New Zealand’s Courtney Duncan has slipped off the top perch in the FIM World WMX Women’s Motocross Championship standings after struggling on the tricky sand circuit at Lommel, in Belgium, at the weekend.
The treacherous and fatiguing nature of the deep Belgian sand was a key factor in the defending world champion from Palmerston, near Dunedin, dropping off the top of the series standings, the MXGP of Flanders more suited to her sand specialist rivals at the weekend.
The Bike It MTX Kawasaki team rider (pictured here on red-plated bike No.1) dug deep against overwhelming odds to defiantly battle the locals, but could only manage fifth overall for the weekend and has slipped down to second in the rankings, albeit just two points behind the new championship leader, Dutch KTM rider Shana Van Der Vlist.
The resilient Kiwi woman had never before previously raced at the legendary sand track in the north-eastern corner of Belgium, which was even heavier and rougher than usual after midweek rain.
Local riders from the home country and also from The Netherlands, who have been brought up racing in these unique conditions, traditionally dominate racing and this baptism of fire for the WMX regulars from the rest of the world was no exception.
Realising that survival was the key to this round of the series, the 25-year-old Duncan was content to post eighth-fastest time during qualifying but, significantly, she managed to post similar lap times throughout the session as those of her rivals dipped in the energy-sapping conditions.
Emerging eighth from the initial sort-out in race one, she even lost a couple of positions early on through a small fall, but she confidently relied on her strength, physical fitness and resilience to make significant moves throughout the second half of the race.
Maintaining a five-second span of lap times whilst even the lap times of the leaders slowed by eight seconds as track conditions became ever more brutal, Duncan picked off the girls ahead of her with the final pass for an eventual sixth place two laps from the end.
Significantly, four of the five girls ahead of her were Dutch “sand hoppers”.
With track knowledge from race one, Duncan shot out of the gate in race two to grab the holeshot and, upping her sand game, defied all of the locals for ten minutes until a momentary loss of traction finally lost her the lead.
Unruffled, she remained third for a further five minutes but, with lapped riders adding to the difficulties of an ever rougher track, she was pushed back to fourth when she ran out of track as all of the leaders started to make mistakes.
With the next chaser almost 20 seconds back, she could have been forgiven if she had settled for a “safe” fourth, but the Kiwi girl is made of sterner stuff and, setting faster times than any of her rivals through the final laps, executed a storming outside pass to regain third and came up just short of second at the chequered flag.
Duncan’s gritty commitment earned the Kawasaki rider fifth overall for the day and she remains second in the points chase, just two points shy of holding the red leader’s plate, and she can head confidently to the remaining rounds of the series on more favourable hard-pack terrain.
“It wasn’t easy out there but I think I can be proud of what we achieved today,” said Duncan afterwards.
“Coming in we knew it was going to be tough; it was one of those days where we had to salvage as much as we could and you win championships on those days.
“I’m proud of the effort, particularly the way I was able to hang tough with the other girls at the front in race two.
“First moto I got a good jump off the start but I shut off too early into the corner; a small crash on lap two made the race tough for me but I still pushed to the end, salvaged what I could and got some important points.
“Another holeshot made the second race easier but I didn’t quite have it to win the race.
“Now we go home, regroup and come out swinging for Turkey. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the calendar so I’m confident headed there. It’s important we nail the training leading up to each event, continue to look for ways to be even better and give our best effort.”
Photo courtesy Kawasaki Europe
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RESULTS & STANDINGS:
WMX – Race 1 – Top 10 Classification:
- Lynn Valk (NED, Husqvarna), 26:34.230; 2. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), +0:01.430; 3. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GASGAS), +0:21.818; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), +0:31.414; 5. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, KTM), +0:39.261; 6. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +0:54.047; 7. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), +0:59.392; 8. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, Kawasaki), +1:00.463; 9. Anne Borchers (GER, Suzuki), +1:24.980; 10. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +1:31.160.
WMX – Race 2 – Top 10 Classification:
- Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 27:22.139; 2. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GASGAS), +0:06.803; 3. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +0:07.330; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), +0:36.026; 5. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, KTM), +0:56.810; 6. Lynn Valk (NED, Husqvarna), +1:07.029; 7. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +1:07.551; 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), +1:21.392; 9. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, Kawasaki), +1:34.710; 10. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +1:45.572.
WMX – Overall Top 10 Classification:
- Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 47 points; 2. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GAS), 42 p.; 3. Lynn Valk (NED, HUS), 40 p.; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 36 p.; 5. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 35 p.; 6. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, KTM), 32 p.; 7. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), 27 p.; 8. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 25 p.; 9. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, KAW), 25 p.; 10. Anne Borchers (GER, SUZ), 22 p.
WMX – Championship Top 10 Classification:
- Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 87 points; 2. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 85 p.; 3. Lynn Valk (NED, HUS), 72 p.; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 72 p.; 5. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GAS), 70 p.; 6. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 61 p.; 7. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, KAW), 58 p.; 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), 50 p.; 9. Britt Jans-Beken (NED, KTM), 47 p.; 10. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 44 p.
2021 Women’s Motocross World Championship calendar:
Round 1: Saturday, July 24 GP of Czech Republic, Loket
Round 2: Saturday, July 31 GP of Flanders-Belgium, Lommel
Round 3: Saturday, September 4 GP of Turkey, Afyonkarahisar
Round 4: Saturday, October 16 GP of Spain, intu Xanadu-Arroyomolinos
Round 5: Saturday, October 30 – GP of Trentino, Pietramurata