Four and a half seconds. Four and a half lousy seconds. After a season of toil, thousands of kilometres travelled, Euros spent, dreams dreamt,  anxieties conquered, four and a half seconds is all that separated 12 year old Jakob Madsen from the EMX65 European Championship motocross title. This is the margin by which Jacob missed out on second place in the final race of the championships at Loket in the Czech Republic. Had he claimed it, it would have brought with it the title, making him the second  Dane in succession to capture gold, after Mads Sorensen had done so in 2017. The fact that Jakob’s surname and Sorensen’s first name are essentially the same is an irony that would not have escaped us , had that happened.  Instead it was Italian Brando Rispoli who clambered onto the top step to accept the championship trophy, with Jakob second, a mere point adrift.

This was a story that begged for the telling of it, and the friendly young man readily agreed to indulge us as we fired questions off from thousands of kilometres away. With impeccable manners and very presentable English, he arrived for his online meeting bright and chirpy and very enthusiastically told us about the road that brought him here. A promised short interview turned into a much longer one, but he complained not a bit, with quick, informative replies and a keen sense of fun that convinced us that this is a young man that thoroughly enjoys his racing and is really buzzing from the high of a European championship podium.

As is the case with most racers, Jakob’s story starts with a former racer dad who felt compelled to pass on the passion to his offspring. His start was far earlier than most, though, for he first wrapped his hand around a throttle when he was scarcely two year old. The buzz around the yard soon resembled a bee colony on sale day as the youngster get to grips with the bike and learned (sometimes the hard way) where his limits lay.

Competitive urges will out, and as soon as five candles appeared on his birthday cake, Jakob was off to the track to give this racing lark a try. He steadily built up his skills, and the medals and trophies started appearing after a few years. In supercross racing, he soon found a regular path to the top of the podium. Jakob never won a Danish title in motocross, but did finish second and third in championship runs, and with the remnants of the Viking spirit calling him to conquer foreign lands, he ventured into European championship racing for the first time in 2016. He added to his experience in 2017, and a particular highlight of the season came at the early stages of the FIM Junior World Championships at Lange in Estonia. Jakob posted the second fastest time in his qualifying group and seemed set for a great leap onto the international stage, but by his own admission, his nerves got the better of him during the races and he failed to score.

The 2018 season started in minor key for the plucky young man when he broke his collarbone. Still, in the age-old tradition of racers, he got healed up and headed straight back for the track. The main order of business was to qualify for the European Championship final, a process that happens in four regions across Europe through a series of qualifying races. It is a tough ask – hundreds of riders attempt to qualify, but only 40 make it to the final event. Jakob had a steep hill to climb after missing the first event, but after that he was never out of the points, and at Dreetz in Germany he tasted the sweet air on top of a podium for the first time when he finished third in the final heat. Despite his troubled start to the season, he finished ninth in his region, and his ticket to Loket was booked.

The track at Loket is beautiful, a true classic. It is also technically difficult, intimidating (especially for a first-time visitor on a 65cc bike), and definitely not for the uninitiated. Jakob went around gingerly at first during the free practice session to get to know the track, and posted the ninth time. With a surge of confidence, he came out swinging during the qualifying session and blasted to pole position, a performance that would have had dad’s smile go all the way around his head, were it not for his ears. Jakob, who had come into the weekend not knowing what to expect, but hoping for a top five result, was suitably bolstered by his qualifying performance, and he believed that a good result might be his for the taking.

A good start in the first race blasted the number 447 bike into second position, and for the duration of the race he was never out of the top three, swapping positions regularly. He eventually finished third, setting the table for a potential overall podium result. As the minutes agonizingly ticked by between races, a squadron of butterflies took nest inside his tummy, much more so than before the first race. It is, in a sense, understandable. Before the first race, the result is still much more of an unknown quantity, but with a potential win or podium finish within his grasp, he did not want to throw it away. He resolved to ride smartly and keep matters upright. In the event, he started of third, and remained there until the flag fell, 13 seconds behind the winner and, as we mentioned, a telling four and a half seconds behind second place.

Though it’s easy to lament what might have been, Jakob is clear that he would have signed up for this result had he been offered it at the beginning of the event, Even more so in view of his troubled start to the season, which started with a collarbone bent in a way that appears nowhere in the human blueprint and two zero scores. With this feather in his cap, he is all set for the Junior World Championship which is to be held in Horsham, Australia, on 26 August 2018.

As to the future plans, Jakob is set to move up to the 85cc class in 2019. He has the soles of his racing boots planted firmly on the ground, and realises that one does not immediately jump to top results in a bigger class, and that it will take a year or so to adapt to the bigger bike and the racing prowess of bigger, more experienced competition. He fully realises that there are mountains to climb yet before he gets to his ultimate goal – top results in the motocross world championships. His country has produced some great riders in the past. Brian Jorgensen, Mikkel Caprani, Rasmus Jorgensen, Nikolaj Larsen, and more recently Thomas Kjer Olson and Mikkel Haarup, amongst others, have kept the flag flying proudly for the Danes, but that coveted world title remains elusive, and it is up to the emerging stars to bring ultimate motocross glory to the country.

And there it was. After a patient hour, what must have felt like a school lesson for Jakob was over. He comes across as a determined young man, happy for his opportunities, grateful for every morsel of support he has received, and determined to go ever better. In true social media-era style, his only request was for us to make mention of his Instagram link, and  how could we deny him this. Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/jakobmadsen_247/

With a promise to keep a sharp lookout for his career progression in future, it was time to say goodbye. Four and a half seconds short of a title it was this time, but many miles wiser.

Words: Tinus Nel

Pic: Niek Kamper

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