Jonathan McCready: The 2018 MXGP world title fight continues to fascinate as the two best riders in the world face-off but it is the mind games that prove the most fascinating.
As we mentioned in Spain, Cairoli was getting Herlings videoed during practice to see what he was doing in certain sections and during the race Cairoli had only one rider on his mind, Herlings, frequently looking back to see where his rival was and if he should up the pace.
Cairoli then mentioned in the press conference that he was getting more parts from KTM to improve, Herlings then said he too was getting different parts for his KTM, so he could improve the starts that he believed was preventing him from wining more races.
In Italy it was Herlings who won ‘in the lions den’ as he described it, but not only did he win he seemed to beat Cairoli in the mind. Cairoli made an aggressive move in the qualifier cutting across the Dutchman but Herlings wasn’t intimated and brake-checked Cairoli in the very next corner to retake the lead before pulling away for the win.
On Sunday Herlings got the holeshot – the new KTM parts must be working- and ran away with race one but race two was where it looked like Herlings was really in Cairoli’s head. The Italian holeshot but Herlings was shadowing him and, unlike at any stage in his career, Cairoli was thinking about it and thinking about how to block the attack, rather than ride his own race.
Then when Cairoli went to stop in a corner to prevent Herlings passing, Herlings was already up the inside and powered easily into the lead. Cairoli was so busy trying to think about Herlings race he wasn’t thinking about his own. He knew Jeffrey was faster, he knew he had to block him.
It’s something Cairoli has never really had to deal with in his career, he has always had the speed when he was challenged, even Ryan Villopoto couldn’t live with him consistently on the GP tracks but Herlings is proving different. He has learnt from Cairoli’s strengths during last year’s battles and is applying his sprint speed on top of the those lessons.
It’s a deadly combination and the momentum is clearly back with Herlings in the championship. Now with a mud race anticipated this weekend something Cairoli doesn’t like to risk in, it will be interesting to see how Cairoli will regroup and attack his rival again.
Cairoli won’t give up, he knows how to win a world title better than anyone and is playing the long game which might ultimately prove successful but right now in the short term, Herlings appears to be winning the mind game.
Andy McKinstry: There’s no doubt about the speed that Jeffrey Herlings and Antonio Cairoli are showing every GP so far this season. They’re definitely pushing each other and because of this the level at the front is incredibly high.
There’s definitely some mind games being played, both riders know how important a good start is and that’s why there’s been some close racing on the first few laps. Up until Italy, Herlings starts haven’t been great but he wasn’t happy with Cairoli after Redsand as the Italian cut across him at the start. In Italy, Cairoli also came across on Herlings at high speed so the Dutch rider break checked him in the next corner.
Cairoli is a very smart rider and if you were him you’d probably do the same. Herlings with a top three start is incredibly hard to beat due to his sheer speed. Let’s not forget Antonio Cairoli is thirty-two and the level he’s riding at every week has been incredible but he wants that tenth title and won’t give up without a fight.
The Championship could be decided by the starts. With the field incredibly deep you just can’t afford to be tenth or worse on the first lap because it will take a while to come through the pack whilst the guys at the front are gone by the time you work your way up. Cairoli’s starts are his positive point and they can get him out of a hole sometimes, if he keeps getting top three starts every week then he can definitely still win this championship.
It’s definitely going to be an exciting season, let’s just hope both can stay fit and let the best man win! Due to his speed though it’s hard to look past Herlings for the title.