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2018 MXGP of Belgium report – Max Anstie back on podium but Herlings & Prado dominate Lommel

Max Anstie, MXGP of Belgium - Lommel 2018

Max Anstie, MXGP of Belgium - Lommel 2018

Max Anstie returned to the MXGP podium at Lommel and Shaun Simpson, Conrad Mewse, Ben Watson and Adam Sterry each joined him in the top 10.

Graeme Irwin had his most successful GP weekend of the season to finish both motos in the top 15 – but the ultimate glory once again belonged to Jeffrey Herlings and Jorge Prado.

The Spanish teenager’s fifth GP win from the last six – this one with a 50-point maximum – has seen him move 28 clear of defending champion Pauls Jonass, while the Bullet stormed to his 10th maximum score of the season despite hitting the deck in each moto.

“Two silly lapses of concentration,” he admitted. “The first moto I jumped into a turn, the berm washed out and I stalled. The second moto I fell down on the last lap when some lapper didn’t move over and I lost focus.

MXGP of Belgium – Jeffrey Herlings

“It’s amazing to think that I have won 12 GPs of the 14 I have started but most times I work so hard to only gain six on Tony [Cairoli] and I lost 50 points on a single weekend – but that was my own fault for breaking my collarbone.

“I’m trying to put some safety into my training and I hope I won’t crash again this year. At least I now have 36 points in hand and can even afford a DNF but the end is in sight and I have to be smart – I don’t have to win every moto.”

Can anybody truly believe that the Dutchman can accept even a moto defeat? He was the only rider all weekend to post sub 1:57 laps and no-one else bar Caroli could even dip under two minutes more than twice.

Herlings led every lap of both motos but Cairoli hasn’t surrendered yet…

“I still have some issues with my thumb and I couldn’t train in sand recently but I kept a good pace, just not as fast as Jeffrey,” he said. “I will still try to win some races this year but I just had nothing left in the tank during the second half of each moto.”

That didn’t prevent him outrunning third-placed Romain Febvre by 38 seconds in race one and holding a 25-second advantage over Glenn Coldenhoff in race two before he safely slackened his pace a little in the closing laps. Anstie’s podium came from two hard-fought fourths.

MXGP of Belgium – Jonass battles with Covington

“You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to get a podium in MXGP,” he said. “These two guys sitting next to me are just unbelievable but the speed from third to 10th is the same. “You need to get everything right through two motos. I didn’t get a good start in race one and by the time I got to fourth Febvre was too far ahead.

“I got past Glenn for third quickly in race two but then I crashed and had to do it all again with Romain chasing both of us.”

Simpson did it the hard way after a solid eighth in quali. The Scot made a horrible start in the opening GP moto and went down on the opening lap before an amazing ride through the pack. Still 24th at the end of the first full lap, he maintained his lap times to the end to snatch 11th from Jordi Tixier on the last lap.

Coldenhoff, having run down Tim Gajser a couple of laps earlier, was the only man on track still going faster as he ensured the HRC man could not respond. Greame Irwin, making a series of cracking starts aboard the Hitachi ASA KTM UK machine, maintained his pace to the end for 15th but Tommy Searle was not enjoying Lommel in 19th.

Simpson finally gated in race two to run half the race in 10th before the efforts of the opener started to take their toll and he was pipped by Evgeny Bobryshev but fought his way back past Julien Lieber for 11th. Irwin was again solid for 14th.

Pauls Jonass had run down Prado in MX2 quali before handing it back near the close but the Latvian, desperate for the win to claim back the red plate, threw it away in dramatic fashion on race day.

He discarded a safe second six laps from the end of race one and had to ride hard to salvage fourth, then in race two he made a wretched start and had no sooner broken into the top 10 before he went down and had to do it all again from 14th. Sixth at the close meant that he now trails Prado by 28.

“The track was a little weird,” said Prado, “really fast in places but they left it pretty rough in others but you could see who is fit and who can stay focused. My main goal is to avoid mistakes.”

Running 2-3 overall was the Husky duo of Thomas Covington and Thomas Kjer Olsen and the American grinning from ear to ear.

“I think it’s been a while since America got a result here,” he said, clearly referring to the painful Nations defeat at the track six years previously, “but I’ve had a good time at the GPs. They make you a more well-rounded rider – Loket and here couldn’t be more different.”

MXGP of Belgium – Adam Sterry

Ben Watson’s declared aim of a podium in sand came to nothing. Already a shadow of his self in qualification, he had a wretched first moto.

“I felt like jelly,” he said. “I didn’t have strength during the whole race and was making a lot of mistakes. I put too much pressure on myself.”

Race two went better with fifth but he was overshadowed by Kemea team-mate Jago Geerts as the 18-year-old ran down Calvin Vlaanderen, Conrad Mewse and both Huskys to come up just four seconds short of Prado!

Mewse gated well both motos and hung in there each time for sixth and eighth but Adam Sterry was left to rue a cautious first lap in race one.

“I didn’t want to burn myself out and was surrendering too many places,” he said. “Once I turned it round the gap to those in front was too big. I won’t make the same mistake on race two.”

He never got the chance. Gate neighbour Brent Van Doninck tried to anticipate the start, Sterry inevitably flinched too and had to come from near last.

“I pushed really hard to get back into the top 10 and I just didn’t have the energy to catch Vlaanderen and Conrad at the end.”

Conrad Mewse rode two clever motos, gating well each time and planning his races to avoid mistakes and he was rewarded with best Brit in MX2 on his comeback from a leg injury.

The boys have a weekend off now which should have been Sweden before three in a row in Switzerland, Bulgaria and Turkey.

European Championship

REVO Husqvarna UK’s Mel Pocock sensationally stormed back into direct contention for the EMX250 title with a dramatic last-lap victory as leader Mathys Boisrame regularly ate sand at Lommel. The Brit now trails by just two points headed into the last three rounds.

Martin Barr and Steven Clarke stay third and fifth in the series but effectively drop out of the title chase. Barr never looked completely comfortable all weekend but rode sensibly within his limits in deep sand to settle for 12th on Saturday before sheer fitness salvaged sixth from a start outside the top 20 on Sunday but Pocock went to work with conviction.

Starting fifth, he was third at the chequered flag on Saturday after a solid race while most other front runners were quite literally up and down. Series leader Boisrame led for more than half the first race, initially under pressure from sand expert Kevin Horgmo until the Norwegian crashed down the leaderboard.

Within two laps Boisrame followed suit with the first of three falls which left him sixth at the finish. In his wake Maxime Renaux, out of the title hunt after missing several rounds earlier in the series, had finally settled the tussle with Pocock in his favour as Horgmo came storming back to miss victory by a few yards.

Steven Clarke was out of the points even before he got disqualified for running out of track. Todd Kellett nabbed 18th from Dylan Walsh on the last lap but James Dunn came up short by a couple of seconds against Greg Smets for 21st in their battle of honour for best smoker.

Pocock gated second to Horgmo on Sunday morning while Boisrame advanced from 10th to sixth before a simple fall pushed him nearly out of the points positions. Two from the end Horgmo yielded to the unrelenting pressure from Pocock and disappeared from the scene to hand moto and overall to the REVO man.

For several laps the red plate was also in Mel’s grasp but a late surge to eighth by Boisrame salvaged a narrow points lead.

Dunn got a mega top-10 start this time but his smoker had no answer to the four-bangers and he was gradually eased out of the points until the second-half retirements hoisted him back to 16th, one ahead of Alexander Brown. Clarke raced top six early on before a mid-moto exit.

Eddie Wade’s gameplan in the 125s went askew at 9am on Saturday morning.

Having roasted the lot in free practice, he pitted with the intention of getting back on track at just the right time for a clear run in the timed session, only to find a couple of dozen other lads with the same idea which caused a massive queue.

He eventually set 16th best time in group near the end of the session, headed by 15 riders who got a lap in early before the track got wrecked. Gating from 32nd is a no-no at Lommel but Eddie got as high as ninth in the Saturday moto before crashing out.

First lap dramas Sunday morning left him outside the top 20 initially before pushing forward to ninth.

Thibault Benistant took full advantage of Rene Hofer’s absence of Saturday to score maximum points but had to push hard on Sunday morning after first-lap adventures to just take over the red plate with a 13th despite another crash mid-moto.

Alex Hodgkinson
A TMX motocross photojournalist contributor for over 30 years. Alex Hodgkinson can call upon decades of experience in the sport and offers our readers an inside look into the FIM World Motocross Championship.