This is a very odd year relating to Team USA and the Motocross Des Nations. So much pending rider movement, injuries, and factory teams not being willing to foot the bill (more on that in a minute) limited the pool of riders heavily ahead of next month's race in Ernee, France. But after some last-minute roster adjustments, our lineup for the Chamberlian Trophy defense is set. In an all-KTM group field, it'll be Aaron Plessinger in the 450/MX1 spot, R.J. Hampshire in the 250/MX2 spot, with Christian Craig, who missed all of Motocross with an injury, rounding things out in the open class.
The System is Broken
This year, and over the last several years, we've seen U.S.-based factory teams either publically or behind closed doors, rule out the potential of sending guys to run Des Nations for the United States. Kawasaki coming out with a full press release ruling out both Eli Tomac and Adam Cinaciarulo in 2019 is one that jumps out. Additionally, multiple people mentioned that Star Yamaha was unwilling to send anyone over this year. While I believe there's blame at the feet of some of these factory teams, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Enter InFront, the promotional body of MXGP, their Feld/MX Sports if you will. In a tweet at the tail end of August by Lewis Phillips, he showed off the MXoN purse money for the winning teams that you see below. To call this insulting would be putting this lightly.
For those interested in the conversion rates, that's $3640, $2906, and $2522 to the podium teams. That's total, by the way. So, while I feel that, especially for Team USA, sending riders and personnel over should never be an issue, this event can't be this much of a money loser for the teams. Not even just for Team USA mind you. Look at teams like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, who are also outside mainland Europe and need to travel long distance. I don't think InFront will up the ante on its own anytime soon, but some things need to change. Move the 'New League Year' date to early November or late October so outgoing riders can still be good. Agree to some form of compromise where there's no prize money, but x-amount of the logistical costs of going are covered. Anything. What's happening right now isn't sustainable long-term for anyone.
The Craig Factor
Aaron Plessinger and R.J. Hampshire are more than good options for this team, but the guy who fascinates me the most here is Christian Craig. By the time we get to race weekend, it'll be over six months since his last official start, Seattle Supercross. Even after missing six months, you must factor in how good Craig had been in 450 Motocross over the last few years. In 2022, he finished fifth in points, only losing out to Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson, Chase Sexton, and Eli Tomac. Also, while Craig only had one Overall podium, he picked up 14 Top 5 Moto finishes (66%) and 7 Top 5 Overall finishes (58.3%). Another couple of stats that Craig picked up was that his 7.8 average start was sixth best in the sport, his 5.9 average finish fifth, and he was one of just six riders to lead laps.
Given that, and the fact Craig dislocated his hip and right elbow, plus broke his arm in that Glendale practice crash and had an additional setback that cost him the summer, I hope people appreciate that he badly wanted to go despite that. You can say this is a B team all you want, but all three guys wanted to go, and Craig perhaps more than any of them.
Can Team USA Win in Ernee?
Before determining if this group can make it two in a row for the United States, here are the notable developments for some other contending nations. Firstly, Jeffrey Herlings is off the Dutch team for the second year straight. His latest comeback from injury was cut short almost immediately, suffering a fractured collarbone at his home MXGP event in Arnhem during practice. Elsewhere, Australia opted to go with Dean Ferris over Mitch Evans to pair with the Lawrence Brothers, and Ken Roczen, in what ended up being a shock to me at least, is in for Germany. The French, Belgian, and Italian squads are all about what you'd expect if you follow MXGP, but those individual rider moves all have some ramifications.
So can the USA win? Yes, they have an objectively good team, even if it isn't last year's squad. Will they? I wouldn't put money down on it. With the blessing and curse that is the volatility of R.J., you're most likely banking on two good, mistake-free Motos from Craig and Plessinger. Even then, teams like Australia, France, Italy, and Belgium all have the horses to beat the USA. It'll be some tough sledding but cheer the boys on. They'll give it a good shot.
Main Image via KTM