Making the Case for a Team USA Motocross Des Nations Entryby Jack Gaffney May 27, 2021 1 comment
As it stands currently, the Motocross Des Nations event is set to run this year after the 2020 running was canceled. Also, as of now, it is currently vague on if the United States will send a team or not for the late September event. The red, white, and blue have been plagued with poor results and bad luck the last decade after dominating in the 2000s. However, they could likely have their best chance to win the event since last winning in 2011. We get to why, go into candidates for the three-team spots, and then a few team combinations down below.
The Case to Go:
More so in recent years, the gap between the AMA Motocross finale and Des Nations has been rather large. This number takes the last seven years where Des Nations has been run into account. The gap has ranged from just under a month, to near a month and a half between the final US National and Des Nations. The United States ended up with an average finish of 4.285 in those seven years. This compared to an average finish of 1.250 and 7 straight wins in the previous eight years. This year, schedule changes permitting, the gap between the US Motocross finale and Des Nations is just two weeks. Having riders still be in relative race-winning mode could prove beneficial.
A rather notable twist for 2021, is that Des Nations in the dead middle of the MXGP season. For TLDR purposes for those that do not know, MXGP is the FIM’s World Motocross Championship. Even more so, Des Nations is set to be a part of a stretch of seven consecutive race weekends stretching across Southern Europe. With that in mind, GP riders like Tim Gajser, Jeffery Herlings, Antonio Cairoli, Tom Vialle, and Jago Geerts, may not have the inclination to go all out. All five of those riders will more than likely be in the thick of title hunts by September. The United States team would have absolutely nothing to lose and could/should take absolute advantage of that. So, pending any pandemic-related happenings, The US should absolutely send a team to Italy.
Team Selection Process:
For those unaware of how a team is formatted for a Des Nations, here is the lowdown. Each country that enters brings three riders to compete. One guaranteed 450 rider, labeled as the MX1 entry. A guaranteed 250 rider, labeled as the MX2 entry. Then a flex option called Open. The Open class rider can ride either or, but for most contending countries, it is an extra 450 rider.
Seeing as this is Team USA, some notable riders that ride full time in the United States are automatically out of the discussion. The major ones are Ken Roczen (Germany), Marvin Musquin and Dylan Ferrandis (France), and then The Lawrence Brothers (Australia). Even without those five and few others, there are more than enough quality riders available. So here are three 250 riders, and seven 450 riders that will more than likely be options.
The first rider will be the last rider to be the MX2 entry for the USA, Star Yamaha’s Justin Cooper. If for nothing else, he probably deserves another shot after his injury he suffered in The Netherlands. In the first moto in 2019, he got tangled with his teammate Jason Anderson and suffered a boxer fracture in his hand. Cooper then gutted out over 60 total minutes of racing with it in downright brutal conditions. Not to mention that he won the MX2 qualifying race just a day earlier, pulling a holeshot from the outside most gate.
Secondly would be his teammate, Jeremy Martin. Martin has competed for Team USA in 2014 and 2015 and did well on both occasions. He scored moto finishes of eleventh, thirteenth, and a couple of fifths in the four motos he competed in. As far as a good mix of experience and talent goes, no one in the 250 class brings more than Martin. His last appearance being nearly six years ago is 100 percent a non-issue. He finished second in last year’s 250 championship to Ferrandis as well. All the while coming off an 18-month layoff due to botched back surgery.
The final rider that should receive at least some recognition is Husqvarna’s, R.J. Hampshire. The downside with Hampshire is that he has never competed in Des Nations before. Which likely puts him at least third in line among 250 riders here. However, in his last three outdoor seasons, Hampshire has recorded points finishes of seventh, and fourth twice. Also, Austin Forkner’s inability to stay healthy likely should keep him out of consideration here. Also, his alarming lack of outdoor races the last number of years from injuries. Regardless Hampshire would give the US an honest effort if selected.
No American rider in the 450 class has more Des Nations starts to his name than Osborne. He has two entries as a member and Captain of Team USA, and three entries as a member of Team Puerto Rico. Osborne near single-handedly kept the stars and stripes from a sub-top ten result in 2017 in the UK with a 3-10 performance. Then two years ago had a 5-13 effort in the Netherlands. Osborne might not be the most talented rider available when you break it down. But it is close to a mortal lock guarantee that no one else would give Team USA a better effort. Pending injury, it would be a shock to see him off the team roster.
Safe to say at this juncture that Cianciarulo would make a great fit for any Team USA roster. Despite never competing in the event, AC has a rather good track record in American motocross to this point. Three of his last four outdoor seasons have ended with top three points finishes and a 250 championship. Also, Cianciarulo won eight out of a possible 33 nationals in that span (missed the entire 2018 motocross season due to ACL surgery). Cianciarulo in the past has also talked about wanting to run in the event so it all feels like this could work out. There is one small catch, however.
For some background information, Stephen Astephen is the founder of The Familie V2 Agency, with who Cianciarulo, Roczen, and Chase Sexton are all associated. Astephen was on record last year that he would not let the former two riders race internationally on The Real Talk 447 show.
Now maybe that stance has changed over that ten or so months, but if it has not, it is out of Cianciarulo’s hands at that point. At the end of the day, Astephen is just trying to do what he thinks right for his guys and that should be respected. Hopefully, however, he lets Cianciarulo or Sexton go if they really would like to.
Have some doubts on if Tomac would even want to go over this year. This mainly due to him first seemingly passing on going in 2017. Then being blocked from doing so in 2019 by Kawasaki of America despite some interest in going. Tomac of course was the main piece for Team USA in 2018 for a home Des Nations at RedBud that did not go to plan. While Tomac’s 4-7 effort was by no means horrible, the expectation was that he would dominate and bring home a Des Nations win on home soil. His only other Des Nations appearance came in 2013. Tomac that year in Germany, gave The USA their best moto finish of a second that day in race two but had a 16th in the opening race.
On strict talent, Tomac is the best rider that can be selected here without question. However, he could opt to simply not go for a variety of factors. The big one this year could be his impending move to Yamaha. In fairness that is not the worst reason to skip out. Even a couple of extra weeks getting acclimated to a new bike could be big. But a chance to go out with Kawasaki with the biggest high possible could be very enticing. And Tomac has won basically everything there is to win in this sport, save a Des Nations.
Despite being a rider likely more known for his Supercross ability, Anderson has been surprisingly for Team USA in the past. As a matter of fact, he is only one of two riders of the ten here that has a Des Nations moto win to his name. Granted he got landed on literal seconds after that race which ended his day early, but that is neither here nor there.
Anderson also spearheaded a near-month-long trek to Europe in 2019 to train on some European tracks to prepare for the event. He ended up rallying to a 17th in his first race after an opening lap wreck, then finished eighth in his second race in 2019. Based on the prep he, and really that whole 2019 team put in to get ready that year, Anderson is more than deserving at another crack at Des Nations. Just a matter of how the cards fall in regard to other riders. Also not going to object to any future quality Team Fried content.
Anderson has one of the two Des Nations moto wins here, BamBam has the other. That came back in 2015 when Barcia captained Team USA to a second-place in France, going 1-3 on the day. Which was the best result of any MX1 rider as well. Barcia in total has four Des Nation starts to his name, so he is no stranger to the event. He has given very respectable efforts every time he has been selected. His worst ever Des Nations moto result in eight motos was a 14th, in his first-ever Des Nations moto. Barcia would be a very solid pickup for Team USA this year depending on how things shake out. You know what you are getting with him in regard to Des Nations too which would help.
The reigning Supercross World Champion’s last Des Nations start came back in 2016, the last time the event was held in Italy. That year he had an insane amount of pressure on him to do well in the last race of the day with Anderson injured. He needed a good result but ended up going down late while Team USA had the win in hand. Webb ended up tenth that moto and Team USA missed out on the win by five points. Again, a very high-pressure situation especially for a 250 rider, but nothing can be done about it now.
Taking that one moto out of the equation, his other three previous results were a fourth, a second, and a sixth. Both of those Des Nations appearances were with Star Yamaha in his 250 days. Now with KTM, the Team USA manager happens to be his old boss Roger De Coster. Would be hard for him to not want his guy in Webb at least to be considered for a spot.
Had a tough time deciding between Plessigner and Sexton but opted to go with the former here for this reason. Plessinger is expected to make the jump to Red Bull KTM in 2022 after three years with Yamaha in the 450 class. While he would be on a Yamaha for this race, De Coster may feel good about picking one of his future guys for Team USA. Plessinger’s lone Des Nations appearance was in 2018. He appeared to get hurt during the MX2 class qualifying race that weekend and had finishes of 16th and 18th that Sunday.
However, whatever changed with him between 2020 and 2021 has clearly worked with Plessinger. He’s in the midst of a career 450 year and is likely to continue into the outdoors. He may not be one of the two or three top options but would be a good choice if selected.
Now, here are five different team combinations that I would like to see, not in any specific order. All ten riders show up below at least once.
Team Option 1- Husqvarna Trio
MX1- Zach Osborne MX2- RJ Hampshire Open- Jason Anderson
Do not underestimate the advantage of having three riders all under one hauler. In 2019 Team USA lobbied to get the Yamaha and Husqvarna rigs as close as possible for their three riders. That becomes a non-issue if this lineup is sent. And if Hampshire is your “weak link”, then you are in an excellent spot all things considered.
Team Option 2- Youth Movement
MX1- Adam Cianciarulo MX2- Justin Cooper Open- Aaron Plessinger
Here you would get the youngest possible roster under the circumstance of having two 450 riders. Maybe going in the direction of having a combined two Des Nations starts with three riders could be a positive. All three more than likely would at the least, give you a solid chance of winning. On top of the fact that effort would be a non-issue, all three of these riders will empty the tank to get the job done win, lose, or draw.
Team Option 3- 2015 Team USA Redux
MX1- Cooper Webb MX2- Jeremy Martin Open- Justin Barcia
This is one of two former teams that would make a ton of sense to run it back with. It took a pair of superhuman efforts by France’s Musquin, and Romain Febvre to beat this team by just two points. The argument can very well be made that all three of these riders are better than what they were six years ago as well. This would be far from the worst option available, all three of these riders have that bulldog mentality that is needed to win. Webb and Barcia also switch slots from 2015 here as well.
Team Option 4- 2019 Team USA Redux
MX1- Zach Osborne MX2- Justin Cooper Open- Jason Anderson
As previously stated, this unit absolutely deserves another go. Their result was not great two years ago, but they showed that they absolutely wanted to be there and rallied from a brutal opening race. There are not many riders who would have done what they did going over to Europe to prep nearly a month in advance. Like with the above option, the MX1 and Open riders are switched, here with Osborne and Anderson.
Team Option 5- Dream Team
MX1- Zach Osborne MX2- Jeremy Martin Open- Eli Tomac
On straight talent alone, this is easily the best team option available by a good bit. All three riders have multiple Motocross championships to their names in either class. Martin and Tomac have trained together in the past at Tomac’s compound in Colorado. Would imagine that would be the case for prep as well if this team sees the light of day. Osborne could possibly join them there in the lead-up, but that would have to wait to be seen. Depending on how the French, Dutch, Belgians, and Brits, among others, construct their teams, this trio could very well win.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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