CLASSIC DECOSTER: 1998 MX DES NATIONS PREVIEW

By 1998, the U.S team in the Motocross des Nations was proven to be beatable. We had lost the last three out of four. The 13-year winning streak had ended back in 1994. But we were hopeful with the addition of young Ricky Carmichael to the team. Roger DeCoster wrote about the U.S. team’s prospects in the October, 1998 issue of Dirt Bike before the team was even finalized. After this writing, the team was chosen with R.C., John Dowd and Doug Henry. The race itself was a mud bath at Foxhills in England. Henry won the first moto, but the wheels came off afterward, allowing Belgium to win with Marnicq Bervoets, Patrick Caps and Stefan Evert. Here’s what Roger thought beforehand

By the time you read this, the Motocross des Nations will be right on top of us. It should be a great race. It always has been. Traditionally, you see the greatest individual and team performances when countries and national prides clash. You see riders who reach new levels and others who just won’t quit. For most of them, the Motocross des Nations isn’t just another paycheck. It’s an honor and a privilege just to be there. At home, if a rider doesn’t give his best effort, he’s just letting himself and his sponsor down. Other there, he’s letting his whole country down. That’s a powerful incentive.

This time, the race will be in England, and it will probably boil down to a three way battle between the U.S., France and the reigning champs from Belgium. England and Italy will act as spoilers. The teams haven’t been made official at the time of this writing, but if I were in charge of each team, here’s who I would choose:

Belgium: There’s a good chance the Belgian team could have two newly crowned world champions. Presently Joel Smets is leading the 500 class and Stefan Everts is in a dogfight with Sebastien Tortelli for supremecy in the 250 class. Barring injury, either of these two riders has a great shot at being the top individual at the des Nations. Things aren’t quite as rosy for Belgium’s third rider, Marnicq Bervoets. After finishing second to Everts for several years, he’s been struggling to regain his form. As of the mid-way point of the 1998 GP season, he’s back in eighth place. Belgium’s best hope is for Marnicq to pick up the pace, because the team just doesn’t have another top contender. Belgium’s fourth best rider is Werner DeWit, who is still out with a broken leg. After that, the next rider would most likely be Cedric Mellote, who can’t be expected to finish better than tenth in class.

France: The number of quality riders in France is certainly growing. In my racing years, the powerhouse teams were the Swedes and the English, with an occasional threat from Finland, Russia, Holland or Czechoslovakia. France was never a big concern. Things have changed. France could well take the spotlight away from the Belgium/American feud and win its first des Nations in 1998. What already happened in the World Cup might just happen in the world of motocross.
My best guess is that the French will choose David Vuillemin, Tortelli, and Frederic Bolley. Vuillemin is perfect for the 125 class, but I would ask either Bolley to move up to the 500 class; he has already proven himself capable on a big bore. France has other potential winners like Mickael Pichon and even Yves DeMaria. But just as the Americans never sent Trampas Parker or Bobby Moore, I believe the French would be reluctant to select their expatriate riders. Now, they at least have the luxury of choice.

Italy: Just like France, Italy has better motocrossers today than ever before. They have the fortune of having three 1998 GP winners: Andrea Bartolini in the 500 class on his YZ400, and Alessio Chiodi and Alessandro Puzar, both in the 125 class. Chiodi is currently leading the 125 GP point standings so he should remain in the 125 class. Puzar, being a former 250 champion, should move back to a 250 for the des Nations. Italy isn’t quite as strong as France or Belgium, but with a little luck, they could pull off an upset win.

England: British riders have a long history of rising to a higher level on home ground. There’s no better time for that than now. The team will probably be Rob Herring in the 500s, Marc Eastwood in the 250s and Jamie Dobb on a 125. It’s not exactly a powerhouse team, but then it’s not bad, either, with all three riders currently riding well in the GPs. A win in the des Nations would do a lot for English prestige, especially after an early exit from the world cup. They take that kind of stuff very seriously.
That, of course, leaves the American team. I can’t say that we are the favorites anymore–last year’s beating was severe. But I guarantee you that the Belgians, the French and all the others still take the American team very seriously. They’re too smart not to. Our team hasn’t been finalized yet, but here are my thoughts so far:

Doug Henry: He’s a natural for the 500 class. Over there, they don’t allow the Yamaha YZ400 in the 250 class (after all, it’s NOT a 250). Right now, Doug is riding smoother and more consistently than he has all year.

Ricky Carmichael: He’s the brightest young star on America’s horizon. Right now, he’s fast and he’s in good shape. Even though it would be his first trip to the des Nations, I feel certain that Ricky will have the passion it takes to do well.

Ezra Lusk: Currently he’s nursing a broken arm, but he’s still riding amazingly well with a steel plate holding the bone together. When things fall into place for Ezra, he can be the fastest rider in America. Still, his consistency needs to improve before he’s a sure bet to beat the Europeans.
Kevin Windham: He gets excellent starts and he has the speed. But Kevin seems to tire late in the second moto. I would feel more confident with Windham if his endurance were a little better.

John Dowd: Without a mechanical failure, Dowd would have be the best U.S. scorer last year at the des Nations. He’s in good shape and he’s fast. My only reservation is that he has been riding a 125 all year. At the Des Nations, I feel confident that Ricky should be our 125 guy, which puts Dowd on a 250. If we knew it were going to be muddy, we would go with dowd regardless of what size bike he rides. In other conditions, going from a 125 to a 250 overnight can be a tough transition.

Jeremy McGrath: His wrist should be healed by then, but Jeremy’s interest at the des Nations has been spotty. I can’t say he’s a supercross-only rider; he has proven that untrue many times. But after having sat out so many races, can he possibly be in top form?
Larry Ward: If we wanted a rider who’s strong point is consistency, then Larry would be our man. But I’m not sure that he can beat Europe’s best riders.
So where does that leave us? Right now, I think the best team will be Henry, Carmichael and Lusk. That might change right up until race day. And now for the big question: Who will win the 1998 Motocross des Nations?
I don’t have a clue. But America has as good a chance as any team in the world.
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