Friday Kickstart – Monster Energy Motocross of Nations

By Brendan Lutes

The festivities at the 66th edition of the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations in Lommel, Belgium, have officially begun. And today not only consisted of a press conference featuring the top teams, but a go-kart event hosted by Monster Energy, where each country raced against each other in a Go-Karting of Nations.
Heading into this year's MXoN, most of the talk centered on the brutally rough sand track; but more importantly how the Americans would fair against the Europeans at a facility that is drastically different than what they've seen in the United States. In an effort to get acquainted with the conditions, Team USA came over last week and have been testing and training on some of the sand tracks found in Belgium and Germany. The team even spent a day riding Lommel before it was closed to prepare for the MXoN. Going into the event this weekend, Ryan Dungey, Blake Baggett, and Justin Barcia are confident in their abilities. Check out some of what went on today in Lommel.

As we mentioned, the track at Lommel has been the major topic of conversation leading up to this year's MXoN. Right now, it is perfectly prepped and not a bump can be found, however, after the first practice session, the lines, bumps, and ruts will quickly begin to develop. According to riders that regularly ride the track, there are portions of it that are completely new.

Here's a view of the pit area. It's worth mentioning that it's probably one of the nicest we've seen with concrete walkways between all the team rigs.

As is the case at any FIM sanctioned event, riders must have their bikes washed in designated wash bays. This is the set up in Belgium with each team getting a designated spot.

Aside from the team press conference this afternoon, teams were also putting their bikes through tech inspection. Each one of the riders on Team USA has a spare bike and a race bike, so both bikes had to go through tech. Here, Blake Baggett's mechanic Shawn Irwin puts one of Blake's KX250F machines through sound check. Last year, some of the US-based riders has issues with passing sound. This year, we didn’t hear of any major issues.

Following the sound check, the bike is then weighed to make sure it's within the rules.

Being that it is the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations, Monster girls were out in full force.

Justin Barcia took delivery of some brand new SOL REPUBLIC headphones today. The headphones are red, white, and blue themed and should be available to the public soon. When they are, we'll be sure to let you know.

During the opening of the press conference, Youthstream's Giuseppe Luongo announced that in 2015 the Motocross of Nations will return to the United States with the venue being Glen Helen. There is no doubt everyone in the U.S. is very excited about the announcement.

The press tent is very impressive this year, complete with bathrooms, food, and drinks for the working press. Youthstream is claiming to have over 300 journalists attending the event.

All told, Team USA has been over in Europe preparing for the MXoN for about a week and a half. Belgium-born Roger DeCoster no doubt knows a thing or two about going fast in the Lommel sand and he made sure that the team is well prepared for the race this weekend. Upon first arriving in Belgium, the team rode at Lommel before it was ultimately shut down to prepare for the MXoN.

As is the case every year, the Team USA press conference was the most popular and well attended of all the teams.

This is team captain Ryan Dungey's fourth MXoN and he is bringing a lot of knowledge to the table. When asked if winning on the difficult sands of Lommel would out weigh his other wins, Ryan said that his team's victory at the 2009 MXoN in Italy will probably always be the sweetest.

This is Blake Baggett's second Motocross of Nations, and he is exuding a calm, cool, and collected attitude.

With two riders that have already been to the MXoN on the team roster, it's easy to look at Team USA's MX3 rider Justin Barcia as the wild card. But keep in mind that when he rode a 450 during select rounds of last year's outdoor national tour, he contended for wins and podium finishes. "I enjoy riding the 450," Barcia said of his new bike. "It suits my style better than the 250 does."

Home team Belgium is a favorite this weekend, and for good reason. All three riders are very strong in the deep Lommel sand. "I remember coming to this race at Lommel when I was 12 years old and our team lost," Team Manager Joel Smets said of the race. "I was devastated. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen this weekend."

Last year's third place overall team was Team Australia, and this year they had to pull together three relatively unknown riders to represent the country. With Chad Reed, Michael Byrne, and Brett Metcalfe all sidelined with injuries, Lawson Bopping, Luke Styke, and Todd Waters will be holding it down for the Aussis.

After a solid season of racing in the US under his belt, and his accolades racing the World Championships and previous MXoN events, Germany's Ken Roczen is expected to impress this weekend. When asked about current MX2 World Champion Jeffrey Herrlings Roczen said, "I think he's beatable. The last time I raced him here, I led until the last lap when I threw it away." Roczen will be racing the MX2 class, though, while Herrlings will be in the MX3 class.

After his dominating performances at the sand races of the World Championship--one being Lommel--The Netherlands' Jeffrey Herrlings has a lot of hype surrounding him for being the fastest sand rider on the planet right now. Rather than riding his familiar MX machine, he will be jumping up to the KTM 350SX-F and competing in the MX3 class. Herrlings said he can't wait to race the MX1/MX3 combined moto to get to race against Dungey, Cairoli, Barcia, and the rest of the top riders.

Team Puerto Rico had a last minute rider change after Jimmy Albertson crashed while preparing for the event, tearing a muscle in his hip/groin area. To fill in for him, they are bring Kyle Chisholm over from the US. At press time, Chisholm was reportedly on a flight over to Belgium and the team had a bike going through tech that was ready and waiting for him to ride. It will definitely be interesting to see how Chisholm does. He not only has to combat jet lag, but he also has to overcome an unfamiliar bike and track.

Italy's Antonio Cairoli just won yet another MX1 World Championship this year and is hoping to put in a good showing this weekend in the deep Lommel sand.

Team France had a last-minute rider change with Xavier Boog joining the team as the MX3 rider. In the World Championships, Boog has put in many solid rides. And with teammates like Marvin Musquin (MX2) and Gautier Paulin (MX1), don't count the team out this weekend.

Following the press conference, Monster Energy held a go-kart race at an indoor karting facility next to the racetrack. The format was simple: each county put together a team and raced for one hour, switching off drivers whenever they wanted. Surprisingly no one was taken out during driver changes, but that wasn't the case on the tight track. In the end, France took home the top honors in the Monster Energy Go Kart of Nations, with Spain second and Belgium third.

Gautier Paulin helped the French team take home the victory in the kart race.

Yes, Monster girls were everywhere at the event. And no, we weren't complaining...

Something isn't right with this picture... You just can't put motocross racers together on a tight kart track, things are bound to get broken. The result of this hit was a broken front wheel.

Xavier Boog was another driver for the strong French team.

Some of the Monster girls even got in on the action, holding their own with the boys out on the track.

More bumping... Rubbing is racing, right?

Team USA's Blake Baggett showed up and spun a few laps.

The whole group before the one-hour race. Check back tomorrow for more from the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations!