They know the American tradition for winning at the Motocross of Nations is a tough cross to bear and the pressure on them will be, as always, quite high.
The Americans have not won since France in 2011 and they are determined to bounce back from their recent humbling defeats.
They were beaten in the deep sand of Belgium in 2012, the off-cambers of Germany in 2013, in Latvia in 2014, in France in 2015, in Italy in 2016, in England in 2017 and again last year, on their own turf in Michigan.
After a joyous run of seven consecutive wins from 2005 until 2011, losses over the past seven consecutive seasons have been bitter pills to swallow for the Americans.
At Lommel, in Belgium, in 2012 it was the three men from Germany who instead won the main prize (the Chamberlain Trophy) and Belgium finished runners-up, with the Americans forced to settle for an unaccustomed third place.
In Germany in 2013, it was the trio from Belgium who took the main prize and Team USA had to accept the runner-up spot.
Then, in Latvia in 2014, the Americans were again humbled, this time with the trio from France taking the main prize, the Belgians finishing runners-up and the Americans left to settle for third.
It happened again in Ernee, in France, in 2015, with the American trio close but yet so far away from taking back the crown, again forced to settle for the runner-up spot, this time behind the host French.
In Italy in 2016, the Americans committed two rookie mistakes and it cost them dearly.
American Husqvarna rider Jason Anderson won the Open Class/MX2 race, finishing six seconds ahead of Dutch KTM hero Jeffery Herlings.
But, instead of sailing over the finish line jump – as he had for every one of his previous laps – Anderson decided instead to revel in the moment, slowed to roll slowly over the blind finish-line jump and Japan’s MX2 rider, Chihiro Notsuka, jumped high – just as he had done for every one of his previous laps – and landed on Anderson’s upper body in a bone-jarring collision.
Some would argue that Notsuka should not have jumped, although it has always been advised that riders should race to the very end and also to not switch lines or significantly change their actions while being lapped.
It could also be argued that Anderson should have jumped, then landed and ridden off the track safely, to enjoy on the sideline the acclaim of his fans and team supporters.
Once committed to the jump, Notsuka had nowhere else to go.
Fortunately the injury to Anderson was not as serious as it might have been, although it did mean he was unfit to line up for the third and deciding race of the weekend, greatly handicapping his team.
Then, in the final race of the weekend, the MXGP and Open class riders on the track together, US Yamaha rider Cooper Webb was well-placed in fifth with just two laps remaining and Team USA was in prime position to win the MXoN, even without the injured Anderson racing in that final foray.
But, in his determination to move ahead, he attempted a pass on Britain’s Tommy Searle on a steep hillside switch-back corner, lost traction and tumbled from his bike. He recovered himself to finish the race in 10th but it wasn’t enough and Team USA had to settle for third overall, albeit just four points behind eventual outright winners Team France.
With Webb dropping from fifth to 10th, it cost Team USA five points, absolutely crucial in the big scheme of things.
In 2017, the Americans fared even worse, finishing an unaccustomed ninth overall at a muddy Matterley Basin, in England, Team USA citing rear shock failure on Cole Seely’s factory Honda that led to his two DNFs.
Last year in the United States, the Americans had hoped to take advantage of home crowd support and local turf knowledge, the event held on their traditional national championship circuit at Red Bud, in Michigan.
Instead they were taught a lesson by the team from The Netherlands – Dutch team-mates Glenn Coldenhoff and Jeffery Herlings sharing all three race wins between them – and humbled also by the French, the Italians, the Australians and the British team too.
The Americans actually only managed sixth overall last year, although months later they were promoted to fifth overall when Team Italy was disqualified after illegal fuel was found in the bike of MX2 rider Michele Cervellin.
With a record 22 MXoN crowns to their credit over the past 30 years, there’s no reason to suggest the men in the stars and stripes colours won’t be among the favourites in The Netherlands on September 28-29, but the pressure to perform will be high.
The Dutch are obvious favourites to win this year on their own sandy turf, on the infield at the Assen road-racing facility, while the French, MXoN winners for the past five seasons, will also rate among the favourites, so a podium finish might be the best the Americans can hope for.
The glory days of the 1980s must seem such a long time ago for the ardent US fans.
The Americans won their first Motocross of Nations title in 1981 and, from that moment on, made it a bit of a winning tradition.
That first US team of Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O’Mara and Chuck Sun (the teams comprised four riders in those days) was regarded as one of the greatest in history, but who can forget the winning American trio in Italy in 1986?
The 1986 team of David Bailey, Ricky Johnson and Johnny O’Mara (pictured in the main photo, above) finished 1-2 in each of the three races at Maggiora, in Italy, and that instantly wrote their names in the history books with an unbeaten team performance, one that has not yet been repeated.
Many American riders have threatened to stamp their individual authority over the years and we all remember the two race wins by Ricky Carmichael in France in 2005; the outstanding double win by (MX2 class rider) Ryan Villopoto at Budd’s Creek, Maryland, in 2007, and the pair of wins by Ryan Dungey in Denver, Colorado, in 2010.
But then there has been total dominance shown too by other riders – such as by Belgium’s Stefan Everts in Lierop, in The Netherlands, in 2004 and again at Winchester, in England, in 2006.
Italian Antonio Cairoli bagged two wins for himself at the MXoN in Lommel, in Belgium, in 2012 and again at Teutschenthal, in Germany, in 2013.
French riders Gautier Paulin and Romain Febvre have spearheaded their country to overall trophy wins in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, Paulin winning his two races at the MXoN in Latvia five years ago and Febvre winning two races in France in 2015 and one race in Italy in 2016.
Great Britain’s Max Anstie was the dominant individual at the MXoN in 2017, winning both his races at the Matterley Basin circuit, near Winchester, while Dutchman Glenn Coldenhoff was the stand-out individual at the MXoN in the US 2018, also winning his two races.
The European countries, and even Australia and New Zealand, have stepped up the pace in recent years and now regularly threaten the American stranglehold, so outright dominance by the Americans seems less likely these days.
But anything can happen in motocross.
Even New Zealand has celebrated race wins at the MXoN, with Ben Townley taking the chequered flag in one race at Ernee, in France, in 2005 (with Team New Zealand that year eventually finishing just one point off the podium) and again he tasted victory in one race at Denver, in Colorado, in 2010.
Regardless of the individual race results in the UK this time around, Team USA will still be hoping for outright victory No.23.
The Motocross of Nations finals race features teams from the 20 countries that qualify, with each rider competing in two heats for a combined score to determine the overall championship-winning nation. The event emerged in post-war Europe in 1947 and has run uninterrupted since.
With 22 wins, the United States is the all-time leader in the Motocross of Nations. Great Britain is second with 16 and Belgium third with 15.
Individually, Belgium’s Stefan Everts has proven to be the best MXoN rider over the past 30 years, with a personal tally of 11 moto wins between 1993 and 2006. Italy’s Antonio Cairoli is the second most successful rider at the event, with six moto wins, and third is United States rider Ricky Carmichael, with five moto wins.
© Words and colour photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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Individual race winners at the MXoN over the past 15 years:
2004 – Stefan Everts (2), Mickael Pichon
2005 – Ricky Carmichael (2), Ben Townley
2006 – Stefan Everts (2), Antonio Cairoli
2007 – Ryan Villopoto (2), Ricky Carmichael
2008 – James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, Sebastian Pourcel
2009 – Antonio Cairoli, Gautier Paulin, Ryan Dungey
2010 – Ryan Dungey (2), Ben Townley
2011 – Gautier Paulin, Chad Reed, Ryan Villopoto
2012 – Antonio Cairoli (2), Jeffrey Herlings
2013 – Antonio Cairoli (2), Ken Roczen
2014 – Gautier Paulin (2), Kevin Strijbos
2015 – Romain Febvre (2), Justin Barcia
2016 – Romain Febvre, Jeffery Herlings, Jason Anderson
2017 – Max Anstie (2), Jeffery Herlings
2018 – Glenn Coldenhoff (2), Jeffery Herlings