It’s starting to become a familiar site at the FIM Motocross World Championship this year – I’m talking about the duel between Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings.
At the MXGP of Great Britain last weekend, motocross fans were treated to another battle royal as Cairoli and Herlings – the two main title protagonists – did battle once more. But this time things got a little more intense. And fans loved it.
In the last laps of the opening moto, the pair duelled in the Matterley heat – neither wanting to yield.
Cairoli held the lead for almost the entire race until, in the closing stages, he made a small mistake and Herlings took the lead.
Cairoli immediately struck back and regained the lead. But two corners later they came together, leaving the world champion on the deck. Cairoli remounted but there was no time to catch Herlings.
“Unfortunately the contact with Jeffrey in race one was unexpected but motocross is like this sometimes,” Cairoli said diplomatically via a press release.
He was a little more forthcoming in the post-race interview, saying it was not a “necessary” and “quite aggressive” pass.
Herlings made no mention of the incident in the same KTM press release but excused himself from any wrongdoing in post-race interviews, explaining that he’s not a rider that likes to make contact and that they had watered that part of the track and the contact was negligible. You could back that statement up with the fact that for most of Herlings’ career, he has been used to being in a league of his own, so making aggressive passes just wasn’t required.
Many fans would have expected fireworks in the second moto but a holeshot from Cairoli took him into the lead, which he held until late in the moto. Then once again, Herlings started to reel him in.
Herlings later said he had held himself back, not wanting to eat Cairoli’s roost.
On the last lap Herlings made his move up the inside as TC222 ran wide, this time there was no contact and Cairoli had no answer for the Dutchman.
Herlings held out his hand to Cairoli immediately after the race but Cairoli ignored the gesture – he was clearly angry, probably with himself rather than at Herlings. But during the post-race interviews, the pair did shake hands. They will both be very aware that they need to be professional in front of the world. But any further coming together will test their team togetherness to the very limit.
Herlings posted his sixth 1-1 of the season and seventh win from nine rounds. He also maintained his 100 per cent podium record in 2018 and sealed his 100th career trophy, something Herlings is understandably proud of.
“KTM have been a family to me and to achieve 100 podiums with one brand is not something that happens often,” said Herlings after winning the British Grand Prix. “74 GP wins is simply amazing so a big thanks to everyone at KTM and especially Pit [Beirer] for believing in me almost 10 years ago and bringing me to where I am now.
“We’ll go to France next with the same goal of making the podium. If we can take a win then great, if not – or even a podium – then we’ll do our best and see how it turns out. The start is really important at St Jean and it is tough to pass. We’ll see how things go.
Speaking about his weekend Cairoli said: “It was a positive weekend and one in which I found the good starts that were missing in Germany as well as excellent race pace, even if it was not enough to win. I had a great feeling in practice on a track that was well prepared and full of lines, and in the qualifying race I managed to ride as I wanted and win.”
Cairoli was disappointed to lead so many laps without bringing home a win. “It’s a shame to lead 25 of the 28 laps without winning the Grand Prix but we must also say that the pace compared to the others is much higher and we have improved a lot compared to last year.
“We will not give up and will continue to attack next week in France.”
Cairoli is the holeshot king and even when he doesn’t lead out of the first corner he’s not far of it. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with track and each other at the next grand prix in France.
Certainly, the Sicilian won’t give up or back off from the fight. “We will not give up and will continue to attack next week in France,” he said.
Herlings is now 54 points ahead in the championship standings but we are only just reaching the halfway point and with 550 points still on the table, there is plenty of time for this to heat some more before the championship concludes in Imola, Italy on September 30. I say bring the heat.