Ray Mayes – Namur Calendar 2021

Namur is, as the cover of this cracking new calendar proclaims, The Monaco of Motocross.  The crazy Belgian venue that was running before the World Motocross Championship was born really does earn that comparison.  An adaptation of public-access roads and pathways in a major local tourist area, its layout is as unique as the Monte Carlo F1 circuit, and the fact that it would never have been conceived in the modern era is also part of the same charm that Monaco possesses.  The major difference of course is that Namur is no longer an active part of the World Championship, and while some parties are happy about that, its loss has taken away part of the soul of the sport at the highest level.

Thankfully, we do have memories, videos, and pictures like the 46 presented here in a gloriously random calendar from esteemed MX photographer Ray Mayes.  There are still a few left if you contact Ray via social media, and I would recommend it to any old school motocross fan.

There is one thing lacking, however, and that is any sort of captions detailing who we are seeing and when.  So with that in mind I thought I might fill in those blanks and stick this guide to the calendar on my blog page and share it about for anyone interested.  I hope you are, and I hope it helps!

Cover

Top: 1990 – The Stade de Jeux in all its glory, with Dave Thorpe chasing down Kees Van Der Ven across the Esplanade.  Thorpe won this opening moto on the #1 Kawasaki but a crash by the Citadel wall put him out of race two, still finishing 5th overall. Van Der Ven put his KTM on the podium with two 3rd places for 3rd overall, his best GP of the year.

Bottom Left: Brits & Belgians – friendly enemies through the years at Namur, fans that were always good-natured but passionate in their support. At a guess I’d say this is the 2001 Nations.

Bottom middle: 2000 – The first 250 GP (with World Championship status) at the Citadel. Mickael Maschio flicks his factory Kawasaki under the iron bridge on his way to 10th overall.

Bottom right: The classic cable-car ride to take you from the town to the ancient monument.

January

1991 – A packed hillside on the first woodland section of the circuit after the Stadium cheers home hero Jacky Martens (KTM) to his first of two wins at Namur. His next one would be on a four-stroke.

February

Top left: 2001 – Belgian icon Stefan Everts (Yamaha) takes the double win for his homeland at the Motocross des Nations. With Ramon & Smets not quite so fortunate the home team were 2nd to first-time winners France.

Bottom left: 1989 – All-out war between factory Honda men Eric Geboers & Dave Thorpe, here looking ready to pounce on the Belgian. Despite battling with a knee injury as well as his team-mate, Thorpey won the duel in both motos to take overall victory, although they were both behind their other team-mate Jeff Leisk in moto one. Geboers went 3-2 on the day and would lose his #1 plate to DT a week later in Luxembourg.

Right: 1991 – Kees Van Der Ven, for years a KTM man but now on a Honda, earned a couple of Namur podiums in his career. With the cool Dr Pepper gear in ’91 a solitary 6th in moto two saw him 9th overall, but still with great style.

March

Billy Liles month!  Namur doesn’t hold great memories for the American, his title hopes ending there in 1992 as he cut his finger to the bone on the cobblestone road after the Chalet. The Bottom right shot is from his best GP there, 4th behind the HRC boys in 1989 with a 4-3 card. The other three are from 1991 when he was 8th overall with a 5th & a DNF.

April

Dave Thorpe month! Twice a GP winner at the Citadel, he beat home hero Andre Malherbe in 1985, and then of course toppled Geboers in 1989, as shown Top left.  In 1990 he took his final race win there in moto one as shown Bottom left. Somewhere in the crowd to the right of this shot, my 12-year-old self is losing his mind at the Namur experience!  In 1991, Right, he was a disappointing 10th overall at the GP between his final two career victories. Still looking awesome on the big Kawasaki.

May

Top left: 1991 – Italian Walter Bartolini, the original four-stroke revivalist, blasts his yellow Husaberg past Le Chalet du Monument. He was 14th overall with a second race 9th his only score.

Bottom left: 2001 – The comeback king! Kaptain Kurt Nicoll, 36 years old and 4 years out of retirement, helps Team GB to 4th overall in the Motocross des Nations with 7th in the Open class aboard a 4-stroke KTM. He won at Namur in 1992 when the KTM was a 500cc two-stroke in white & mint green.

Right: 1991 – Mervyn Anstie urges his black ES Honda past the Chalet on a pointless day for the Brit. His best Namur result was 5th overall in 1990.

June

Top left: 1991 – Paul Malin leads Jacky Martens in front of the Stade du Jeux. The future MXGP commentator had a sensational two GPs at Namur for Kawasaki. He didn’t finish lower than 4th across the four motos and spent serious time up front. This time he was 3rd overall with 2-3 scores behind Martens & Jobe.

Bottom left: 1990 – It’s early in moto two with all to play for! #8 Kees Van Der Ven leads KTM team-mate, #5 Jacky Martens. The Dutchman was 3rd overall, the Belgian 8th. Overall winner, #3 Eric Geboers (Honda) would pass them all and clinch his 5th world crown with the second moto win. He then shocked his home crowd by retiring on Belgian TV immediately after the race! #1 Dave Thorpe would collide with Martens and not finish, unable to add to his first moto win but still 5th overall.

Right: 1991 – Jeremy Whatley was new to the 500 class, and therefore a Namur virgin!  The Action Workshop Kawasaki man was closing in on a British title and didn’t push it at the GP, finishing 18th overall.

July

Left: 1991 – Joel Smets #46 leads Ronny Weustenraed #85 and, to the edge of shot, #14 Georges Jobe. Jobe would win moto two for second overall, Weustenraed only took 17th.  Future legend Smets was still working a day job and failed to qualify the previous year. In an early show of his mettle he earned 5th overall through two 7th-place finishes, his best GP to date. He went on to win there in 2000.

Middle: 1991 – A flying Spud! Brit Brian Wheeler takes his KTM to a points-scoring ride for 19th overall.

Right: 1990 – In his last GP at a track he loved, Rob Andrews takes his Honda to 16th overall. Mervyn Anstie is behind him here, as he finished in the first moto. Merv would score in moto two to grab 9th overall.

August

Top left: 2004 – Namur embraces another legend. It’s the first branded MX2 GP held at Namur and 18-year-old Yamaha pilot Antonio Cairoli takes his first ever GP win with a 2-4 card. The #222 would add many more, including the 2006 MX2 round at Namur with a far more typical double moto win.

Bottom left: 2000 – Adopted Brit Paul Cooper fires the factory Husqvarna to 6th overall as the bark of 250cc two-strokes makes its World Championship debut at Namur.

Right: 2000 –Radical German Pit Beirer gets the Winfield Kawasaki sideways on his way to 3rd overall.

September

Left: 1991 – “Awesome” Brit Jared Smith laces the Honda through the woods on a day when he wouldn’t trouble the scorers.

Top right: 1990 – In a shot taken just before the one on the front cover, Van Der Ven and Thorpe get airborne in front of a huge crowd on the Esplanade.

Middle right: 1991 – Georges Jobe has the crowd behind him on his way to 2nd overall and eventually his 4th world crown.

Bottom right: 2001 – On his only visit to the Citadel, future AMA legend Chad Reed impressed on the factory Kawasaki with 2nd to eventual champ Mickael Pichon in the single 250cc moto.

October – Lost Legends

Left: 1991 – 5-time World Champion Georges Jobe took a double moto win at the Citadel in 1986. Five years later he took his private Honda to a 3-1 card, earning him 2nd overall and that nice trophy.

Middle: 1990 – Also a 5-time World Champion, the first to win titles in all three classes, Eric Geboers waited until his final Namur appearance to win there, and he took the title at the same time. Chased across the line by Kurt Nicoll, “The Kid” then jumped into a helicopter to appear on Belgian TV and announce his retirement. Everybody was stunned.

Right: 1991 – Dirk Geukens was twice 3rd in the world and one of the hardest workers in the paddock. This particular visit to Namur wasn’t great for him with a 12th overall, a disappointment after finishing 6th in 1990.

NOTE: I did initially think “Where’s Carlqvist?!” when I first saw this page. The mighty Swede won at Namur in 1981, 1983, and most famously of all, 1988.  The legendary stop for a beer at Le Chalet Du Monument is one of the sport’s all-time greatest moments and a brilliant sign-off for one of the most colourful careers in Motocross. Of course, Mr Mayes wasn’t there with his camera at the time, so we have no pics of him here. I just wanted to get him mentioned.

November

Top left: 1990 – 18-year-old Paul Malin launches his Kawasaki over the tabletop on the day when he truly made his mark on the world stage. Wearing the seriously cool Dainese Team Green kit, he led the early part of the race and kept in touch with Thorpey to take 2nd in the first moto. A second moto 4th meant that he was joint 2nd overall, a point behind winner Geboers. Sadly the tiebreak knocked him off the podium, but a lot more people were now watching him.

Bottom left & middle: 1991 – Malin repeated his excellent showing the following year, with an excellent 2-3 putting him on the podium this time.

Top right: 1991 – Georges Jobe blasts past the café on his way to 2nd overall. A mechanical failure the following year nearly cost him his fifth world title.

Bottom right: 1991 – Carlo Hulsen on the tarmac, a much harder service than he preferred.  The Dutch sand specialist failed to get his Honda into the points on this occasion, but for style the black Scott facemask earns him top marks.  He improved in 1992 to take a top 6 moto finish.

December

Top: 1989 –The calm before the storm. Thorpey’s poker face is impeccable as he hides his knee injury from a watchful Geboers. The HRC men would finish 1-2-3 for the day in the order Thorpe, Leisk, Geboers. #11 Dirk Geukens took his private Honda to 9th overall with 15-6 motos.

Bottom left: 2001 – French reigning champ Fred Bolley launches the Pamo Honda towards the shortened cobblestone straight. It was a poor race for the two-time champ as he finished only 7th in the single moto format.

Bottom right: 2000 – The sound of modern 250cc two-strokes echoed through the woods of Namur for their first Grand Prix in over 40 years as they joined the 500s for a 4-moto feast to kick off the new millennium. Ulsterman Gordon Crockard (#13 ) fights #2 Pit Beirer past the Chalet, sadly with imported dirt laid onto the road.  The Honda man was 2nd overall, the German 3rd. His Kawasaki team-mate Mickael Maschio is just coming into shot on his way to 10th overall. French Yamaha star Yves Demaria took a double moto win in the 250s, but the crowd were more enthused by Joel Smets doing likewise in the 500s.

Congratulations have to go to Ray for a brilliant calendar, full of awesome shots around the greatest Motocross track ever seen. A fantastic homage to an amazing place.

Stormin’ Hawkstone!

A lot gets said by the older generation about how “the youth of today” quite simply aren’t as tough as they were “back in the day”. It made me roll my eyes when I was 21 on a two-stroke 250cc Honda, and it still does now that I’m twice that age and seeing the best in the world busting their guts out on four-strokes while all the old boys reminisce about “the good old days”, “when men were men”, on “real men’s bikes”.

Anyone who went to the 2020 Ashbrook Hazport Tysers Hawkstone International will hopefully be able to argue against that opinion as the best riders of so-called Generation Z slogged through quite incredible conditions that made just completing a lap as tough as it gets. Quite brilliant displays from the boys in orange in particular as Liam Everts in EMX125, Tom Vialle in MX2, and Jeffrey Herlings took the overall victories. They were ably backed up by Shaun Simpson, Glenn Coldenhoff and Rene Hofer who all shone through the sludge as Storm Ciara lashed the Shropshire circuit and left it in the worst condition many had ever seen.

The EMX125s got underway before the weather really took hold, and in fact Everts Junior recorded the fastest race lap of the whole day in their opening moto. It wasn’t enough for the win though as British hope Joel Rizzi kept the young prodigy at bay to win the opening moto by over two seconds. South African Camden McLellan, fastest in qualifying, came in a little further back in third. It’s going to be fascinating to see where these three lads are in five years’ time.

The heavens then truly opened as the MX2 boys lined up, and no-one envied them sat on the line with a monsoon firing down on their thin new ventilated race kit. Then, utter havoc was caused by a false start, with half the gate staying up, and most of the field doing a whole tortuous lap while Vialle and a handful of others sat nice and clean on the line. Without a doubt those who had done a lap needed fresh kit, goggles in particular. So after a brief delay, they charged away again. Loose branches were being blown onto the track at places, and one tight left-hander in particular turned into quicksand, robbing Mikkel Haarup of a good position early on, although he did charge back to third.

KTM new boy Rene Hofer led for virtually the entire race before Dutch Nations standby Roan van de Moosdijk pushed through on the penultimate lap, coming back himself from a small off as the swamp-like conditions caught out many of the best. This is where the world of Motocross was shown that its future is bright. Dutch whizzkid Kay De Wulf, not even 15 and a half years old yet, dug in brilliantly for fourth place. 17 year-old Frenchman Thibault Benistant nabbed eighth from an awful start, his last lap incredibly his fastest. Aussie Jed Beaton came through from a first lap off to notch an impressive 7th.

The only slight depression about the future has to be felt by the British fans. 38 year-old Brad Anderson was top Brit in race 1 aboard his 250 two-stroke KTM, finishing 12th. Although hot on his heels after an early fall and goggle change was Josh Gilbert, mixing it well in advance of his first year of GP competition.

British fans had a lot more to cheer in the opening MX1 race! A decent start, then a nifty move up the inside of Quicksand Corner saw Shaun Simpson clear off out front, never to be headed again as he once more showed his mastery in the trickiest possible conditions. If I was Shaun I’d be sneaking out before MXGPs to water the entire track non-stop the night before the races. He was simply immaculate and could afford to back off in the last few laps and see it home.

Race 1 was far from a procession though, as Quicksand Corner claimed several victims in the opening lap, Micha Boy De Waal splashing to a halt from his early lead and taking Jake Nicholls with him. Nicholls’ team-mate Tommy Searle didn’t last a lap, whilst fellow Brits Adam Sterry and Jake Millward also sank their bikes past the sump guards.

Most impressive of all though was star man Jeffrey Herlings. Bog last after a first corner pile-up, the incomparable Dutchman poured through the pack, his lap charts reading 20th-14th-11th-8th-6th-5th before then winding in Thomas Covington and Harri Kullas to hit third just before the last lap flag. Astonishingly in that lap and a bit he pulled over TWENTY-SIX seconds away from Kullas, drawing the crowd to get behind him as fingers pointed and jaws dropped when it became truly possible for him to nab second from Glenn Coldenhoff. The Hoff had looked a danger to Simpson until a small spill coming out of the bombhole at about half distance, but still looked to have plenty in hand. Nearly level out of the bombhole on the last lap, Glenn just held out by a second and a half.

Kullas was a still solid 4th, ahead of GP winners Thomas Covington and Julien Lieber. Mel Pocock, evergreen Kevin Strijbos in his retro Suzuki colours, Benoit Paturel and well happy Brit Dan Thornhill rounded out the top ten.

The EMX 125 boys had a very tough second race, with two of them stuck in Quicksand Corner from the second lap onwards, but it was young Everts, bringing back memories of his Dad at Foxhill ’98, who splashed around everyone with his feet on the pegs (mostly!) and winning by over 48 seconds. It was seriously heavy going for 125 two-strokes, but the lads again did their generation proud by plugging away for the duration. Rizzi was second this time ahead of Dutchman Scott Smulders, who nabbed a spot on the overall podium for good measure.

MX2 was this time a lot more static, the top four holding station throughout, with impossibly skinny Tom Vialle swiping Josh Gilbert’s nose off into the first corner and never being threatened from there. Jed Beaton wasn’t having a repeat of race one and quickly got through to second, with Dane Haarup making the podium if only to tell us all how to pronounce his name. Gilbert enjoyed a far better showing with a solid fourth. In order of finishing Benistant, Hofer, de Wolf, and Estonian Jorgen Matthius-Talviku again flew the flag for the younger generation. Old dog Anderson was 9th ahead of German Richard Sikyna, and young Brit Sam Nunn was an impressive 11th.

With the Superfinal cancelled, the MX1 stars faced the final slog with the track deeper than ever in places, but at least the rain was abating somewhat. This time out Herlings took no chances, grabbing the holeshot and checking out, although Coldenhoff kept him honest and got within a couple of seconds at one point.

He had to be pushing it as Shaun Simpson was hungry for the overall win which second would have given him. After a tricky start, the Scot ultimately made a mistake and had to settle for losing the tiebreak with The Bullet, still a fine showing on his debut for his own team. As he said on the podium he would have grabbed that happily at the start of the day. Kullas grabbed sixth for fourth overall, as Belgians Brent van Doninck and Lieber rounded out the race two top five. Old dogs Bobryshev in 7th and Strijbos in 9th mixed it with MX1 newbies De Waal in 8th and Anton Gole in 10th.

Overall the Hawkstone International, always one for the hardcore fans, rewarded those that were doubly hardcore enough to brave the storm with a cracking day of entertainment. It frustrates this writer that the efforts of this generation go largely unappreciated in comparison to the crowds that flock to the more retrospective events held in this country. Most of the modern day warriors showed what they were made of in the atrocious mess, hardly suited to the four-stroke weapons of today and enough to test any of the historical heroes that have pounded the Shropshire sands. The boys done themselves proud and I for one cannot wait for the real show to kick off at Matterley on the 1st of March. Bring it on!

 

THE WORLD’S BEST START THE 20s IN THE UK!

The month preceding the start of a race season is always a buzzing time for fans. British bike fans though might not feel too hyped-up about live action in the first quarter of 2020, with the BSB series only beginning in the middle of April, and it will be early July until World Superbikes hits Donington Park for its third round.

So! If you don’t want to wait until then for some world class two-wheeled action, treat yourself to seeing the best in the world on bikes with knobbly tyres on. There are two massive upcoming Motocross events hitting the UK within three weeks of each other, starting the decade with a bang!

These days the world’s best on dirt are genuinely to be found in the World Championships. Sounds like a silly statement but in Motocross the Atlantic divide has been massive, and the American National series definitely had the faster riders and richer rewards from around the early 80s until the 2010s. However, the Americans haven’t won the annual Motocross of Nations team contest since 2011, and the rubber stamp on Euro superiority was delivered emphatically in the 2018 event held in deepest Michigan, where America’s best were a lowly fifth with their very best line-up in their back yard. It’s a great time to be a Motocross fan this side of the pond, and there is a Brit in real contention as well!

Hawkstone Park in Shropshire hosts its annual pre-season International on the 9th of February, where most of the world’s best shake off the winter cobwebs on a circuit that will really test them. THEN the 1st of March sees the World MXGP Championships begin in the UK for the first time in the modern era, at the brilliant natural amphitheatre of Matterley Basin near Winchester. It’s a mouth-watering prospect with both events offering totally contrasting challenges for the very best in the world, and a total treat for fans of live two-wheeled action.

The traditional old-school sand grinder of Hawkstone Park near Shrewsbury has been at the heart of the sport for generations, with both your humble scribe and his father able to show you scars earnt from the place! It is a classic venue, sandy and rough with the ability to catch out anyone who takes it on. Many of the very best use it as a proper shakedown, a true test of new machinery and a measure of how the hard winter’s training has paid off. And with consistently large crowds it is clear that British fans love seeing the new bikes, the new gear, and new contenders hit the track for the first time each year. You can get close and see the whites of the riders’ eyes, or stand in a more central location and follow most of the race from several locations. If you like a challenge, a climb to the top of the big hill will reward you with an amazing close-quarters viewing spot, as the bikes flash past at top speed!

This year’s star attraction is like a certain Danish beer – Probably the Best in the world, Dutchman Jeffrey Herlings on Probably the Best bike in the world, the factory Team Red Bull KTM. He is the off-road Marquez, simply incredible at full flight, doing things that most others don’t think of. The 4-time world champion, aptly known as “The Bullet”, is a particular master of the deep and soft going that Hawkstone offers, and to those in the know watching him alone is worth the admission.

Except he won’t be alone! Fellow Dutch sand master, world number 3 Glenn Coldenhoff, will debut the intriguing new Factory Standing Construct GasGas machine, and the winner of multiple MXGPs last year should keep Herlings honest at Hawkstone as he has in the past. He’s a great starter, and with Herlings being a great chaser it should make for some thrilling racing. His team-mate Ivo Monticelli from Italy will also be right up there as he loves a fast getaway.

Of course, the Brits will be looking to defend their home soil, with Welshman Adam Sterry looking to impress on his debut in the premier 450cc class. With similar KTM machinery to Herlings, he too can get off the gate well and get the crowd cheering, and his race win on a 250 last year shows he loves Hawkstone. Scotsman Shaun Simpson is also a sand master and will certainly be hunting for the podium. And former world number 2 Tommy Searle will surely be a force on his Buildbase Honda debut, especially with team boss, 3-time World Champion and Hawkstone legend Dave Thorpe watching intently.

International flavour is deep with GP winners Jordi Tixier from France, Evgeny Bobryshev from Russia, Thomas Covington from the USA, Calvin Vlaanderen for the Netherlands, and Kevin Strijbos from Belgium all bidding to prove their worth in Shropshire.

The 250cc MX2 class races are even more heavily stacked, with the top five favourites for the world title making the journey to thrash their smaller engines through the tough sandy going. Almost certainly the MX2 world crown will sit on the head of one of these talented lads at the end of the year, and British fans will be hoping that Monster Energy Yamaha’s Ben Watson will be wearing it home to Blighty. His four main challengers consist of lanky Dane Thomas Kjer Olsen on the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna, French flyweight Tom Vialle on the Red Bull KTM, tough young Belgian Jago Geerts on the other Monster Yamaha, and finally Olsen’s team-mate Jed Beaton, bringing some thunder from Down Under in his third year on the world stage. They will all be looking to set the early pace and get in their rivals’ heads before the points start getting counted on the 1st of March.

Exiting new young factory riders Kay de Wolf and Rene Hofer will be snapping at their heels keen to make their mark, and a stack of hungry young Brits will take them on, led by South West hotshot Josh Gilbert who moves up to the GP circus for the first time this year and will be keen to get amongst them!

The unique format of Hawkstone also sees not only two half-hour races for each class, but also two Youth races from the best under 16s in the UK. The day is rounded out by the brilliant Superfinal, with the best from each class racing together in a thrilling final dash for cash.

From historic Hawkstone the action then moves to the wide-open jump infested modern spectacle of Matterley Basin in Hampshire for the start of the World MXGP championship series. Round 1 of a GP series hasn’t been held in the UK since Hawkstone itself hosted the 1994 500cc opener (over a quarter of a century ago!). And now we get to see a full field of fully healthy athletes ready to really put everything on the line.

Defending World Champion Tim Gajser from Slovenia, on the full Factory Honda, is a spectacular rider and his race win at Matterley last year came after a massive crash in the opening race. He continued at full pace with twisted handlebars and a flapping front number plate, it didn’t hold him back! This will be the first year that both he and 2018 champion Herlings, with 7 titles between them, are able to start the season completely healthy and ready to go for the MXGP title. Mouth-watering stuff.

Even their combined total falls short of that achieved by Italian legend Toni Cairoli, however. The fan favourite wearing #222 will be looking to prove, like a certain Italian wearing #46 in MotoGP, that age (at 35, aiming to be the oldest ever MX World Champ) is just a number and that he can still show the kids a thing or two. He won this GP last year and has won more in the UK than anybody in history.

To complete the top contenders, and making up the quartet who have taken every world title since 2008, we will see French 2015 World Champ Romain Febvre make his MXGP debut on the big green Monster Energy Kawasaki. He will be very keen to get his loud French followers behind him for a solid start to the campaign. A total of 14 factory bikes and over 20 GP winners are in a truly stacked field – simply the best!

After their Hawkstone battle the 250cc boys of the MX2 division have their Grand Prix on the same day at Matterley, and naturally will be fighting hard to establish themselves at the top of a class that should be wide open. It is genuinely tough to pick a winner, and in Ben Watson we can say that there is truly a chance of a first British 250cc World Champion since 1981.

Matterley Basin is in a natural bowl with all-round views of the circuit, and the fans give it a great atmosphere. With it being the season opener as well it will doubtlessly attract a horde of mad travelling European fans all getting behind their favourite riders. Prepare for not just airhorns, but also bladeless chainsaw engines and smoke flares to surround the track and create a carnival atmosphere. It’s gonna be a corker.

See you trackside!

Hawkstone Park – 9th February, SY4 4NA – http://www.hawkstoneinternationalmx.com

Matterley Basin – 29th Feb (Qualifying & Support races) & 1st March (2 x MX2 & 2 x MXGP races). Postcode SO21 1HW – http://www.britmxgrandprix.com

The Best Motocross Riders in the World – The Top Ten

Vlaanderen

Until perhaps the end of 2012, you could hear the phrase – “here are The Best Riders in the World” – from a commentator for an AMA National and, as a European, begrudgingly say, yeah, OK, maybe you do apart from a couple. A Sicilian and a young Dutchman could take on anybody back then but apart from that, with Villopoto, Dungey, Stewart still in action, Chad Reed not really old quite yet, and a strong top ten, the AMAs could genuinely make that claim.

Then came the Motocross of Nations at Lommel. Barcia & Dungey collided, and I personally remember the roar from the Belgian (and widely European) crowd as it really hurt the American cause. New AMA 250 champ Baggett got lapped by Herlings, and nobody got near Cairoli all day. You could say that, ah well, that’s Lommel. Deep sand, that Americans don’t see anymore. They didn’t see it much in 1981 when they started their Nations dominance either, but those were different times. MXGP riders all live in Lommel these days right? Do 40 minute motos in it before breakfast, yeah?

The 2013 Nations was perhaps the biggest turnaround. Teutschenthal in Germany is hard pack, admittedly tighter than your average AMA National circuit, but still good dirt. I remember seeing Dungey struggling against Desalle, De Dycker, Bobryshev, Nagl, Paulin, and Searle, in the lower half of the top ten. Barcia was even further back. Tomac was impressive on a 250, but otherwise it was becoming clear – MXGP suddenly had a stronger roster.

Further proof of that was Ryan Villopoto’s MXGP venture in 2015.  He had cleaned up in the AMA and was gonna come over and kick Euro ass. He did so, once, on a scorching hot day in Thailand on a Supercross track. It was a shame that injury robbed us of seeing him through the year but it wasn’t going his way anyway.  And further humblings at the Nations, especially in their own back yard, has confirmed that the FIM series runs with most of the best Motocross riders on the planet.

Now, sadly for Motocross purists there is that small thing called money and the number one maker of it for bikes with knobbly tyres – the AMA Supercross series. Don’t get me wrong the racing is regularly brilliant, it’s high drama and great entertainment. Especially in January when there’s naff all going on otherwise in the bike world. It does however, really get in the way when it comes to deciding who are genuinely “The Best Riders in the World” at Motocross, the sport we actually race a full World Championship for.

Well this is a hypothetical run through of the ten riders who I think are currently The Best in the World. I am partially ignoring Supercross for this, as I think this would be the top ten in, let’s say, a perfect computer game simulation of a World Motocross Championship where EVERYBODY took part, maybe half a dozen rounds in the US just to go where the money is, and another 14 rounds smattered around the globe across the best tracks possible. As if Supercross never existed and MXGP truly was the dirty version of MotoGP. It’s a bit of fun, something to chew over in the cold long wintery off-season. Here we go…

Blog 2 Herlings

  1. Jeffrey Herlings

Despite a miserable year as defending MXGP Champ, there is no denying that the Bullet is still the fastest man on an off-road bike when all is said and done. He comes back from injury and wins a GP moto with a broken ankle. He then wins the last two MXGPs when still maybe 80% healthy at best, and is clearly the fastest at the Nations, coming through with breath-taking speed from crashes and awful weather. There is simply no-one to match him, and before his MXGP title season he even crossed the Atlantic and annihilated the Americans in their final outdoor race of 2017.

The only guy who seems to be able to beat Jeffrey is himself. The speed and intensity that he not only races, but trains at, means that his already battered body is at extreme risk any time that it might go wrong. Seeing him at full flight is incredible. He skips bumps in sand, climbs banks on the way out of turns, and has the power to make you go “Whoa!” on occasion with his sheer ability. Watching him in practise for the Matterley Nations, I saw him make a set of uphill waves look easy, the bike just sticking to the floor and going forward. Suddenly the amazed voice of Roger Warren blares out with “And Herlings has gone FIVE seconds faster than anybody!”, and it’s no surprise. Just mind-blowing speed.

Numbers 2 & 3 in this list can hold a candle though. Herlings against a full-bore, on-song Tomac has yet to be seen. At the aforementioned Ironman National Eli was wrapping up his first 450 title, and he never started near the front at the Red Bud Nations. It would be a delicious prospect. Plus, Tim Gajser has never been fully-fit and fighting for a title at the same time as Jeffrey. 2018 was as awful for the Slovenian as the starts of 2017 & 2019 were for Herlings, so it might not be a foregone conclusion that Tim can be bested that easily over a season.

Herlings might never get to the title numbers of Everts & Cairoli due to doubts over longevity, but those in the know will put him up there with them for talent. My own father has always put modern racers down with “yeah he’s good but not as good as Joel Robert”. I nearly fell off my chair when Dad said “Herlings is just like Robert!”. 2020 sees Jeffrey going for a fifth title in total, and possibly Everts’ 101 GP win record as well. We are privileged to be able to witness one of his like.

Blog 2 Tomac

  1. Eli Tomac

The strongman wearing number three (or #1 as well earnt) has three-peated; while we’re talking American let’s use the phrasing at least! He’s the first man to do that outdoors on entirely 450F machinery, and the first since the GOATIA (Greatest Of All Time In America), Ricky Carmichael. On his day he makes the mighty green machine fly, taking huge lumps of time out of people, especially towards the end of a race on a full-on charge. Many thought this ability would lead to a tasty showdown at the Red Bud Nations with his MXGP counterpart Herlings. However, he was having the sort of day that makes me question even his number two ranking in this list. A really bad one. This happens to Eli just a bit too often and has certainly cost him one or two indoor titles so far.

Over the course of a whole season this can seriously cost him against consistent opposition. Herlings, Gajser, and Cairoli can go through an 18 to 20 GP season with 1 or 2 of these days at the most. Tomac will have more than that in a 12-round series, and Dungey, Anderson, and Webb have all exploited this to deny Eli of the indoor crown he wants more than anything.

In a full-on fantasy world championship with everybody in, I think Tomac would take GP wins and on occasion make the rest look silly. He has hinted at “extending” his career to come over and kick Euro butt one year. I say bring it on, that would be thrilling to see. He is without doubt the fastest rider with an American passport right now, and he deserves a Supercross crown as well in 2020.

Blog 3 Gajser

  1. Tim Gajser

Several years ago my ex-World Champ uncle stated to me that an influx of eastern European riders would take over Motocross at the top, simply because they had the hunger and drive and just had to work harder for it. The number 243 has come the closest to doing that, and the first rider from Slovenia to do anything of note in this sport has now claimed three world titles for Honda across the two classes in the last five years. That puts him up there with the likes of Friedrichs, Malherbe, Thorpe, & Albertyn. And he deserves it.

Gajser is a legitimate champion, those who say he only won due to others’ injuries are ignoring the fact that he could have said that in 2018. His pre-season crash in Italy was a killer, facial surgery that hindered his ability to even eat properly could have left him in a deep dark place. It was vital to the series that he returned strong this year, and his battles with Cairoli were spectacular to behold. Especially at Arco in Italy, where his red-and-yellow clad supporters made it more of a home atmosphere for him than for any Italian in the race! It was a decisive blow that set the stage for a great title run. Once the title was won he wasn’t quite the same force, but his individual Nations win was a nice reminder to everyone of who the champ actually is.

He’s no stranger to a crash or two, and the Honda’s unforgiving chassis can dump him on the ground when maybe a KTM would wobble straight. It is something he will have to watch for as he pushes next year for the big challenge of defending the crown. That challenge of course will be the return of Herlings for a full season in 2020, if both stay injury-free. That hasn’t happened in MXGP yet, and with the title on the line Gajser will be working hard to try and match the Dutchman’s pace if they are both fighting for the title. I’d love it if the FIM made the champ wear number 1 like they do in the AMA, and if it was me I would do it. He has certainly earnt it.

Blog 4 Cairoli

  1. Antonio Cairoli

In an eerie echo of the MotoGP series, where a veteran Italian is one of the most popular riders ever but has been overtaken by a punishing young upstart wearing orange, TC222 is finding it almost as tough as VR46 to keep punching at the top table. After an injury-cut 2019, it is uncertain if the now 34-year-old superstar can still take it to the title winners of the previous years. Earlier in the year though he was right up there and without that injury he might still have reeled Gajser in.

His life outside of the sport has always been perfectly balanced, the team is still centred around him and he is now a Papa, so as always his platform is amongst the best in the sport. The effects of having his protégé Senor Prado up in the big class with him will be interesting to watch. He has been vocal in his support and the benefits of having the teenage Spaniard training with him, so will this cosy relationship continue now they could be clashing on the track itself? For sure he wouldn’t be lining up if he didn’t think he could win, and in the twilight of his career he will certainly still have the speed and class to back it up.

Blog 5 Roczen

  1. Ken Roczen

It’s tough to know if the KR94 of 2016 would be higher up this list if he hadn’t bust both arms in consecutive years. It’s incredible that Kenny has returned to the highest level after suffering enough damage to be part of medical studies during his recovery. The self-dubbed “K-Rex” then missed a Supercross win by the narrowest of margins back in February, and never got that close again, but his outdoor form was bettered only by Tomac with 5 wins and 17 podiums from the 24 motos.

Strange health issues prevented him from pushing for the National title, but you can be sure that he will be threatening indoors come January and continue to challenge outdoors if healthy. He continues to encourage many European fans to buy their online subscriptions as he strives to become the first Euro since Bayle to take the most lucrative prize in the sport.

  1. Jorge Prado

Your humble writer tipped the youngest man on this list to shock the world by winning his class in the Nations, and while he didn’t quite get there in that boggy glorified Beach Race, he certainly showed that the startline prowess will transfer to the bigger bike. So the first half of his devastatingly effective double-MX2-title-winning formula will be there. Whether or not the second half of the formula, check out and disappear into the distance, will be possible remains to be seen. The age limit has weakened the smaller class but even so, the most dominant 250F champion yet is a completely legitimate contender.

As already noted, Spain’s best-ever Motocrosser has benefitted massively from being amongst the Latin section of the dominant Red Bull KTM set up and training with Cairoli. Whether or not TC will continue to share absolutely all of his advice is debatable, but the strength of Prado will possibly keep that section of the team running when the Sicilian does finally call it a day. He could have had a career in MotoGP but loved the dirty stuff too much. We are fortunate to be enjoying his presence off-road and I am certain that moto wins, maybe even a medal, will come in his debut 450 season.

  1. Marvin Musquin

2020 will mark a full decade since the man from La Reole defended his #1 plate in the MX2 world championship and left for America. One of the most unlikely-looking Motocrossers on the planet, the skinny kid has matured to be a title candidate each year in the States since he went there, but he hasn’t delivered anything more than a regional 250F Supercross crown and is still not the favourite to clinch one either outdoors or in.

Turning 30 just before Christmas, his physical condition as part of the Bakersville militia is never in doubt. The psychological blow of losing the Supercross crown to a very much Junior team member last year, and still falling well shy of Tomac outdoors, must leave Marvin wondering if this winter’s hard work will finally see him deliver that big-bike championship that his talent surely deserves. His consistency needs to get him onto the podium, preferably the top step, much more if he is to do that.

  1. Glenn Coldenhoff

The man with the coolest (Coldest?) name in World Motocross backed up his Red Bud Nations win with a flurry of MXGP-winning form in the second half of the season. Injury did hold him back earlier in the year, and his YouTube viral training crash really was massive. Once fully healthy though he was a revelation, and gets onto this list instead of Jeremy Seewer because of those wins that pushed him into the bronze medal position at the very last GP. His Nations success continued to help the Dutch to a historic first win at home, and getting a full-factory KTM with Gas Gas branding should see him on a machine worthy of those achievements.

Entitled to wear the number 3 next year, the second-fastest #259 in history will be out to try and mix it with the fully-healthy contenders listed above from the outset. If he can do that then we can expect a retention of his ranking, perhaps even better if misfortune befalls some of his peers. Very much a dark horse for the world title if all goes well.

  1. Cooper Webb

OK so I did say this was in a non-Supercross world, but it’s hard to ignore the stocky man from North Carolina who probably made more money than anyone else on this list in the last 12 months. Webb kept strong and consistent through the indoor season, always in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of the best bike in the series to deliver a well-earned and largely unpredicted title.

His outdoor season saw him where he was originally expected to be in Supercross, apart from a corking double win at Spring Creek, and injury cut it short two rounds early. The smirk that thanks God in every interview yet still says “screw you” to all of his opposition should return indoors if the knee heals well, but he needs to be consistently stronger outdoors to be a serious contender for that crown, as well as to begrudgingly make me move him higher up this list next year.

  1. Romain Febvre

This top 10 position is largely dependent on the French former MXGP champ returning strong, both from injury and onto a new bike for 2020. Again, he gets the nod from Seewer because he has won races, the only one from the once-dominant Rinaldi Yamaha team to do so in recent years. It is scary how Febvre constantly suffers a massive crash just when he is looking like being a contender again. In 2015 he was the man, albeit with many injuries around him, but to keep up with the KTMs and Gajser since then he has regularly pushed past the limit.

He is still one of the most exciting riders to see at full flight, and his injury surely cost the French a good shot at retaining their Nations title. I hope he brings the green machine to the forefront in 2020 because that is a quality team that deserves a title shot. I hope he invests in a decent crash helmet though because he can’t take many more big hits like he has of late. A crucial year.

 

Honourable mentions:

Zach Osbourne – One of the hardest working riders in the sport, Zach never gives in and is another God-botherer with a ruthless streak. I can’t see him breaking past Eli & co to a 450 crown, but stranger things have happened and it would be a very popular result.

Adam Cianciarulo – The mercurial talent of this smart kid from Florida finally bore fruit with the outdoor 250 AMA title, and the Monster Energy Cup win shows that he could be right in the mix on a big bike. His Supercross title loss leaves question marks over his composure under pressure, but for sure he will be in there next year.

Jeremy Seewer – Finally we mention the runner-up in the 2019 MXGP championship! One of the most consistent men in the series, he collected his third silver medal in four years and justified the factory Yamaha berth with a solid season. Can he progress to GP wins and even titles? In this company I can’t see it, but the ultra-professional Swiss will always be there or thereabouts, especially if injuries deplete the field again.

Max Anstie – Gotta be mentioned, purely because he has been the best that Britain has produced in the last few years. Able to run with the very best when he’s at his very best, that is sadly too few and far between to challenge for a world title, and next year he migrates to the States again to try his hand there. Outdoors on a 450 he could well spring some surprises. In a short championship, and without the drain of a full Supercross season due to doing a 250 series, I am predicting a top five championship finish if he stays healthy. That is not overestimating his talent, especially when it comes to the softer circuits. Watch him go at Southwick boys! There will be a few Brits subscribing to the online coverage if he does start to get up there. Go Max!

 

So hey, let me know what you think of my list. There will be regional passions ignited and insulted for sure, but I am more than open to hearing your opinions during the bench-racing season. Roll on January and that pesky indoor series when we can watch the wheels turn again!

Thank you for reading.

B.

 

Iiiiiiiiiiit’s NATIONS TIME!

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!
Individual Winners:
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.

Wildcards:
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!

B.