How the battle unfolded: Cairoli v Herlings
It was everything the fans wanted to see, Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings, the two fastest sand riders in the world, going at it for superemacy.
But the mental battle began in free practice. Cairoli, who never usually bothers pushing too hard in that session, saw Herlings behind him as he went for his first fast lap, so he pulled the pin, put 1.9 seconds on Herlings and took the fastest time!
Cairoli pulled the bike in and didn’t do another lap that session. Herlings meanwhile had set the fourth best time pulled in and then went out for another crack, this time he put the lap together but came up 3 hundredths of a second short of beating Cairoli’s time!
In timed practice Cairoli went quickest and just when Herlings was putting a lap in to try and go quicker, Cairoli went out again and belted out a 1. 36. 1. Herlings came over the line with a 1m 36.9 – Cairoli got the edge again on the Dutchman.
Then it was time for the heat race. Cairoli cut over on Herlings out of the gate but after some congestion in turn one, Herlings managed to return the favour coming out of the corner and they both set about getting to the front. Herlinfs sat in fourth for a while but when he saw Cairoli closing, having just moved into sixth the Dutchman instantly dropped him laptime by two seconds!
Then Herlings had a front wheel issue and was forced to pull into the pits as Cairoli eventually worked his way into the lead. Herlings rejoined nearly a lap down and fought back to 20th. But Cairoli had managed to get the edge again.
Moto one on Sunday was epic. Cairoli got the start as expected but Herlings rifled into second within a lap after starting outside the top five. For 30 minutes they put on a sand riding clinic for the rest of the world, lap times edging one way then the other, until finally Herlings made his move only for Cairoli to stand him up in the corner! From there Herlings succumbed to the heat, he took his helmet off straight after the chequered flag and was gasping for water as he pulled in.
Cairoli won the first big battle and he now had the mental and physical edge on Herlings for race two. This time it was Jasikonis with the holeshot, Cairoli gets into second with Herlings quickly into the third. When Cairoli makes the move on Jasikonis, Herlings ups the pace again and passes the Suzuki man in the same lap.
Herlings was looking aggressive this time and was straight on the attack. He reeled Cairoli in and made the move – holding Cairoli high on the berm just like Cairoli did to him in moto one! But Tony wasn’t having anyone of it, pushing his way by Herlings with a hint of attitude within two corners – the gloves were off and the “teammates” were going for glory in the sand! This was the battle the world had waited five years for and it was everything everyone wanted!
Herlings then made the pass stick and sprinted, trying to break away from Cairoli. This was all he had, he dropped his lap times and gave it everything and at one stage it looked like Cairoli couldn’t match him. But then, the eight-time world champ made his move, he dropped his lap times, hounded a tiring Herlings and made the pass and then put in a blistering lap time to break Herlings. The Dutchman in the blistering heat had no energy left – Cairoli would reign supreme as King of the sand once more.
Herlings in his defence, later admitted he got dizzy in the heat but said also had stomach issues all weekend that left him weaker than normal. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Dutchman in what was the biggest battle of his career in oppressive heat. But with two more sand races left Lommel and Assen, Herlings will have opportunities to avenge his defeat.
As an exhausted Herlings lay on the side of the track with heat exhaustion, Cairoli looked cool calm and collected as he raised his arms to his adoring fans and spoke with the media. Cairoli had made his point and said after: “I had the sand king on the back of me! We tried to keep him in the back, maybe he was faster in some places but you know we work on the 35 minutes race and in the end we beat him.”
The battle in race one:
The battle in race two: