"King Of The Sand"
Heading into Lommel for the 2012 Motocross of Nations, much of the talk was about the race within the race between Italian six-time World Champion Antonio Cairoli and the newly-crowned MX2 World Champ from The Netherlands, Jeffrey Herlings, for the title of reigning "King of The Sand." In the GP series, Cairoli has been, by far, the fastest man in the sand in the MX1 class, but over the last few seasons, Herlings has been absolutely destroying the MX2 field in the sand. I know “destroying” is a strong word, but it may actually be an understatement in this context. At the last sand GP in Leirop, Jeffrey won both motos by over two minutes and lapped up to third place in one of them.
Unfortunately at the MXoN in Lommel last weekend, the two were in different classes—Herlings MX3 and Cairoli MX1—so the two would only meet each other in the final moto of the day which combined their classes. In the first moto of the day—MX1/MX2 combined—Cairoli won by 21 seconds, and in the second moto—MX2/MX3 combined—Herlings won by an astounding 58 seconds, so the stage was set for the showdown in moto 3.
When the gate fell in the final moto, it was Cairoli with the early lead and Herlings all the way in last after a crash. For most mortals, the battle would be over at that point, but Herlings thought differently. The teenager saddled up and sliced through the field like he was the only man on track. After one lap, he was 16th; after four laps, he was 4th; and on lap six, he was around the American Justin Barcia and into 2nd place. Once in 2nd, Herlings had a twenty-second gap up to Cairoili, but six laps later, he found the Italian's rear wheel.
It looked effortless for Jeffrey to catch Antonio, but once he got there, passing the World Champ was another thing. It almost seemed like Cairoli was waiting for him because, once Jeffrey got to his rear wheel, he responded with another gear. With Herlings having to race moto two just forty-five minutes before the start of moto three and then having to fight from last place to get to Antonio, it looked like he was a little worse for wear at the end. Antonio was able to hang on for the win and with that, for now, take the "King Of The Sand" title. It was cool to see the two Champions hug it out after the hard fought war.
It is unfortunate that Herlings had to go through the entire field and then make up twenty seconds before the race materialized, but it was an incredible sight to see for the fans. I've probably seen twenty-five years of Motocross of Nations events, and Herlings’ ride in moto three was one of the best performances in MXoN history. Cairoli won this round, but I am not so sure the outcome will be the same when the bell rings for round two.
After the race, Steve Matthes—with no Canadians in the house to interview—hooked up with Antonio for an interview. The two talked about the battle between himself and Jeffrey, Team USA's effort in the sand and the event as a whole. You can read that interview over at Racer X Online in "Monday Conversation: Antonio Cairoli.”