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GP Report: MXGP of The Netherlands

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Assen Assen, Netherlands Race Center: MXGP of The Netherlands

The last two world champions in MXGP—Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser—claimed the crown at the ages of 23 and 20, respectively. People said it was the new age of the fearless young rookie—a fresh type of intensity and speed that was necessary to conquer increasingly more “jumpy” tracks and an expanding calendar. Well, with confirmation of a ninth title at the age of 31 (32 in two weeks), Antonio Cairoli gave extra credence to the adage that class is as permanent as stone.

Twelve podiums in 18 Grands Prix, leading the pack since round seven and with six victories—including brilliant and defiant performances in Italy (Arco di Trento and Ottobiano)—and 15 holeshots, Cairoli is very much back after two terms of injury-mired misery. He proclaimed 2016 as his “worst” season, suffering with nerve damage, despite finishing as runner-up and entered this year finally fit again and with more experience setting up the KTM 450 SX-F having previously forged a fierce combination with the 350 SX-F. Indeed Assen was confirmation that KTM’s 450 model now has the full set of FIM and AMA titles.

Jeffrey Herlings’ excellence on American soil ensured that Cairoli had a great chance of a party at Assen compared to a good opportunity seven days previously at WW Motocross Park. Herlings’ win in the first moto from pole position still meant that Cairoli just needed to roll over the line in the top 16. He holeshotted and paced and jibed at his teammate—just a second split them both at the flag. Jubilation duly occurred under the vast stand that stretches from the GT chicane and the length of the Assen start straight.

There weren't very many knobbies left on Cairoli's rear tire by the end of the day.
There weren't very many knobbies left on Cairoli's rear tire by the end of the day. Ray Archer/KTM Images

On Saturday Cairoli joked that he might be drunk for the second moto, but his only moment of tipsiness was ripping away all his tear-offs on the third lap, “a rookie mistake” he said. Herlings slaughtered the field to the distance of 15 seconds and to the clamour of the public while Cairoli wiped his way to the rear wheel of Max Nagl in second spot, but crashed down to sixth with two laps remaining. Herlings blew kisses to the noisy crowd on his way to the line.

“I really enjoyed the track,” he said. “It is not that long but with all the rain we had they made the best of it and I really enjoyed my time racing. I felt it was a good and safe track. Sure, if you went off then you found some concrete, but the organisation did a good job and there was a positive turnout.”

The tight layout left little room for error and the sand held up tremendously well after a deluge of rain in the days preceding the penultimate fixture. The terrain wore down in parts and hid some treacherous holes. Running off course often meant a run-in with some Armco or asphalt. Tim Gajser, Clement Desalle, and Jeremy Van Horebeek all experienced nasty crashes and both the Slovenian and Monster Energy Kawasaki-mounted rider did not race the second moto. Desalle was taken to hospital with a painful lower back and with an early prognosis that his 2017 was over, giving Team Belgium a minor headache for the Nations with Kevin Strijbos set to step-in (as in the USA, the Suzuki man again looked good in Holland).

The second MXGP moto saw a dramatic opening collision between several riders that sent Glenn Coldenhoff’s factory KTM bouncing toward the VIP enclosure and actually strike a spectator who apparently needed minor medical treatment. Tommy Searle was a victim of the on-track melee and hobbled away with a sore ankle. Coldenhoff meanwhile retrieved the #259 machine and rode back to 15th place with a sore left forearm.

At the front and again showing a streak of mastery that has already raised his stock and profile to new international heights, Herlings was unbeatable. At the start of the year the 22-year-old was hungry to be the third MXGP rookie champion and especially after Febvre and Gajser had triumphed; two rivals that he had easily beaten in MX2. His broken hand and need to re-evaluate the demands of the MXGP class meant the 15-17-9-12-8 results in the first five races of the year until the scene of his first podium diminished his chances. The likes of Rockstar Energy IceOne Husqvarna’s Gautier Paulin (seventh at Assen) and Desalle shone briefly, but couldn't match the starts or consistency of the KTMs and this factor cast them adrift of Cairoli and latterly Herlings.

Jeffrey was gracious in praise of his senior teammate, but safe in the knowledge and confidence that it could be a much closer affair in 2018. Through interviews conducted over the last two weeks reactions inside the KTM team on a ’18 duel between the pair led to head-in-hands gestures: it should be tantalising. Especially as Cairoli shoots for Stefan Everts’ total of 10 titles and Herlings searches for his first on the big bike.

Over the last three weekends, Herlings has gone 1-1-2-1-1-1
Over the last three weekends, Herlings has gone 1-1-2-1-1-1 Ray Archer/KTM Images

A dream 1-2 for KTM in the 2017 MXGP table was another consequence of the Assen affair. “At the beginning of the season I was fighting for 15th place and almost getting lapped,” the GP winner said. “I didn't know whether to go north, south, east or west. I was completely lost. I came from a very deep hole and I feel we are either at the top or very close to it now. The competition is very strong and down to 10th-15th place are potential GP winners and have won before. I got second, which means I am the first loser this season, but from where we came from we did a very good job.”

In third overall was Rockstar Energy IceOne Husqvarna’s Max Anstie, a third podium for the impressive rookie this year. “You have to push the level,” he said afterward and in the wake of a cunning last lap move to overtake eventual runner-up, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Febvre metres before the first moto finish line. “All these guys are going really fast and it is great to race with them. The top 15 are so fast in this class and it is very tough if you don't get a good start. I know I need to pick up the pace a bit in the off-season. I feel good on the bike, but need to have a bit more speed.”

MX2 was also the domain of Red Bull KTM. Jorge Prado again pulled his trick of bouncing back from obscurity one week to headline the next. Assen meant Prado came full circle. It was the scene of his debut 12 months ago and an amazing podium finish. This time he went one better with a 2-1. Teammate Pauls Jonass’ weekend swung from extremes. The Latvian looked nervous and jittery on Saturday: two crashes in the qualification race banishing the championship leader to 21st in the gate. To his credit Jonass roared back to form in the first moto, acing the holeshot, fending off the buzzing presence of Prado and winning his 16th moto of the year. He simply needed to finish ahead of Suzuki’s Jeremy Seewer—his year-long rival and pursuer for the crown—after the break, but the Swiss improved on his fifth position to chase an escaping Prado in the second moto and almost pipped the Spaniard. Jonass was mired in the top 10 and by his own admission rode too cautiously.

Forty-one points with 50 left is now the scenario. “I will try not to look at that in the next moto; as you saw with Tony today he took the holeshot and was pushing until the last laps to pass Jeffrey. I want to have the same approach next weekend,” Jonass said.

Jonass can wrap up the MX2 championship in the first moto next weekend in France.
Jonass can wrap up the MX2 championship in the first moto next weekend in France. Ray Archer/KTM Images

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Conrad Mewse and Thomas Kjer Olsen were lively as was HSF Logistics Calvin Vlaanderen but the third Husky rider, Thomas Covington mixed good and bad starts once more to go 3-13. A second moto tumble the cause of his lowly finish.Covington needs just 20 points to make sure of fourth in the championship and surely has a firm and achievable goal for the climax in France.

Elsewhere and Nancy Van de Ven’s home Grand Prix win in the penultimate outing of WMX means that four ladies sit within five points of each other and another last race, last lap finale for the 10 FIM Women’s World Champion lies in store.

Nancy Van de Ven currently holds a two-point lead over Courtney Duncan in the championship standings. 
Nancy Van de Ven currently holds a two-point lead over Courtney Duncan in the championship standings.  MXGP

MXGP hurries onto the sheer drops and hillside range of Villars sous Ecot in southern France next weekend for the third weekend of racing in a row. The circuit has only hosted Grand Prix once this century and was notable for being the site of Romain Febvre’s first MXGP win in 2015.  

MXGP Overall Finish

OVERALL FINISH RIDER RACE 1 POINTS RACE 2 POINTS BIKE
1st Jeffrey Herlings 25 25 KTM
2nd Romain Febvre 18 20 Yamaha
3rd Max Anstie 20 18 Husqvarna
4th Antonio Cairoli 22 15 KTM
5th Max Nagl 11 22 Husqvarna
6th Kevin Strijbos 16 14 Suzuki
7th Gautier Paulin 13 13 Husqvarna
8th Tanel Leok 12 12 Husqvarna
9th Evgeny Bobryshev 14 7 Honda
10th Glenn Coldenhoff 15 6 KTM
11th Harri Kullas 8 11 Husqvarna
12th Filip Bengtsson 9 10 KTM
13th Shaun Simpson 10 8 Yamaha
14th Jeremy Van Horebeek 0 16 Yamaha
15th Alessandro Lupino 5 9 Honda
16th Rui Goncalves 6 5 Husqvarna
17th Damon Graulus 4 3 Honda
18th Tommy Searle 7 0 Kawasaki
19th Milko Potisek 0 4 Yamaha
20th Jeremy Delince 2 2 Honda

MX2 Overall Finish

OVERALL FINISH RIDER RACE 1 POINTS RACE 2 POINTS BIKE
1st Jorge Prado Garcia 22 25 KTM
2nd Pauls Jonass 25 14 KTM
3rd Jeremy Seewer 16 22 Suzuki
4th Calvin Vlaanderen 18 18 KTM
5th Thomas Kjer Olsen 13 20 Husqvarna
6th Brian Bogers 14 16 KTM
7th Thomas Covington 20 8 Husqvarna
8th Hunter Lawrence 11 15 Suzuki
9th Julien Lieber 12 13 KTM
10th Conrad Mewse 15 9 Husqvarna
11th Davy Pootjes 9 12 KTM
12th Alvin Östlund 8 10 Yamaha
13th Jed Beaton 7 7 Honda
14th Brent Van doninck 0 11 Yamaha
15th Henry Jacobi 5 5 Husqvarna
16th Ben Watson 10 0 KTM
17th Lars van Berkel 4 4 Husqvarna
18th Ruben Fernandez 6 2 Kawasaki
19th Jago Geerts 0 6 KTM
20th Darian Sanayei 0 3 Kawasaki

WMX Overall Finish

OVERALL FINISH RIDER RACE 1 POINTS RACE 2 POINTS BIKE
1st Nancy Van De Ven 25 25 Yamaha
2nd Livia Lancelot 20 22 Kawasaki
3rd Larissa Papenmeier 22 16 Suzuki
4th Kiara Fontanesi 16 20 Yamaha
5th Courtney Duncan 18 18 Yamaha
6th Amandine Verstappen 15 15 KTM
7th Britt Van Der Werff 13 13 Suzuki
8th Anne Borchers 14 8 Suzuki
9th Stephanie Laier 12 9 KTM
10th Madison Brown 7 11 Yamaha

MXGP Championship Standings

STANDING RIDER POINTS
1st Antonio Cairoli 710
2nd Jeffrey Herlings 627
3rd Gautier Paulin 571
4th Clement Desalle 544
5th Tim Gajser 485
6th Romain Febvre 479
7th Max Nagl 423
8th Jeremy Van Horebeek 416
9th Glenn Coldenhoff 398
10th Max Anstie 396

MX2 Championship Standings

STANDING RIDER POINTS
1st Pauls Jonass 735
2nd Jeremy Seewer 694
3rd Thomas Kjer Olsen 556
4th Benoit Paturel 504
5th Thomas Covington 485
6th Julien Lieber 475
7th Jorge Prado 439
8th Brian Bogers 386
9th Hunter Lawrence 352
10th Brent Van doninck 309

WMX Championship Standings

STANDING RIDER POINTS
1st Nancy van de Ven 193
2nd Courtney Duncan 191
3rd Livia Lancelot 190
4th Kiara Fontanesi 188
5th Larissa Papenmeier 160
6th Amandine Verstappen 151
7th Nicky van Wordragen 119
8th Shana van der Vlist 89
9th Francesca Nocera 80
10th Stephanie Laier 72