ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: HAS THE MXDN LOST ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN AMERICAN RACING?

MXDN AMERICAN ARMYThe 2011 squad of (from left) Blake Baggett, Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto was the last time Team USA won the Motocross des Nations. Photo by Massimo Zanzani.

By John Basher

Unadilla traditionally marks the announcement of Team USA for the Motocross des Nations, but nefore the gathered thron made it to New York Kawasaki anmnounced the Eli Tomac would not accept a spot on the 2016 American Motocross des Nations tea,. He’s been on the team twice, but doesn’t wat to go this year.

In past years motocross fans didn’t have to read tea leaves to figure out who should represent Team USA. The riders jumped at the chance and everybody knew who should be on the team, but this year is different. With Dungey and Tomac not on the team and Jeremy Martin not performing like he did in 2014-’15, the selection process isn’t be easy. In fact, this might be the most difficult group to pick since 2009 (Ivan Tedesco, Ryan Dungey and Jake Weimer). The good news? That trio won the MXDN. Sometimes the obvious choice isn’t the best choice.

And then there’s the possibility that no one actually wants to go. Say what? Riders have refused to go in the past —many times. In fact, in 1981 when MXA raised funds to send a team to the Trophee and Motocross des Nations every major American motocross star turned down the opportunity—or had their team managers do the dirty work for them. It all worked out in the end because we called Roger DeCoster and he committed his Honda team of Hansen, Sun, LaPorte and O’Mara. They won both events.

Before you put on your Uncle Sam hat and start berating American racers for waffling at the idea of racing the MXDN, remember that these guys have been racing since the beginning of January. Eli Tomac will have raced 17 Supercross rounds, 12 Nationals and the two USGP rounds before the MXDN—and the Monster Energy Cup is right after it. All in all, Tomac will compete in 32 races over 52 weeks. Tacking on the MXDN, in what will be a pressure cooker for Eli, was the tipping point.

“ROGER  SAID, ‘WE HAVE SOME ISSUES WITH GETTING THREE GUYS WANTING TO GO. I THINK WE WILL HAVE A TEAM BEFORE THE WEEKEND. STILL, WITH ALL THESE GPs AND ALL THAT, AND THE EVENT THEY’RE PUTTING ON IN EUROPE, AT SOME POINT THE TOP GUYS WANT TO GET BACK HOME. THEY DON’T WANT TO DO ALL THESE EXTRA RACES.’”

I’m not making this stuff up, folks. Yesterday I spoke with the USA’s team manager Roger DeCoster about the selection process. While he wouldn’t tell me who is on the team–we’ll all have to wait until this weekend for the official announcement–he did say several interesting things. Roger said, “We have some issues with getting three guys wanting to go. I think we will have a team before the weekend. Still, with all these GPs and all that, and the event they’re putting on in Europe [Monster Energy Riders’ Cup], at some point the top guys want to get back home. They don’t want to do all these extra races.” DeCoster then went on to say that he had a team set, but circumstances changed on Monday. We can only assumed that repalcing Tomac was his biggest problem issue. I asked if he thought there were too many races in a calendar year, Roger simply stated, “There are too many high pressure races.” It’s hard to argue against that.

Team USA hasn’t won the Chamberlain Trophy since 2011. The four-year dry spell is the longest since 2001-2004, when the U.S. didn’t send a team for three of the four years. This year’s MXDN in Maggiora, Italy, should be considered a big deal. Surely Roger wants the U.S. to reassert its dominance on the world stage. That’s easier said than done, especially this go-around. For starters, the MXGP regulars aren’t slouches. It can be argued that Tim Gajser is the fastest 450 rider in the world at the moment. While the Slovenian doesn’t have teammates capable of helping him win the MXDN overall, Team France has all the pieces to defend the trophy again. Romain Febvre, Gautier Paulin and Benoit Paturel (replacing the injured Dylan Ferrandis) will be tough to beat. Dylan Ferrandis, the original 250 rider for France, broke his arm this past weekend at the Swiss GP. Americans also need to remember that the MXDN isn’t an AMA versus FIM event. U.S. fans may have the pleasure of watching Ken Roczen, Marvin Musquin and Christophe Pourcel carve up tracks around America, but Marvin and Christophe are French and Kenny is German. Schade!

Roger DeCoster has a track record of picking riders with Motocross des Nations experience. Don’t think so? In 2014, Trey Canard was third in 450 points–behind Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey. With Roczen out of the equation and Dungey the obvious pick, Canard seemed like the logical choice to represent Team USA in the Open class. Instead, Eli Tomac, who had missed the opening four rounds of the 450 Nationals, was chosen. One can argue that Tomac was selected based on his slightly better results than Canard (Eli earned 212 points to Trey’s 180 points). What helped strengthened Tomac’s case was that he raced the previous year’s MXDN.

There was also the 2009 effort, with Ivan Tedesco in the Open class slot. He was selected over teammate Andrew Short, even though Short was ahead in the points leading up to the announcement (Andrew finished ahead of Ivan in the final points standings, as well). Here’s the thing — Tedesco had been on two previous USA squads (both wins). Ivan was part of the winning team in 2009. Andrew Short got his shot a year later and helped the red, white and blue win on in home track at Thunder Valley.

Who are Roger DeCoster’s possible options for Team USA 2016? This list could be drastically different on Saturday, depending on who is actually willing to go, but let’s take a few guesses.

1. Eli Tomac–450 class–This was an easy decision until Eli said that he woukdn’t go. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider wase DeCoster’s number one choice. Tomac has two 450 National wins–one on a Maggiora-like hard pack surface of Washougal–and is the only rider capable of running with Ken Roczen. Tomac has also been on two prior teams and knows the quirky schedule and gating process at the MXDN. Without Tomac or Dungey, both of whom are healthy, but want to skip the event, Team USA is in a hole.

2. Justin Barcia–450 class/Open class–Looking down the 450 points standings after Eli Toamc, Justin Barcia is the next best American. Unfortunately, his summer has been less than impressive (two podium finishes in 18 motos) compared to last year (nine podiums in 18 motos). Still, Justin is a hard worker with a wealth of past MXDN experience. He understands the magnitude of the race and can handle the pressure. JGRMX supported his endeavor last year, and they’d likely do it again.

3. Cooper Webb–Open class/250 class–If you think that putting the potential 250 National Champion on a 450 for the MXDN has never been done before, think again. Ryan Dungey won the 2009 AMA 250 National title and raced the MXDN on a 450. Cooper Webb hasn’t won the 250 title yet, but he is a very good choice for the Open class slot. Webb went 2-6 in the combined classes at last year’s MXDN in France and ended up second overall in the Open classification. It’s really only down to Webb and Barcia for the Open class spot on Team USA, with the caveat that Barcia could fill that role and Webb represented in the 250 class.

4. Jeremy Martin–250 class–It’s hard not to speculate about the underlying issues between Jeremy Martin and Star Racing Yamaha. Reports have surfaced about infighting and politics. Let’s put that aside for a minute. Jeremy Martin is a two-time 250 National Champion with MXDN experience. Sure, his 2016 outdoor campaign hasn’t gone smoothly, but he has four moto wins, one overall and is currently second in points. He’s a good choice. Would he play well with teammate Cooper Webb if both were selected again? Would both go if the other one was picked? Also, keep in mind that Martin broke two rips in the second moto at Washougal.

5. Joey Savatgy–250 class–Joey was head and shoulders above everyone else in the 250 class at Hangtown and remained strong until hitting the deck in the second moto at Red Bud. He started finding his flow at Washougal, but then the second moto antics with Cooper Webb happened. Savatgy would probably excel on the world stage, and Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Mitch Payton and Bones Bacon are big supporters of Team USA. However, Savatgy would probably be teamed up with Cooper Webb. Will all be forgiven? Oddly enough, both Martin and Savatgy have had issues with Webb.

6. Alex Martin–250 class–Isn’t it strange how life works? Alex Martin, the journeyman 250 racer who struggled to get inside the top ten only a few years ago, is now one of the premiere riders in a stacked 250 class. Martin rode the MXDN for Puerto Rico in 2013-’14 and helped the team make the ‘A’ Main in 2014. Alex is currently four points out of second place in the 250 National standings. He has two overalls so far this summer and is a very tempting choice for DeCoster. Will “The Man” go with the older Martin brother? It would put an exclamation point on a storybook year for Alex.

7. Austin Forkner–250 class–This is just ludicrous thinking, but rookie Austin Forkner is like Hansel–so hot right now. In reality, Austin won’t get selected for Team USA (this year), but he sure would be fun to watch on the world stage. We’d pick him just for the creativity of the choice. Amazingly enough, yesterday we were hanging out with David Bailey, a multi-time MXDN Champion, and David said that his first choice for the 250 spot would be Austin Forkner.

Who should Roger DeCoster pick for the 2016 Motocross des Nations team? If it were me making the selections, I would have gone with Eli Tomac, Ryan Dungey and Cooper Webb. However, given that Tomac and Dungey won’t go, that should put Cooper Webb and Justin Barcia in the 450 slots. I keep going back and forth between Savatgy and Alex Martin for the 250 slot…it’s too close to call! Its not just who Roger picks for the team, but who agrees to go and to what extent their teams will back them. The above selections are written with the idea that these guys would actually accept the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the MXDN.

Maybe, just maybe, Roger will be forced to phone in a favor and have his star pupil, Ryan Dungey, race in Maggiora. After all, he plans to race the big SMX Euro Supercross a week later anyway. There’s no replacement for gate time.

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