Here’s a look back at the 2000 Motocross des Nations in St. Jean D’Angely, France. Believe it or not, even with the roster of Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Hughes, and a young Travis Pastrana for Team USA, they were seen as the underdogs going into the event. And it would be the underdogs who would triumph. Ending a three-year drought for Team USA at Des Nations…
By Chris Jonnum
ST. JEAN D’ANGELY,FRANCE, SEPT. 10 – To hear the scuttlebutt not long ago this very season, you’d think the Grim Reaper had already done his duty. Both of our outdoor titles (one of which was a already being defended by a South African) were in serious jeopardy of being taken by a Frenchman, and one of their fellow countryman had even shown the audacity to challenge the consummate dominance of our eternal Supercross king. To make matters worse, the Stars and Stripes had al o taken a few hits on the official international front, with World Motocross Championship and Motocross des Nations titles having eluded the grasp of Americans since 1994 and 1996, respectively.
The United States’ long-held status as the unquestionable premiere producer of motocross talent, it seemed, had reached its ignoble expiration.
But not so quick with that death warrant, Mr. Reaper. In the past few weeks, three young men from the Land of the Free have proven that not only had the news of their passing been greatly exaggerated, but that for now, anyway, the U.S. must still be considered number one in the world of motocross. One week after Ricky Carmichael and Travis Pastrana were officially declared National Motocross Champions by the AMA, fellow yank Ryan Hughes joined them in a gutsy underdog performance at the Olympics of Motocross, which they won in convincing fashion on the home turf of the favored team from France.
“In a way, it was good to be an underdog,” Team USA Manager Roger DeCoster said. “On paper, France had two good teams for the race. In the U.S., support has been on the downside… It feels really good, and I’m really proud of the riders and mechanics on each team. They worked hard for this race. It’s a tough race, believe me. I think it ‘s the biggest outdoor race of the year, because you get the best riders in each class together, and it’s the only time in the year that we see that. It’s the best in the world.”
The win came about thanks to a number of things, not the least among them outright moto wins by PAMO Honda’s Hughes and Chevy Trucks/Kawasaki’s Carmichael, and a heroic come-from-behind ride by MXdN rookie Pastrana of Team Suzuki. But as Hughes himself pointed out before the event on the Cycle News website, “There’s a lot of luck involved, too.” That luck has consistently evaded our team for the past few years, but on the beautifully prepared MCA Motocross Circuit in St. Jean d’Angely, the cards finally fell right for Team Chevy Trucks USA, and misfortune – in the supremely simple form of a rock – quickly, fatally and literally struck the powerhouse French.
In the first few laps of the first moto, 250cc World MX Champion Frederic Bolley had his nose broken by a stone thrown from the rear tire of another bike, and with blood gushing from his face, the PAMO Honda rider’s day was effectively finished. This helped the U.S. to a low 19-point team score, nearly half the total of defending champion and runner-up Italy.
MOTO 1 (125/OPEN)
The drama started early, with both of the favored teams struck by misfortune in the opening laps of the first heat. Pastrana went down in turn one and remounted in dead last, and just a couple laps later, Bolley was hit by the fateful rock and pulled out.
“I took a big, big stone on my nose from a roost,” Belley said. “It was bleeding a lot, and that’s why I stopped. There was not a lot of pain at first, but a lot of blood, and I stopped because it was like water. After that, there was a lot of pain.”
“I started to highside, and when I started taking off to the left, I got T boned by about 10 guys,” Pastrana said. “Luckily a guy from another country landed on me, and everyone ran over him.”
Pastrana went on a tear, slicing through the pack and – on lap nine of the 30 – minute-plus -two-lap race – catching French rival Stephane Roncada, who had also started poorly and was running second 125 behind World Champion Grant Langston.
“I came back, and I couldn’t believe it – all of a sudden I started seeing low numbers,” Pastrana said. “I passed a number one, and then all of a sudden there was Roncada. I was like, ‘No, this can’t be.'”
With the crowd going nuts, and a wave of French flags following him around the track, Roncada tried desperately to hold off Pastrana, but his efforts were hindered by Finn Miska Aaltonen’s big four-stroke, which appeared to be holding up the Yamaha rider. Pastrana pulled even at one point, then lost a bit of ground, and when some Open-class riders got between the two, it appeared that the American would have to settle for third 125. But on the final lap, Pastrana soared over Roncada on a huge downhill ski jump, taking over second 125 and 10th overall.
“He went inside to block my line,” Pastrana said, “And I just jumped right by him on the outside.”
“All year he didn’t do anything like that,” Roncada said, when asked if the move surprised him. “He almost landed on me over there. I was more pissed than anything. He ran into me in the corner before that, and we both almost crashed. He doesn’t ride like that, usually. He took two big chances, but it’s the MX des Nations, and it’s his first time. He’s still a cool kid.”
Though it was comparatively unnoticed, there was also drama at the front of the pack, with James Dobb leading nearly the entire race after putting an early pass on Swede Peter Johansson. Though he only had a couple of hours’ experience on the bike, Dobb rode the big KTM fourstroke like a man possessed, and it appeared certain that he would take the win. But a rock cracked the bike’s cases, and as it had in that morning’s qualifier, the bike lost its oil, and the Englishman was passed by a hardcharging Hughes. As Hughes celebrated his heroic ride by crossing the finish line with his hands over his head, Dobb went into a tuck down the final hill, coasting to the finish just ahead of Italian Andrea Bartolini for second place.
“It’s just one of those things,” Dobb said. “It would have been nice, but that ‘s racing. I don’t want to make excuses, but I’ve had a bit of a cold for the last week. It’s really taken it out of me right now. I just have to re-group now and get ready for the next moto.”
Johansson held on for fourth, with Spaniard Francisco Garcia rounding out the top five. In an amazing sixth overall was Langston, winning the 125cc class on a track clearly favoring the Open bikes.
“I kind of got the jump on the 125s on the start,” Langston said. “Then I moved to the left a little bit to get some space, and I was in the middle of the 500 guys, about ninth or 10th… passed three or four 500s. To be perfectly honest, this track should favor them, but some of them were actually a little bit like fairies on the downhills.”
With the first moto in the books and Carmichael yet to race, the USA led the team standings at 11 points, with Italy four points back in second and Spain in third with 20. France was a disappointing 17th with its allowed single throwaway ride already gone, and the pressure was on Bolley to ride his second moto (moto three) in severe pain.
MOTO 2 [125/ 250]
As his performances in practice and qualifying indicated he would do, Carmichael absolutely dominated the second moto, snaring the holeshot and checking out, while French rival Sebastien Tortelli rode third behind Marnicq Bervoets in the early going, then advanced to second. The Honda rider trailed Carmichael by as many as 14 seconds at one point, due in part to Carmichael’s unparalleled speed and in part to the fact that – a rock having bent his shift shaft – he was unable to shift past third gear for much of the moto. Adapting well to a two-stroke 250, Yamaha – mounted Bervoets held on for third. Fourth was the Husqvarna 250 of an impressive Paul Cooper for Great Britain, while Italian Claudio Federici kept Italy in the hunt with an inspired ride on his Belgarda Yamaha.
“I was just trying to stay up there and [still] be ready for the next moto,” Carmichael said. “We’re racing the 500s, and they’re supposed to be the best riders in the world. We’re going to find out, but I ‘m not racing to win the moto; I’m racing to win the title.”
In the 125cc ranks, Roncada avenged his first moto, taking the win and an impressive ninth overall. As for Pastrana, his assessment, “You live by the sword, you die by the sword” pretty much summed up the Suzuki rider’s moto. While making another charge through the pack, Pastrana attempted the same move that had worked for him in moto one, but this time it put him on the ground.
“All week, I ‘ve been passing everybody on that jump,” Pastrana said. “It’s about 100 feet straight down and about 120 feet out, and you land in braking bumps right before a corner. It’s pretty insane…I jumped, landed in the braking bumps, bounced twice, flipped.”
“I was having fun,” Roncada said. It was pretty cool. It was just great [riding in France] Just amazing.”
Pastrana remounted and finished 15th overall, which the U.S. correctly assumed would be the team’s throw-away ride. Even counting the result, the U.S. continued to lead with a 27-point total – well ahead of Italy’s 42. Great Britain was third another six points back.
MOTO 3 [250/500]
His country’s hopes dwindling, Bolley heroically suited up for moto three, strips of tape protecting his injured nose, but after a poor start and in fear of taking more roost to his face, Bolley pulled out after a couple of laps. Also heroic was fellow Frenchman Tortelli, who after gating poorly an completing lap one back in eighth, absolutely ripped up the track, advancing to the leading Carmichael’s rear tire and passing the Kawasaki rider at the midway point. Riding for the honor of his country, Tortelli proceeded to open up a gap, putting nearly 15 seconds on Carmichael by race’s end.
“I was pretty bummed about the first moto,” said Tortelli, who was raised within a couple hours of the track and who grew up racing in the area. “The chances went away when [Bolley broke his nose]. We couldn’t win anymore, so I gave everything I had to make the fans happy and give at least a moto win to the fans, and to myself, also. I was very excited.”
It was tempting for American supporters to write off Tortelli’s amazing ride to Carmichael’s riding conservatively, but the Floridian claimed otherwise.
“I like to win every race, and he does too,” Carmichael said. “ He just had one of those races where he was on. He’s a [former] World Champion, and World Champions are good. I didn’t have nothing for him. He was riding one of those races where there’s nothing you can do.”
Bartolini posted his second third-place finish of the day for the Open-class win, and Bervoets was a distant fourth. In fifth was hughes, who having sat out the bulk of the season with injuries was completely depleted of energy at the finish.
“I think most of it was from nerves,” Hughes said. “I rode so tight, I don’t even think I moved on the bike. I just wanted to be consistent. They told me, ‘Be consistent, and we’ll win it.’”
Hughes’ fortitude secured the win for the U.S., and the team – nearly as popular with the French as their own squad – basked in the glory of the moment.
“It gives me a better look at the MX des Nations than the last two years,” Carmichael said. “This gives me some good momentum going into Supercross.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Pastrana said. “I couldn’t be any happier than to be selected to the team in my first year. I’ve had a dream season – it’s been a great year. The goal for today was to keep it on two wheels, and I couldn’t do that, but my teammates took over.” “I told DeCoster when I had a cast on my arm that I wanted to come to des Nations, and a lot of people in the United States were doubting me,” Hughes said. “When the pressure’s on, I can perform, but today, I was so nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in
my life because France is so fast, and Italy is so fast, and the Belgian team is so fast . Everybody just tries so hard, and I just feel lucky. You just roll the dice, and whoever comes out without any mistakes, wins.”
“The des Nations has always been a special event for me,” said DeCoster,” Because it’s the most international event that we have.”
Defending champion Italy finished an impressive second place, a result many doubted its riders were capable of. “For me, it ‘s the first time in the Motocross des Nations, ” Traversini said. “It’s okay for the team to finish second. I can’t believe it. It’s really good for me.”
In third was Belgium, with World Champion Joel Smets sucking up the pain of a badly infected wound on his elbow to contest the third heat after a moto-one DNF. Smets had nearly elected to sit out the final race, but was convinced otherwise by team manager Joel Robert.
“Third place feels like a victory for me,” said Smets, who added that he had spent the week living on pills and injections. “I think it’s the most important race of the year in motocross. Jeez , believe me, I’m so happy we made it and finished third.”