|Team France conquered the world’s best and some of Britain’s worst weather to be crowned champions at the 2017 Monster Energy Motocross of Nations for the fourth time. The 71st ‘MXoN’ landed at one of the best circuits in Europe and perhaps from the whole international racing community in Matterley Basin, but England in autumn was always going to be risky. The climate didn’t quite play ball for the biggest, most famous and historic off-road motorcycle meeting although that didn’t stop some of the fastest athletes from attacking the Winchester muddy goo with gusto.
A long lap, sweeping turns, wide areas to assess lines and overtake and of course some spectacular leaps were the key features of the Matterley layout; spruced up and rejigged to welcome back the annual meeting for which it was initially created in 2006. Rig riots, Monster girls, DJ sets and appearances by Ricky Carmichael were just some of the scenes among the carnival weekend and celebrated by a cosmopolitan mix of fans bearing some horrible weather to see-off the motocross racing season with some style.
On the track and the mud threw a degree of fortune into the mix when it came to compiling the results of the three racers from the top twenty countries that made it through qualification. After two sprints and victories by Max Anstie (Great Britain) and Jeffrey Herlings (Netherlands) it was the French and Dutch who held the superior points advantage. Both were duelling for the cup by the time of the final race and as the low cloud gave the Matterley banks a ghostly, almost dreamy feel.
The brave, weather-battered and voluminous crowd were rewarded with a fantastic last moto of 2017. Team USA’s slim hopes of a top five classification were dashed when Cole Seely suffered his second rear shock failure of the day. More drama occurred at the front of the field where Herlings, Team France’s Romain Febvre and Anstie scrapped for victory. Febvre, aware that he was well placed to defend his country’s championship and Gautier Paulin was also among the leaders, pitted for goggles to concede his chance of the chequered flag but safeguard the grip on the Chamberlain Cup. Anstie prevailed by just over a second to give Great Britain their first MXoN podium appearance in exactly twenty years and allowed Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Tommy Searle the opportunity to end a frustrating 2017 of injury setbacks with the fine sight of thousands of fans and flags toasting a landmark moment for British MX.
“It is a massive ‘box tick’ to be honest,” the 27 year old said. “I think this is my ninth or tenth time on the team and there have been events where I have won my class or been in the top three in the motos and although today wasn’t one of those days we got on the podium.”
“I’m happy it is all over to be honest,” he added. “I had a lot of nerves because of the crowd and a lot of pressure because I haven’t had the best of seasons. They put me in the team because they believed I could do it. I need a couple of weeks just to step away from it all. I haven’t had a long season with racing but mentally this year it has been tough. It is hard for me to be happy when motocross isn’t going well. When I struggle there then I struggle everywhere. I need to change that a little bit and be happy away from the sport. It is something I need to work on. To get this day over-with and have a podium is really nice.”
Victory champagne threw more moisture into the damp British air as the trio of Febvre, Paulin and the excellence of Christophe Charlier (only the third man in history to win gold medals at the Nations and the ISDE in the same year) placed the tricolour on top of the box once more. It was also a satisfying finale to the competitive season for Febvre who gave the new 2018 YZ450F a sound run-out.
“I had two solid motos and two good starts; the new bike is just amazing,” #461 said. “We had been working for a few weeks but it already felt better. In the first moto I was battling with Jeffrey and when he crashed I had to take off my goggles because I couldn’t see so well. With the lapped riders it was really difficult so I took a safe second. In the second moto I felt I couldn’t continue again like this so stopped quickly for goggles but anyway we are so happy to have won for the fourth time. People had doubts about Christophe on social media but he won both the ISDE and the Nations and that’s quite amazing.”
For the third time in a decade the Motocross of Nations will cross the Atlantic, and after editions in Budds Creek and Thunder Valley the show will move next to the revered RedBud facility in Michigan. In twelve months time we go again.