Quick thoughts: MXGP Mantova finale
He earned it the hard way but, in the end, when it really mattered and his back was against the wall, Jeffrey Herlings delivered. Despite four zero scores, a broken shoulder blade then crashes at the end of the season forcing, as it turned out, two title saving through the pack rides, Herlings somehow, some way, got the job done to win the 2021 MXGP World Championship.
I’m not sure a rider has been through so much adversity in one season never mind the cumulative effect of the injury-riddled previous two seasons, to then go and deliver a perfect 1-1 moto score under incredibly intense pressure and in winner takes all final moto where he had to pass rival Febvre to win the title. It was an unbelievable performance under the circumstances.
This was maximum pressure and even Herlings admitted he was feeling it in the week leading up to these last two rounds saying: “Definitely lots of pressure. I haven’t slept for a week, just thinking about scenarios. “If this happened? If that happened? What are we going to do?”. At the end of the day, nothing really happened the way I thought it would. We won the championship. It wasn’t an easy one. I think all three of us kept charging until the last race. Especially me and Romain. The pressure was on and I did not crack under it. I made the championship happen. I’m happy with it. It was the most difficult one ever. I needed nerves of steel the last weeks. We made it happen.”
Nerves of steel indeed – it was nerve-wrecking just watching nevermind trying to imagine what it was like for Febvre and Herlings! You have to think this was a huge confidence booster for Herlings, he has never had to deliver in such pressure before, usually dominant in the championships he’s won, but this time the whole world was watching. It was the the first time a championship had been level-pegging the final moto since the 500cc title battle between Jacky Martens and Marcus Hanson that saw Hansen take the title. But more eyes were on this, even American eyes. MXGP has a huge profile now, it is the most prestigious motocross series in the world and everyone wanted to see who could deliver under the pressure – and it was Herlings.
It is unlikely to get better than this, five guys all going for a title and two on equal points going into the final moto but in the end Jeffrey Herlings was the one guy left standing – even if he had been floored a few times along the way! Never give up, never give in and rise under pressure. After he passed Febvre early in that second moto he put in the the fastest two laps of the race and the fastest lap of the weekend (over a second quicker than anyone else’s best time) then Febvre crashed as he tried to stay with the flying Dutchman. Herlings produced the speed when he really needed it and that is what won him the world title – then he held Gajser off for good measure to make sure he won by more than 2 points so no-one could say Cairoli won him the title by moving over in Arco! Unbelievably driven.
This was Jeffrey Herlings crowning glory. He got landed on twice, missed a GP with injury, then rode with injury, and then crashed himself! He simply shouldn’t have won this title given everything that happened to him this year – but he still made it happen. What a rider.
That said, Romain Febvre was superb this season as well. He rode absolutely fantastic, especially at the end of the year and was oh-so-close to getting his second world title. It was hard not to feel sorry for him when you saw the devastation on his face. For me, he is riding even better than when he won the title in 2015, he is at one with that Kawasaki and he gave absolutely everything to win it. That crash will haunt him but Herlings just had that little bit extra, however, Romain Febvre should be immensely proud of his season, it was probably the best season of his life.
When Tim Gajser was sitting on the steps of the podium, disappointment written all over his face as the realisation that he wasn’t World Champion, despite all the effort and all the pain of a broken collarbone, it told you just how much winning means to these riders. They aren’t just riding for big pay-checks, they are riding for the glory and to achieve their dreams. Gajser really lost his shot at the title in the penultimate round but he still gave it everything in Mantova just in case things fell his way. Single-minded, dedicated and very brave, Gajser will be back, he seems motivated already for 2022 but just like Febvre, this hurt deeply.
Then you have Antonio Cairoli, what more can be said about this remarkable rider? Yes, the last round didn’t go his way after enduring a first moto DNF after colliding with Sewer and breaking his gear shifter and then just tenth after bad start in race two. But it didn’t really matter. Everyone was there just to say thank you and goodbye to one of the greatest of all time and the man Jeffrey Herlings calls the GOAT, an amazing sign of respect from the new world champ.
Cairoli won two more Grand Prix this year and the last one came only a week ago and after than scary crash at Riola to leave the sport with 94 GP wins 9 world titles and of course that MXoN win earlier this year. Remember, he won his last GP and the MXoN at 36 years old. His talent is unbelievable but the competitive desire to still want to fight that hard to for wins and title and be able to deliver in a field this competitive is truly astounding. Cairoli will be missed on the GP scene a great ambassador as well as an amazing rider, they say nice people finish last, but that wasn’t the case with Cairoli!
Adding the end of an era feeling was two more highly respected GP men also bowing out with Shaun Simpson and Kevin Strijbos, two mainstays of the GP paddock, happily both got points in their last moto. It will be very weird to have no Strijbos, Simpson or Cairoli on the gate next year. With Paulin and Desalle retiring last year it certainly is the end of a generation as the new riders come through and Herlings is now one of the veterans!
Fair play Jeremy Seewer. Once healthy, the Yamaha rider was maybe in the best form of his life, he won from the front and came through the field to show he can be fast in every scenario as he took fourth in the championship at the last round despite dealing with illness for the most of the season- if he starts next year in this form watch out!
Someone needs to sign Dylan Wright up for 2022! Coming in mid-season wasn’t easy but Wright took his chance and produced, showing himself to be a 10-15 guy but with a winter prep and a team behind him guiding him could he become a regular top ten rider? At only 24 years old the Canadian champ has potential and deserves a shot and it would be great for MXGP’s global brand to have a North American in the series.
Ruben Fernandez produced again and it looks like he might be even better on a 450 than a 250. His speed has been so impressive and he will be on a lot of radars when he moved up full time in 2023 but you can’t imagine Honda ( who deserve a lot of credit for signing him this season) want to let him go anywhere – this kid looks pretty special on a 450 and Honda might just have another big talent on their hands.
A quick word on MX2. After years of KTM domination, Yamaha were the team who took centre stage in 2021 with Geerts winning the final GP and Renaux winning the final moto to end his world title year in style as he, Geerts and Yamaha went 1-2 in the championship and took the manufacturer’s title. This has been a long-time in the making and everyone at Kemea Yamaha deserve a lot of credit, that bike is fantastic and the riders are producing with a great group of people behind them. After ten years Marnicq Bervoets the team manager, walks away on top to help his own son make his way in the motocross world – he couldn’t have timed it any better!
Article: Jonathan McCready
Cover Image: Kawasaki