NOTE: A version of this post was published on VURBMOTO, but this version has a more bonus photos peppered in. Also, grab a little more context about my family’s history with motorsports & its influence on me as a designer here as a primer for this if interested. Hope you enjoy!
2021 MXoN in Context:
Ok, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. This was my first in-person Motocross of Nations, so it’s impossible for me to accurately compare 2021 to previous events except for what I’ve seen from past photos and videos. This year’s event was well attended and the environment was fantastic, but as one might expect there were fewer spectators there than in previous events. Yes—it was personally disappointing when I found out teams from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico were unable to field teams. That said, as someone who loves motocross the thought of not going because 4 teams dropped out of 37 total never crossed my mind. I live just two hours North of the venue near Venice, Italy and this was still a global motocross event—the juice was definitely worth the squeeze.
Ok, now for some good news. Let’s start out by acknowledging there was no event at all last year. To have 33 countries competing this year from as far away as South Africa and Canada was an incredible accomplishment. I don’t even want to think about the logistical hurdles that had to be cleared for countries that came from outside the Schengen Area. Taking these big picture items into consideration, 2021 was unique in MXoN history. I suppose the outcome could be judged depending on the contextual lens you’re looking through—was it an incomplete event not worth having, or a huge accomplishment that brought a global event back with spectators from total cancellation the previous year? I choose to see it as an accomplishment and an amazing opportunity to see motocross. As someone who has lived in Europe for almost a year now and has faced the difficulties of international travel on multiple occasions since moving here, I can’t see it any other way.
Personal Takeaways & Highlights:
The track layout was beautiful and well groomed. I was shocked the facility was just a 20 minute walk from our BnB in the city center of Mantua, which is incredibly beautiful and packed with things to do. I’m used to motorcross tracks being in the middle of nowhere—not having to deal with driving at all was fantastic.
The weather went from hot and sunny Saturday to cool and soggy as hell Sunday. The mud factored into race outcomes and made for plenty of excitement with spectators. The track is situated down in a bowl and spectators more or less look into it from above. Because of this, there were no stands to sit on—just downward sloped grass and mud. Everyone got filthy, but nobody cared.
I mentioned there weren’t as many fans as in previous years for reasons that have been well-documented elsewhere, but the fans that did come were all in and weren’t afraid to show it. This created an exciting atmosphere even with rain all day Sunday. You got the strong feeling that people were just pumped to be there and it felt really good to be a part of that energy after over a year of pandemic isolation. I saw several riders interacting with fans directly and happen to be walking by to capture the exchange directly below by GasGas rider Isak Gifting and team Sweden fans. It was a neat experience to see him put his front plate on their saw afterwords.
The racing really couldn’t have been much closer amongst the top three teams points-wise—their wasn’t a ton of sustained bar to bar action on raceday because of roost, but at some point in those situations it becomes all about survival and keeping the goggles I suppose. The weather created a gnarly racing surface with lots of first turn pileups and big points swings due to crashes, penalties, and retirements. It was a nail-biter to the very end (keeping up with the points was difficult because there was no digital scoreboard and everyone was covered in mud) and the whole place erupted when Italy took the title by a single point.
Just having the opportunity to see Tony Cairoli race on home soil after announcing his retirement at the end of this year was worth the whole trip. I’m sincerely glad he was able to bounce back after the gnarly crash he had just the week before in Sardegna. I’ve always wanted to see him race in person and he is universally loved in Italy—this made the environment around the track both special and exciting the entire time. Seeing him take the track in person and rally back in the second moto from a first turn pileup in the first moto was such a cool experience.
I’ve heard about how fast Jeffrey Herlings is for years and have seen the videos of him winning pretty much anywhere he goes. It was exciting and pretty shocking to see him just check out the way he did—especially in the mud during his second moto. Damn he’s smooth and fast!
Ruminations, Questions, Opinions, Futures:
As an American when I think about this year’s MXoN outcome mixed emotions and a myriad of unknowns come to mind. When I get over being bummed and really consider key absences from MXoN this year, my first thought is how many international riders are now more or less permanent fixtures in American motocross and supercross—this certainly impacted what we saw this year just as much or more than the absence of an American Team. It’s hard to know how an American (or Puerto Rican team) would have done—looking at U.S. team results from the past few years coupled with the muddy track conditions who knows. And what about an Australian team??? I can only hope we’ll get to see those things happen not just next year, but in the coming years as well. It’s pretty clear (barring another pandemic catastrophe) scheduling, event prioritization, and proper support for the riders will have to be improved amongst all governing bodies when it comes to getting the right talent on the right teams. Having a 2021 event in the middle of the MXGP season and right at the end of a grueling U.S. motocross season is a tough scheduling pill to swallow. It has been well documented in other places the Americans have had difficulties with team selections because of scheduling commitments in the past. Factoring in that many of the best Americans have been more or less retiring in their mid-20s (most citing burnout) makes things even more difficult, but I digress.
I suspect if you asked the average non-American spectator at this year’s event about the impact of the teams not participating the collective answer would have been—meh. Not because they wouldn’t want to see those riders—I know they would have, but because after the last year and a half people just aren’t surprised by disappointment. Weaponizing that disappointment by not supporting the event is unacceptable in my mind, though. I saw comments on the MXGP instagram leading up the the event that it shouldn’t be held because “nobody will be there.” That’s both inaccurate and unfair for the riders and teams from the international moto community who were in attendance—they had nothing to do with the teams that were unable to attend nor could they change those outcomes. I was incredibly impressed by the venue and the riders—in particular those that already have championships and nothing to prove that put their health at risk in the middle of their MXGP season to race this event. When it all boils down for me, I’m incredibly glad I got to go. The experience just made me want to attend another MXoN in the future—hopefully with all teams in attendance.