It’s much tougher than you think to win a motocross title.
Okay, so you’d be asking yourself now what does Andy at BikesportNZ.com know about that? Truth is, I did win a motocross title, a club motocross championships trophy in the Manawatu in the 1980s, and I also finished third in the New Zealand TT Champs in about 1985. I even have the certificates to prove it.
But, to be honest, those were the highlights on a racing career pretty much devoid of highlights.
The fact is, it is never easy to win a title, especially if it’s over several rounds, and there is so much more to winning than just being the fastest rider at a particular venue on a particular day.
As Josh Coppins told us – and he should know – there are so many things that can go wrong.
Even the best-laid plans can get thrown out the window by something even as small as a head cold, a twisted ankle or being told on the start line that your nana has just died. Yep, even a virus, the smallest gremlin known to man, can put the roughest, toughest and best-equipped motocross racer on his back.
Josh may have been the best racer on the planet in 2007 (perhaps putting Ricky Carmichael aside for a moment) but he didn’t win the MX1 world title. He finished third and it was all thanks to a small pebble jamming his rear brake and causing him to crash.
It had taken him a dozen years of living away from home, away from friends and family, dealing with alien cultures, different attitudes, strange habits, the experiences of travelling across so many international borders and time zones for month after month, training hard on the bike and in the gym, on a bicycle or in a pool for countless hours, and still it was a small stone, exactly the same as any piece of gravel you’d find in any driveway in New Zealand, that brought his world tumbling down.
“To win a championship you don’t only have to win, you have to be smart, strong, lucky and careful and do this week-in week-out,” said Josh.
“The mental side of the sport is very important. You know what it’s like … you start the season feeling great but, by mid-season, you have picked up the odd injury.”
It takes enormous strength and will-power to battle on.
Champion riders may sometimes seen aloof and distant or perhaps seem to act a little superior and, often, when interviewed, they seem brash and conceited.
But it would be a mistake to think they are shallow and arrogant men.
The truth is that they must possess an unwavering self-confidence if they are to succeed, to harness a powerful machine, react swiftly to sudden dangers, skilfully steer the motorcycle through high-speed traffic and over impossible terrain, and beat 30 or 40 other sportsmen who are similarly blessed with talent.
If they don’t honestly believe that they are the best, then they probably never will be.
To admit to the media that their rival is “favoured to win at this track” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You can’t underestimate the mental aspect of racing.
Just ask Josh about some of the hurt he’s suffered over the years and he’ll point you to June 2002 and January 2003, and possibly even July 2011.
January 2003 was all about him crashing and seriously injuring himself at the Phoenix Supercross. On top of the obvious physical damage he’d suffered, think about how he must have felt inside, being told by medical staff he’d probably never ride again.
The date of June 25, 2002, was not physical hurt but again more about suffering psychological injury – this name tarnished when he was effectively sin-binned after testing positive for a banned substance (a cold remedy).
This year he was 18 points in front of his nearest challenger in the battle for the Australian open class title, with just two races out of 36 left to run, when he crashed and injured his shoulder. He finished the season second.
So the next time you read results from a big race and you see Josh finished 6th and 13th and Michael Phillips finished 9th and dnf, think about how hard it must be on them physically, mentally and financially, to have worked so hard through the preceding weeks, months or even years to achieve those results on that particular day.
These men are tough, but winning a title is tough too and if you haven’t got everything lined up correctly for race after race – good health and physical fitness, a good bike, good contacts and support (from the industry, local businesses, friends and family), solid financial backing, a strong mental attitude, some sublime riding skills and a huge dose of good luck – then you’ll never win a title, not even a club champs trophy like my one.
– Andy McGechan