Motocross Des Nations 2006 - Dirt Rider Magazine

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.

Stefan Everts' great starts helped him win the individual honors.

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.

Ryan Villopoto (2) nailed this start against the Open-class bikes on his KX250F.

Starting with Johnny O'Mara, American riders on small-bore machines have historically shocked the Euro riders with their speed. Add newly crowned Motocross Lites champion Ryan Villopoto to that legend. The youngster put in a memorable ride in which he combined speed, style, race smarts and team savvy. Villopoto may have been a new face to the Europeans at Matterley Basin, but his third-place-overall standing in the MX1/MX2 moto meant he finished behind only Everts and Stewart on their 450s! His average speed for the race was over 44 mph! That isn't top speed, but average speed, and 44 mph is tough to average on Los Angeles freeways, let alone on a muddy track you've never seen before. Villopoto was less than five seconds behind Stewart at the finish, and he and Stewart, who had to charge forward after a fall, recorded lap times faster than moto winner Everts' best lap. The races got faster as the day progressed, and RV's second-place finish overall in the MX2/Open moto required an average speed of over 45 mph! Class overalls are not really scored, since it is a team event, but RV had the best combined score of all the MX2 riders.To say the news of James "Bubba" Stewart's first race overseas was interesting to the Euro fans would be akin to claiming men might be interested in women. No doubt many of the 85,000 fans who braved the weather and long lines were there solely for a chance to see Stewart and witness in person his atomic racing style. Stewart could hardly even move without having security hold back the throngs of chanting fans, and even his father was mobbed and followed with cheers of "Bubba's dad!" Still, in European minds at least, he needed to demonstrate to the world what a future champion he is.The American team, as usual, was directed by five-time 500cc (now equivalent to the MX1 class) World champion and Suzuki motocross team manager Roger DeCoster. He collected six victories in a row with the Belgium team at the MXdN (making his debut in '69) before moving to the U.S. and helping the Americans to many of their 17 victories. In fact, without his selling the concept to Honda and compiling teams entirely composed of his Team Honda riders, there might not have been a first win, let alone a U.S. history of des Nations glory. But throughout the Americans' involvement in this team competition, DeCoster's native Belgium has remained a powerhouse. Although you could say that Team USA prospered at Belgium's expense, DeCoster has remained staunchly behind the U.S. effort.In recent years, the U.S. and Belgian teams have been the consistent power players, with Britain, France and Italy having their respective brilliant years. As always, the Belgian threat loomed large. Ten-time World champ Everts placed side by side with MX1 regular Kevin Strijbos, who rode the smaller MX2 Suzuki RM-Z250 for this race while his Suzuki MX1 teammate Steve Ramon attacked the Open class. The Belgian team is directed by Joel Robert, a former champion racer and a factory Suzuki teammate and contemporary of DeCoster.The British team held a home-court advantage-their cheering section composed the lion's share of the spectators-but with Billy Mackenzie (MX1), Carl Nunn (Open class) and the promising young Tommy Searle (MX2), this wasn't their strongest team. The French team boasted new MX2 World champ Christophe Pourcel, his brother Sbastien (MX1) and 34-year-old '06 MX3 World champion Yves Demaria (Open class).A relatively new development is the arrival of podium-capable teams from countries such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Estonia, which all have a relatively small motocross community but can field three talented riders with little problem. Of these teams, the most starved for victory were the New Zealand pilots, with World championship veterans Joshua "Lizzard" Coppins (Everts' number-one opponent) and Ben Townley, along with lesser-known rider Cody CooperThe entry list lacked two important names because of injuries: Chad Reed for Australia and Grant Langston for South Africa.The weekend began with thrilling qualifying sessions, which were won by Stewart (MX1), Villopoto (MX2) and Ramon (Open class), and two items of shocking news. First, Carmichael had decided he could not race, which spoiled expectations of the duel between the two legends. This left all the eyes on Stewart and company.Second, Everts appeared at the KTM press conference, where he was introduced as KTM's new Race Director for Motocross Activities. Only a few expected it, and the news left many overwhelmed and some disappointed, but Everts seemed focused on the last great objective of his career as a rider: to guide the Belgian team to victory for the 60th edition of the Trophy of the NationsThe spectators on hand will always remember this edition of the Motocross des Nations as a show at the sport's highest level. The notorious English climate, with its cloud-wind-rain-sun combo, was mild and offered a weekend interspersed with splashes of sun, even if the dawn rains made the the track's soil bouncy and muddy.The show started with the MX1 (450cc) and MX2 (250cc) pilots together. The MXdN is based on the formula of mixed classes. First the MX1 and MX2 race together, then the MX2 and the Open class (up to 650cc four-strokes, but legal for 450s at this race), and lastly, the MX1 with the Open class. Adding the team's five best moto scores gives the overall score. In this case, Stewart scored a pair of seconds while Villopoto nabbed a second and a third, so their total was nine points, and it was up to Tedesco to supply a low enough score to win, and his sixth-place finish clinched it. Even though Everts earned two first-place scores, his teammate Ramon obtained a fourth and a fifth place for a combined two-rider score of 11 points. But Strijbos was the third rider, and his best score was 11th-below Tedesco's worst score! As we mentioned earlier, the team felt that Strijbos did not have comparable equipment, but they may have also been guilty of underestimating the speed of the current crop of young MX2 riders. In '03, Everts won every MX2 moto he raced while riding the MX1 class on the same day! It would be understandable for the team to assume that any top MX1 runner would be a better choice than an average MX2 pilot. Or perhaps they didn't have a strong enough MX2 rider to pick. But Strijbos' MX1 teammate Ramon was beaten by three 250cc four-strokes in his combined moto. Nevertheless, the Belgian team's 22 points is closer to winning than it looks. One DNF or a crash by a rider intent on riding his own race and not thinking about the team, and the results could have been very different.

Villopoto showed impressive American speed.

But in the end it was a team event, and Everts did all that he could by winning both motos, but his team didn't properly support their leader. The American team brought the trophy home without Carmichael on the track, though he was in the pits helping however he could. Team New Zealand got third after a great battle with the Italians. After leading Belgium to second place, Everts was cheered like a king, concluding his last contest as a winner, number one, the "winningest rider" of all time with 101 GP victories.From another perspective, what we have seen in England may be the future of racing in the U.S. Aside from the leading teams, the most impressive rides of the weekend were put in by Italian Antonio Cairoli-the only MX2 rider to beat Villopoto-Townley and Tyla Rattray. Townley is already in the U.S., and the others have made no secret of plans to race in the States eventually. For now, though, America is where it should be in the motocross firmament-on top. That isn't national conceit, it is statistical reality. With the sheer numbers of riders in our talent pool and the opportunities the average moto guy has in our country, there really is no reason the U.S. should not dominate a country-based team competition. And next year, the show comes to our town. Can we entice 85,000 fans to come? Or is this an area where the Euros have us beat?Results

Moto One: MX1 vs. MX2
1. Stefan Everts (BEL/450)
2. James Stewart (USA/450)
3. Ryan Villopoto (USA/250)
4. Christophe Pourcel (FRA/250)
5. Ben Townley (NZL/250)
6. Joshua Coppins (NZL/450)
7. David Philippaerts (ITA/450)
8. Max Nagl (GER/250)
9. Tyla Rattray (RSA/250)
10. Antonio Cairoli (ITA/250)

Moto Two: MX2 vs. Open
1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA/250)
2. Ryan Villopoto (USA/250)
3. Ben Townley (NZL/250)
4. Steve Ramon (BEL/open)
5. Tyla Rattray (RSA/250)
6. Ivan Tedesco (USA/open)
7. Christophe Pourcel (FRA/250)
8. Jussi Vehvilainen (FIN/open)
9. Tommy Searle (GBR/250)
10. Carlos Campano (SPA)

Moto Three: MX1 vs. Open
1. Stefan Everts (BEL/450)
2. James Stewart (USA/450)
3. David Philippaerts (ITA/450)
4. Tanel Leok (EST/450)
5. Steve Ramon (BEL/Open)
6. Jonathan Barragan (SPA/450)
7. Sbastien Pourcel (FRA/450)
8. Joshua Coppins (NZL/450)
9. Ivan Tedesco (USA/Open)
10. Billy Mackenzie (GBR/450)

Nations Classification
1. United States-15
2. Belgium-22
3. New Zealand-35
4. Italy-37
5. France-48
6. Great Britain-55
7. South Africa-59
8. Spain-67
9. Estonia-69
10. Finland-78

Antonio Cairoli impressed the U.S. riders.
The crowd was huge!
Ben Townley ran strong for New Zealand.
Ivan Tedesco did everything he needed to as RC\'s replacement.
Everts called it a career with this MXdN.
Everts hunts down James Stewart.
The British fans made the U.S. team feel welcome.
Ivan Tedesco did everything he needed to as RC\'s replacement.
Everts called it a career with this MXdN.
Everts hunts down James Stewart.
The British fans made the U.S. team feel welcome.
Team USA found the British track very different from circuits at home.
Steve Ramon charges to a 4-5 finish to help put the Belgian team second on the overall podium.
Pro Circuit prepped two bikes for Villopoto.
And we think Euros have funky style!
The American champs
Everts pushed hard to sweep his motos.
Ivan Tedesco did everything he needed to as RC\'s replacement.
Everts called it a career with this MXdN.
Everts hunts down James Stewart.
The British fans made the U.S. team feel welcome.
Team USA found the British track very different from circuits at home.
Steve Ramon charges to a 4-5 finish to help put the Belgian team second on the overall podium.
Pro Circuit prepped two bikes for Villopoto.
And we think Euros have funky style!