The 2017 Motocross of Nations (aka Motocross Des Nations) was held this year in England at a track called Matterly Basin. The last MX Des Nations held in England were also held at Matterly Basin in 2006. Team USA, which was made up of James Stewart, Ivan Tedesco and Ryan Villopoto, won MXON back in 2006, without winning a single moto. Steve Dixon is the promoter for the MX Des Nations in England, he also owns the Kawasaki MXGP team. Matterly is significant for Americans because this is where General Eisenhower addressed the American troops before the D-Day embarquement on the beaches of France. Even more significant for my family, is that my grandfather, was General Eisenhower’s head of security and was with him at Matterly during D-Day.
I arrived at London Heathrow via Las Vegas and boarded a bus to the Premier Inn in South Hampton. This is where the MXON American base was located. I walked in Thursday evening and the first person I run into is Team USA director Roger Decoster. He is sitting in a chair and sipping a glass of red wine. We immediately start speaking in French. For some reason, he always knows me as the American who speaks French. He tells me that all the riders are doing well and that he happy to catch up with some of his European friends he does not often see. He is excited to go to Belgium after the MXON because he is going to meet his childhood friend Eddy Merckx. He and Eddy grew up together, with Eddy winning 5 Tour de Frances and Roger winning 5 world MX championships. They are very famous Belgians indeed. They grew up a stone throw away from each other. Roger is an avid cyclist and keeps up with all the cycling news. As jet lag set in, I eagerly went to bed.
As I walked down the stairs to eat breakfast, the first person I run into is Zach Osborne. As many people know, Zach and I have worked together since he was 16, so once we caught up, it was back to business. We ate a light breakfast, (low carb of course) with a bullet coffee and we went for a light run. Aldon Baker had Zach doing an easy run at a specific heart rate. Zach knew the area well, since South Hampton was his home for nearly 3 years while he was racing MXGPs for Steve Dixon. Zach and his family had been on vacation for the previous 2 weeks visiting old friends in England, like Mel Pocock.
We heard that it might be a mud race, so Zach and I went into town and bought some mud boots for the race. Mud racing is all about being prepared, and if you are walking around in your nice tennis shoes in the mud, things never go well after that. Zach also bought a bunch of food so he would not be dependent on restaurant food. He follows a pretty specific diet that allows him to maintain good energy as well keeping his weight in check. Zach eats a fat adapted diet per se, something he has been practicing for many years now.
We made it to the track in time for lunch. (bullet proof photo here?) Walking to the Alpinestar Hospitality tent, we ran into Steve Mathes of the Pulp MX show. He comes from the same place I live, Las Vegas. In the tent, I met the rest of the Americans, Thomas Covington and Cole Seely. Apparently, Thomas was signing a new contract for the rest of 2018 and beyond following his success in the GPs. In the tent, there was a nice spread of food, very well prepared and fresh.
Team USA definitely needs to give credit to the Alpinestar hospitality tent. Basically, this is a safe haven away from the chaos that goes on during these types of races. The Alpinestar hospitality tent travels to most MX GP races in Europe and always goes to the motocross does Nations. The tent provides Italian chefs and personnel that provide excellent service and are there for just about anything you need. They were able to make food for the riders when they wanted as well as special requests like gluten-free and other specific types of foods. The best thing of all is that they had an espresso maker that made very good coffee and no one makes a cappuccino better than the Italians!
I was fortunate to go on the track walk with Zach and the other riders. Thomas Covington looked very comfortable as he had raced Matterly Basin many times before in the MXGP’s and British Championships, as did Zach. I didn’t know that much about Thomas before I met him, but he has been in Europe for over five years and is one of those Americans who came to Europe just after his amateur career and adapted very well to the European culture. He lives and trains in the Netherlands and he tells me that he is coming back to the US eventually. In fact, he was in talks with the factory about when exactly he would be coming back to America; although he says he is very well adjusted to life in Europe. The riders were looking at the track as it had rained the night before and a little that day. The track was looking pretty soft and everyone was in agreement that if rain had stopped the track was going to be epic for racing. They also agreed that if any amount of rain came it was going to be a mud fest and that would change a lot of things.
I got up early to eat breakfast and I met my very good friend Sel Narayana of KTM. He is the vice president of KTM and has worked at the company for over 30 years. Sel is very good friends with Roger DeCoster and has managed the Red Bull KTM race teams and plays a big part of KTM success in Asia. I have known Sel for well over 10 years since my Dakar rally days. Sel is unique in that he is from India and is very well connected in the motorcycle industry. He also speaks fluent German and he regularly communicates with KTM Austria and conducts his business in German.
We arrived at the track and made our way to the Alpinestar hospitality tent. Zach was first up in his practice session and easily set the fastest time. In the next practice session Cole Seely was looking very fast in the mud and also set a good time. In the third practice, Thomas Covington rode comfortably in the mud and was also looking fast. It is strange come to a motocross race with Zach and not having to help him much. Since I have spent the last 10 years of my life helping Zach at motocross races, it is pretty cool to see that he is on a higher level and everything is working for him.
In Zach’s qualifier race he was up against the likes of the new Australian phenom, Hunter Lawrence. Zach didn’t get such a great start in the qualifier race and it looked as if he would be working his way to get into the top five. This race was for qualifying position for Sunday, so it was an important race. Team USA’s qualifying position on the gate would consist of the best two out of three moto finishes. About halfway through the race, it looked like Zach would be third or fourth overall. Then with five laps to go it was apparent that sec was running three seconds a lap faster than Hunter Lawrence who was leading the race. In Zach Osborne fashion, with two laps to go, he promptly caught Hunter Lawrence and made the pass for the win. It was an emotional win for Zach as South Hampton was his home town in a sense while he lived here in Europe. Zach is very well known in these parts and I’m sure was exciting for him to win in front of many people he knew here in England.
It was also emotional for me just to see how far Zach had really come in the sport of motocross. When we first started 10 years ago, Zach wasn’t in the greatest position to be a professional motocross racer. Through the typical stress of the amateur ranks, high stress, and very poor diet choices, Zach was unable to complete a 30 or 40 minute moto without stopping. I clearly remember the final AMA national at Glen Helen where we were both very happy that he had been able to complete both moto’s and within the top 15! He was physically spent after those moto’s and he and I would spend the next year’s getting him in shape to race with the potential of his true capabilities. In this qualifying race, Zach was able to come through the pack pretty much stronger than anyone else, and in the last five laps he completely gave it everything he had to pass Hunter Lawrence. At the end of the race he was barely winded and it was obvious that his fitness level is at another place now.
I watched the next two qualifiers with Cole Seely and Thomas Covington. They both finished very well on the dry Matterly Basin terrain. Thomas was able to finish fourth overall in his qualifier and Cole Seely was in the top five. Team USA would get third gate pick, which is good.
The MX Des Nations is a special race because you’re able to catch up with people who you might never get the chance to talk to. For example, Roger DeCoster and I were able to speak at length. The same thing with Husqvarna team owner Bobby Hewitt. I have known Bobby for quite a while, but have never really had the chance to know him. It was great sitting with him as he talked to me about his son Hunter Hewitt and where they grew up racing in Texas as amateurs. As many people know, Hewitt ran the Suzuki team for many years before he moved on to the Rockstar Husqvarna. He was telling me about his son Hunter, who’s professional career has since ended, about how he is trying to find what he really wants to do after motocross. And I told him about my situation where I was an aspiring amateur racing just getting into the Pro ranks when I had a very bad knee injury. I went to school for a while and found out that I was very good at studying and thus gave up the dream of a professional motocross career for a career in medicine. I emphasized that you can choose a career in America at any age and if that’s what you want to do in life, it’s possible. I explained that one thing I did with Zach very early on was take him to the operating room and show him what I actually did as an anesthesiologist and that no matter what happened with his motocross career there are things like medicine and others that if you put your mind to it, anyone can succeed and make a great life. I also took Zach to the Bodies anatomy exhibit in Las Vegas and taught him about how the body structures really work. I showed Zach what an ACL ligament look by looked like and how it attached to the bones of the knees. I showed him an Achilles tendon and how it came from the calf muscles and inserted into the bones of the feet. I think these are valuable because motocross racers sustain many injuries. It helps them understand the reason for good rehabilitation and nutrition throughout their careers. I also taught Zach a lot about how to protect his brain from injury using proper recovery techniques as well as nutrition.
One thing everyone can attest to when they go to the MXON is the national pride. I met many people from just about everywhere in the world who had come to the motocross designations. I was intrigued by the patriotism of neighboring Ireland as well as the reigning champions from France. There was a band of Irishmen all dressed in leprechaun outfits who were all huge motocross enthusiasts. Of course, some of them had drank a bit too much Guinness, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. The French were out in force, and dressed up in their fighting cock outfits, as the national sporting icon for France or the fighting Cocks.
We went back to the hotel that night and I had a Guinness with the Americans of the hotel. It was great just to sit back and watch Sel and Roger catch up and talk about some of their memories from past motocross des nations. Roger recounted the time he had to go search out Ron Lechien at 4 am in the morning in the hotel because he was partying all night long. At one point he asked Ron if he would even be able to race that day. He said Ron just looked at him, and said don’t worry I’ll pull this thing off. Ron went on to win both of his motos that day. I also got to know some of the other Americans who habitually come to the MXON. Many more from New York, Ohio, and of course California. Some were there in support of Cole Seely and others for Zach and Thomas. But many just come every year as they enjoy the environment. The Americans are not so outwardly patriotic as some other countries, but you can tell that we take great pride in our sports and since we have one many MXON in the past, we were all hoping this one would go well.
Sel and I arrived at the track and it was very cloudy but not raining. But it was drizzling with a fine soft mist that was undoubtedly going to make the track conditions very wet. As the promoter for the MX GP’s is Italian, Giuseppe Longo, he has his Italian crewmembers enforce the parking. We didn’t have the right parking pass so we were forced to turn around and we found an old side road to get in the back way to the track. I was very glad I had the mud boots at this point.
We made our way to the Alpinestars hospitality tent and got some breakfast and espressos. I’ll definitely miss this place when I leave. Then I made it to the Red Bull tent which is as equally impressive. I went there with Sel as he had a meeting with one of the well-known executives like
KTM named Heinz Kinigadner. I have known Heinz since my first Dakar rally in Africa, so it was good to catch up. He also runs in organizations called the Wings of Life which supports spinal cord research. The Red Bull tent is top-notch and it has very good handicap access. I met Antonio Cairoli who is the current MX GP champion and has won this title 9 times.
The MXON isn’t scored like your typical motocross event. Each team sends two riders to the gate in each moto. Moto one is MX2 (250s) and MX1 (450s). Moto two has MX2 and the Open class (also 450s), and moto three is all 450s, with MXGP and Open. Each finishing position is a point (1 point for first, 2 points for second, etc.), and the team with the lowest point total wins the event. Riders are scored only on their overall finish. If a 250 rider finishes fifth, the team gets 5 points; it doesn’t matter where the other 250 riders finished.
The riders were preparing for the first Moto. Zach and Cole were in the first Moto. The track was in a little better condition for a while but everyone knew was going to be a mud fest. The riders were spuriously putting on tons of terror offs and placing rags into their riding pants knowing that they were going to be without goggles at some point in the race. Anytime there is a mud race the goggles always come off. Since Zach is on a 250, we knew it was going be difficult for him to get a good start. And even more, passing the 450s in the mud is even a bigger challenge. Zach got off to a mediocre start and started working his way through the pack. About halfway through the race Zach, was about to get into the top 10 when he tipped over. And apparently a rag fell off and got stuck in his wheel, and that would be a factor for the rest of his race. Zach eventually worked his way into 10th by the end of the race. Hunter Lawrence had gotten up to fourth. Cole Seely had really bad luck as his shock blew out and he had to posted a DNF. Team USA was hoping that could be our throw away moto and that the guys would score better in the next motos.
In between the motos, I met an old MXGP mechanic who used to wrench for an American MX GP racer named Billy Liles. His name was Rick Sparling. Rick recounted much of his history in Europe and that he also lived in England with Billy where they contested the MXGP’s back in the 80s. He said it was much different back then and equipment made a huge difference. The Americans often did not get the best equipment and those with connections and money often got the better equipment. Billy Liles almost won the championship, but due to some mechanical’s he was second overall in his final year of MX GP’s.
There wasn’t much time in between moto’s so Zach was preparing for the next race. The team decided to use the backup bike for Zach hoping he could get a better start. And once again Zach’s fitness level proved he was ready for the job. In the past Zach would’ve been stressing about his fitness for the second moto. But he had no worries and was just taking enough salt and liquids to be sure he was well hydrated. Again, it felt weird not rushing around trying to help Zach. In the second moto Zach would get a better start but still had to work his way through the pack. Hunter Lawrence was well ahead of him, while Jeffrey Herlings and Gautier Paulin had checked out by this point. Zach is pushing hard and by the end of the moto he had gotten around Lawrence and into third overall. That would be a great finish for team USA and still put us in the mix. But Thomas Covington got a near dead last start and was unable to get near the top 10. Many people were wondering at this time if it might have been better to put Zach on the 450s instead of Thomas, but the decision had already been made.
Now that Zach’s races were over it was all about Cole and Thomas. We were up against a big wall since France was very consistent in their scoring’s. Team USA would need a 1-2 finish to have any chance at the overall. Cole was pretty determined going into the third moto to do well. Cole got a decent start and looked to be working on the top five. But as usual France was already in the lead and Max Anstie from England with pushing the pace. Max was looking for an overall when since he had won his earlier moto. And more bad luck struck Cole as his rear shock or linkage gave out once again and he would come in with a DNF. Thomas fared somewhat better but still was out of the top 10.
So the championship came down to France winning with the Netherlands and England rounding out the podium. It was great seeing England on the podium as it had been 20 years since they had had such a team and a good result. Max Anstie won the overall and was surely the hero of the day. France had won their fourth consecutive MXON title and they did one heck of a job. I spoke with the director of the French team and he told me that they have studied American racing and one thing they do differently is to start their kids a little later. Even if they have talent early, they hold them back as to not put them through so much pressure. He explained this is why there are many good French riders in the world. He admitted that this is simply France’s time and we hope to win again next year.
Well that’s a wrap from the 2017 MXON. It was a wonderful experience and in great to catch up with everybody. Next year is at Redbud so hopefully team USA will bring our strongest team and be able to take the Chamberlain trophy back.