Rubby hands, rubby hands! Here we go heeeere weeee goooo!!! Time to lay down any fears of the circuit or any negativity about the venue – this is the good stuff, the Nations always delivers exciting racing and this year will be no different. Assen as a track is a deep sandy beast, as a venue it will have a grandstand full of bellowing Dutchmen dying to see their team win! So let’s ‘ave it!
I’ve been to the Nations 4 times in the last 7 years – at Lommel, Teutchenthal, Ernee, and Matterley. I just love this event and the fervour of it all. Just brilliant Motocross. I’ll go through my predicted top five teams, my individual winner predictions, and give you a few select racers to look out for. I’m British, and European, so that’s my perspective. Feel free to comment, blast, dig at what I say, all debate is welcome.
1st Place – The Netherlands:
#4 – Herlings / #5 – Vlaanderen / #6 – Coldenhoff
I just can’t see past a home win. The home team and their fans will be happy with nothing shy of a first ever win for their countrymen in the Motocross des/of Nations. Think on that for a second. They have been in this event from the very beginning, lining up in 1947 alongside Belgium and Great Britain, who dominated for much of the early years of the event. No win, ever, for the Dutch, even on the treacherous sand which they grow up on. They came very close in 1991, during the height of America’s most dominant period, only to be denied by the monster that was Jeff Stanton on a CR500. On a home track, with typical Dutch sand, they go in as red-hot favourites with all three riders having delivered moto wins at the tail end of the MXGP season.
Herlings in particular is at his most dangerous. Getting stronger when most of the others are tired at the end of the season, he has a point to prove after losing the title he won at Assen 12 months ago due to a string of injuries. He wants this trophy and will be willing to dig deep into quite possibly the deepest well of talent any rider has access to. That said, I have a different individual winner to pick… later!
Coldenhoff has delivered this year with a string of GP and moto wins to claim a deserved bronze medal in MXGP as KTM’s top man in the series. He’ll be determined to not let the team down. Vlaanderen unintentionally did just that last year when his eye injury undoubtably cost Team NL the win at Red Bud. He won a moto in Sweden and will be there with probably just the one good moto required.
2nd Place – The USA:
#13 – Anderson / #14 – Cooper / #15 – Osborne
Team Manager Roger DeCoster was heard to say last year that his team will need to practise for weeks in the sand “just to not look silly”. And they have been doing the work necessary. While the MXGP boys were in Turkey and China making like pinballs in car parks, the stars and bars have been thrashing through the sandy circuits of Holland and Belgium. They’ve been bonding, and building, into a decent little team that may well do a France with six solid results. They have the mentality too.
Osborne is their star man for me. Few are more determined when the chips are down, and he was the standout American at Matterley Basin without a doubt. Two podiums for him, with Anderson probably backing him up. They are both Bakersville graduates, physically trained by the best, which will count at Assen. Cooper is young and has a point to prove as well. They’ll be the surprise package. The Nations has been better without their domination, but they all have staying power more than all three who represented Uncle Sam last year.
3rd Place – Belgium:
#16 – Van Horebeek / #17 – Geerts / #18 – Strijbos
Third and beyond are wide open, and don’t get me wrong I would love for Team GB to retain numbers 7-9 for the third straight year. However, no-one is talking about the team in yellow that fields two of the most solid old pros in World Motocross, and probably the most solid young pro as well. They are missing Clement Desalle but sand is not alien for them, and there will be plenty of local support as well. Van Horebeek actually improved his world ranking after losing his factory Yamaha berth to go onto a private Honda, and he loves this event too, as I saw personally with his passionate flag-waving following their win at Teutchenthal 6 years ago. Great to see. Strijbos will just keep plugging away, which is vital in the crowded Nations mid-pack and even one good result should be enough from him. Geerts took a moto from Prado this year and is a contender for MX2 individual honours. He just needs to whisper to the gate man and try to buy a start.
4th Place – Great Britain
#7 – Watson / #8 – Sterry / #9 – Simpson
Slight patriotic bias – this is allowed, right? Damn it, with the original healthy team we could have taken 2nd, no problem, however we probably have our second and third best sand riders out there in Simpson and Sterry – and Nathan Watson is a totally inspired choice for the MX1 class! For those who don’t know the Enduro half of the amazing Watson brothers, he won the Le Touquet Beach Race at the start of the year, took a WESS win at Hawkstone Park, and loves the soft stuff. Hell, an Enduro rider worked for France two years ago, why not for Team GB?!
Sterry will be out for the individual MX2 win and could well take it with decent starts. He loves the sand as well and is definitely strong enough to dig through the midfield crowd for a solid result. Simpson is another old pro who could well grind out some solid results with possibly his last chance to wear the Nations’ colours. If they get on the podium I will pop a cork. Go the Brits!
5th Place – France
#1 – Paulin / #2 – Renaux / #3 – Tixier
Did I forget the reigning champs?! The team with five-in-a-row, going for six?! Well, this year the bubble bursts. Surely! They have lived a charmed life in this event since Latvia 2014, and being at Ernee in 2015 was one of the best experiences of my life (first foreign trip with my future wife, which was definitely a factor!) with the French passion for that win being incredible to witness. From Kawasaki to Honda to Husqvarna, Paulin has steered the ship and been there for the entire reign, but I say this is his last time with the #1 plate. Without Febvre, they still could have competed. Without Vialle, and part of me just wants to see the French Federation pay for this stupid decision surrounding sponsors’ logos (make the French cockerel smaller to accommodate the Red Bull? Surely you would!), they simply don’t have the strength in depth. Tixier is mid-pack in sand at best, and Renaux is one for the future but I can’t see him shining through this field. Even Paulin is past his best and has had a long hard season, suffering a demoralising loss of his top three MXGP status at the last round. As much as I’ve enjoyed this streak, I think they just don’t have the quality to pull it off this time. But you never know!
MX1 – I’m calling it here – PRADO (#19) takes both motos!! This boy is the REAL deal, smooth as silk, Trials-level bike control, superfast off the line, fit as a flea. First ride on the big bike, and seeing the training videos makes me a believer. He might even push Herlings into a mistake and make the Dutchman think about the team deal. It will make for a very interesting winter. He’s the man. You heard it here first.
MX2 – Riding a gloriously high #107, I’m calling the Dane Thomas Kjer Olsen to take the MX2 win. He’s long and lanky and great in sand. He might not be great off the gate but the Nations won’t punish that too heavily, and he will want to prove a point. Cooper, Geerts, and Sterry will all be in the mix, but I think the MX2 world #2 will take it.
Open – A well-named class, for it is wide open! Although this will be where the home team will take their points with Coldenhoff being the winner here. Osborne in particular, and maybe #99 Pauls Jonass, in his first Nations ride for a long time, will put a challenge to him, but GC will shadow Herlings in the last race, and likely take the middle moto if he starts as well as he has recently.
The Nations has always got those riders who aren’t in the team picture, but keen to show individual prowess in the World’s biggest race. These include Prado and Jonass, as mentioned above, and these 5 or 6 randoms:
#22 – Tanel Leok – Wherever you’re from, cheer for this old warhorse in his NINETEENTH straight Nations ride for Team Estonia! He is quite simply always there! Go Tanel!!
#55 – Jeremy Seewer – Devastatingly, Switzerland lost Arnaud Tonus to hand injury at the final MXGP round, otherwise I would have called the Swiss for a podium. As World number 2, Seewer is strong and consistent, and with one of the best factory bikes on the track will surely be around.
#91 – Tim Gajser – Three-time World Champion baby! He’s been there when others haven’t to mop up world titles, but he is a fantastic rider and if he shows the determination from the MXGP season before he clinched the crown, he could well make a nuisance of himself at the very top.
#103 – Arminas Jasikonis – The tallest rider on the grid, factory Husky man Jasikonis will be easy to spot and is wild in the sand. One blistering ride is not beyond him if his fitness holds out.
#88 & #90 – Ivo Monticelli & Alessandro Lupino – Team Italy will truly miss Cairoli, the biggest major MXGP name missing from this year’s Nations, so it will be great if the boys in Azzurro Blue could go against the grain and make their presence felt in the soft stuff. Both can get out of the gate well on good machinery and can be a headache to get past. Up the Azzurri!
So buckle up and enjoy this event. My predictions may be way off, who knows?! Forget the negativity about the circuit and venue, the crowd will make the atmosphere brilliant and the Nations hardly ever makes for a poor race. Find it online, pay the small fee, buy an airhorn, take the blade off your chainsaw and blast away! May the best team in red, white & blue win!