provide the best challenge to the US team in the sand of Lommel, with a powerful line up of Desalle, DeDycker and Van Horebeek. Ken has been a revelation this year on the KTM and is masterful in sand, Van Horebeek was the only one to avoid Herlings onslaught at Lierop and rode well there just two weeks ago and Desalle is good for a strong result on any day of the week. A Belgian home win would have sent the crowd absolutely ballistic, but with Desalle still nursing an injury and rumours that Van Horebeek may also be injured, their challenge may prove difficult.
Germany have a good chance with Roczen and Nagl up front, and if Marcus Schiffer clocks in a low scoring result, they could propel themselves towards the podium. Herlings might end up being the star of this event as he is likely to destroy every other rider on the track, but with De Reuver and Coldenhoff as wing men to his efforts, the Netherland will be hard pushed to be near a podium slot. De Reuver may have been the sand master in his day and could still pull out a good result, but on the evidence of Lierop, we’re not so sure. As with Herlings, Cairoli would hope to do well at what is nearly his home track, but a) his luck at the Nations is lousy and b) Guarneri and Lupino will be struggling to run the pace of the big boys. That said it would be nice to see Antonio show the Americans how good he really is!
But what of the Great British Team? Well although we’re bound to say this, our boys have a very strong chance of success this year. We’ve managed to lurk just below the podium for too many years, but 2012 could be the time to break that cycle. With Tommy a strong prospect on the 450, Jake being super consistent and fast on the MX2 machine especially in sand, we have two good results in prospect. As for our third man, Neil Prince has taken a bold decision to gamble on the mercurial talent of Anstie rather than the dependability of Simpson. And he may be just right, as armed with Bobryshev’s CRF450 and a sackful of confidence after his stunning result in Lierop, Max has all the potential to get the job done.
OK so it’s normally prediction time now, but with so many variables at the Nations, it’s just too tight to call. The Americans will be vulnerable on this circuit with the top places are likely to be taken by the European riders, and this will weaken their hold on the top. Barcia could prove the weak link if the pressure of the occasion makes the already wild rider try too hard in the Belgian sand. If that happens, the unthinkable would come true and the Americans would end their winning streak. You’d have to be there if that happens…….
If you are not going to Belgium for the biggest party of the year, get the beers in and spend the whole weekend watching the action on Moto.