Once a year, at the Motocross des Nations, the rest of the world has its one chance to prove it can hang with the fastest riders the United States has to offer. It hasn’t always been the case, but American enthusiasm was high entering the 2006 event, being the reigning champs and, with that ’05 win, having tied for the all-time win record (16) with host country Great Britain. But Americans-or at least some riders and, more often, the factories that sponsor them-have had an on-and-off passion for the event. Supercross and motocross are big businesses in the U.S., as it is the largest motorcycle market in the world (perhaps larger than the rest of the world combined), and the factories pay huge amounts of money to back the talents of sure winners like Ricky Carmichael or James Stewart. Even in the rich fields of American motocross, talent like that is irreplaceable, and sponsors cringe at the thought of putting their stars at risk in an event that counts for little in terms of U.S. bike sales and team momentum. Add in a season more than twice as long as the European one, and it is easy to see why riders get little support, or even face outright hostility, from their sponsors if they suggest their intention to attend. Many, in the past, have chosen to give the race a wave goodbye.
But for this, the 60th edition of the Motocross des Nations, we had a championship to defend, and the Matterley Basin track, in the fields of England, posed no-well, small-language barriers. Also important was setting the stage for the final epic showdown between two of motocross’ most prolific figures: Stefan Everts and Ricky Carmichael. Everts was to make his final attempt to prove to the world he has what it takes to beat Carmichael, the greatest American motocrosser of all time.But the face-off between the two retiring, 10-time motocross champions never materialized: An injured Carmichael opted out of riding before the event even started. Although there was much anticipation for their head-to-head battle, des Nations is not an individual’s event. So Carmichael’s Suzuki teammate Ivan Tedesco stepped into RC’s big yellow shoes as the only rider on Team USA with MXdN experience.If Tedesco had remained healthy and had run the entire outdoor motocross season, there is little doubt that he would have been more than capable of anchoring the team. But since Hot Sauce doesn’t have much experience racing 450s outdoors (and he has not raced them at all in recent times), many doubted he was the best man for the job. Actually, RC was the best man for the job, so perhaps it is more accurate to say that there was doubt that Tedesco was the best available man for the job. Not that anyone doubted his ability, speed or commitment, but there is a big difference between being fit in the gym and having the necessary race fitness, and he hadn’t been racing. After all, the nation’s pride was at stake, and filling RC’s large void isn’t to be taken lightly. For a refreshing change, virtually all of America’s brightest stars were willing to take on the challenge of replacing RC. But Tedesco had one unbeatable advantage over the others: There was already a full-factory bike waiting for him in England (RC’s bike), and a top-level bike is vital, as Belgium learned at Matterley. Kevin Strijbos’ Suzuki RM-Z250 proved uncompetitive, and his scores left Team USA in the driver’s seat. Tedesco and RC run very similar machines, and Hot Sauce only needed to slip his suspension into his luggage to have world-class machinery. With a factory RM-Z450 and experience on a winning MXdN team, Tedesco seemed more than the right choice for the job. The smart choice.After being off of the bike all summer after suffering an injury, Tedesco struggled with arm-pump, starting strong but fading late in the motos. Most important, though, he didn’t slip far in his class, and he rode smart, so his 6-9 moto scores helped earn the U.S. its 17th Motocross des Nations victory. His sixth-place score was actually second in the Open class with only Belgian Steve Ramon topping him.