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Race reflections: Assen MXGP

Race reflections: Assen MXGP

What a crazy, wild weekend in Assen!

It was one of the best GPs last year and this year was no different, but this time it was for the wacky races that were produced thanks to the thunderstorms and the emergence of another fifteen year-old sensation ironically battling with the previous 15 year-old sensation in the world championship.

15 year-old teenage sensation Spaniard Jorge Prado, who is light as a feather, predictably holeshot all three motos he competed in at his first attempt in MX2 but sensationally won the MX2 qualifier on Saturday! Prado then battled with Herlings at the front for a captivating fifteen minutes in final moto of the weekend. Even in the first moto on Sunday Prado rode cautious to a 12th place finish. The kid is the real deal and once he gets some strength and winter’s training under his belt, he will be a force to be reckoned with in his first full year in MX2 next season. As Herlings said: “He’s going to be a big star.”

It was also a wild weekend for Herlings, a DNF in the qualifier due to an expired engine left Herlings starting from the outside gates on Sunday. Three crashes in race one left Herlings 20 seconds back of surprise race winner Thomas Covington and even more surprisingly Herlings had MX2 rookie Bas Vaessen catching and passing the Dutchman. Herlings admitted after than he didn’t ride good, but found the condition difficult in moto one and just wanted to make sure he got points on title rival Seewer.

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Once a frustrated Herlings got by Prado in race two, the real Jeffrey Herlings finally showed up. The Dutchman put thirty seconds on Prado on 15 short minutes to eventually take a dominating win.

Now Herlings has the Americans gunning for him in Charlotte this weekend and he knows he will have to bring his A game to win there, but also not jeopardise his chances of the title. But with a 76 point lead Herlings only has to beat Seewer in the first moto to clinch it and even if he gets no points at the final two rounds, Seewer would still have to get three thirds and a fourth to win the title, and with the Americans that might not be too easy!

For Herlings beating the Americans is a good way to legitimise his third title and make them realise he is the real deal and not just in the sand. These races are hugely important for Herlings to gain respect of the fans and even the riders in the USA. But he did admit his confliction with riding for the title but also wanting to beat the Americans: “It gives me more motivation to race against the Americans but we just have to concentrate on the championship and not on going head to head with those guys.”

A round of applause for Thomas Covington! While everyone else crashed in the first moto, Covington kept his head and his balance to take a extremely impressive moto win in the sand. Covington has sacrificed a lot to race MXGP, he is taking the harder route than his countrymen – riding Lommel in the winter isn’t as glamourous as practice on a perfectly prepared supercross track in the sunshine in California! But that moto win was a reward for the work Covington has put in to become a better all round rider. Now he gets to go back home for the last two rounds and show his speed there. If Covington could find consistency next season he could be a regular top five guy.

Covington said: “It’s been a great GP and I’m happy the off-season training has finally paid off. The conditions were really hard in moto one. I got a great start behind Prado. I knew it was going to be a long race so I just tried to relax and remain focused. A couple of guys crashed and when I got the lead I tried to be fast without making mistakes. Everything went perfect and we managed to secure the win. In moto two I got a bad start and crashed in the opening lap. I had two more crashes during the race so it was difficult to stay close to the leaders. The speed is there and I’m really looking forward to the next two GPs back home in the US. The goal is to battle for the overall podium in MX2.”

It was a case of what could have been for poor Shaun Simpson. The Scot won the first moto with poise and control despite pressure from Clement Desalle, it was the perfect conditions for Simpson, gnarly wet and rutted sand and he knew it. He was so confident after the race he didn’t seem one bit surprised he won and was already looking forward to moto two.

But then disaster struck, a first turn crash and a couple more crashes left Simpson nearly a lap down but he did come back to 16th when all was said and done with some seriously impressive laptimes to nick sixth overall. The challenge for Simpson is to have that confidence and speed on the rest of the tracks, it will be interesting to see how he fairs in the next two rounds with his confidence no doubt sky high again.

Even rival Tony Carioli was pleased for MXGP winner Clement Desalle who took his first overall victory in two years. Desalle is not known as a sand rider, but winning at Assen made his victory all the sweeter. After two years of injury Desalle is finally back to where he belongs – fighting for victories.

An ecstatic Desalle said: “I enjoyed the victory today and to win in sand made it even sweeter; for sure that is a surprise to some people but I am actually good in sand. I am back and now I want to win every race I start.”

On Saturday Antonio Cairoli looked back to his brilliant best, dominating the field with his classic sand speed and acting like it was 2014 again. But then the rain came and Cairoli looked like a fish out of water in the first moto, making mistakes every lap coming home fourth, despite a late race charge to nick third of teammate Coldenhoff.

In race two, with the track more raceable, Cairoli took the win, it still wasn’t as impressive as his heat race, Desalle was never far away, but in classic champion form, Cairoli found a way to get the job done. He is now 65 points behind Gajser and will be going for it in the final two GP, Cairoli has nothing to lose and everything to gain now.

Cairoli said: “It was a good weekend overall but for sure it could have been even better. Especially in the first moto the track was in horrible condition. It was not fixed as it should have been, and it was very dangerous and very slow, but the same for everybody. I was bit stiff in the beginning then I had a crash and Glenn and Desalle passed me. I tried to close the gap but in the end Glenn was on the gas and he also didn’t get tired. I knew it would be difficult to take the overall from fourth place. Now in the next rounds we will do our best to make it difficult for the championship and maybe also even chase the title.”

It was a bit of a nightmare for Tim Gajser in Assen. The championship leader never looked to fully have his rhythm all weekend but to his credit he kept pushing. Although crashes were the end result of his effort and Tim scored 12-DNF for his worst round of the year. But a 65 point lead should be good enough to wrap the title in Charlotte even if it means we might not see Gajser push it hard against the Americans or even Cairoli. He has to be smart because Cairoli will be wanting to pressure him into another couple of mistakes!

Gajser tightened up a bit at the end of last season when he won the MX2 title, but he still got the job done and I expect him to do the same at Charlotte then be back to his best for Glen Helen.

Now it’s onto the final two rounds in the USA, and despite a negative perception by the US media and industry who don’t appear to want the races, the reality is both are mouth watering prospect for any true motocross fan as they get to see the best of the Americans against the best motocross riders in the world on US turf all going at it for bragging rights.

And until a top American decides to race the full world championship again like RV did – it doesn’t get any better than the next two weeks!