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USA vs. the World: 2011 MXoN

9/16/2011
Play3:03
2011 MXoN preview

Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto and Blake Baggett discuss the upcoming Motocross of Nations in France.

The Motocross of Nations came first. What began in 1947 as a scramble between England, Belgium and the Netherlands is now the most important motocross race in the world. The "Olympics of motocross" happens once a year, every September, always at a different venue. Today the event fields 35 countries from six continents with each nation choosing its three best riders to represent its flag. On September 18, at Le Circuit du Puy de Poursay in Saint Jean D'Angely, France, Team USA will try to win for the seventh consecutive year.

One week after battling through a grueling summer of a dozen AMA Pro Motocross races, preceded by the 17-stop AMA Supercross series, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey, along with 250 rider Blake Baggett, will join to make the Team USA trio. With a demanding race schedule that spans nearly nine months, America still likes to prove to the rest of the world, especially Europe, that it has the best competitors. Since 1981 they've proven it 21 times, a record. All but one of those wins happened under the management and coaching of Roger DeCoster, a Belgian who won the event six times as a rider between 1969-1979. Given his congruent track record as a team manager for American Honda and Suzuki since 1981, DeCoster modestly downplays his role as the main reason for America's success at MXoN.

"The biggest factor is always the rider," DeCoster said. "Preparation is very important because they're not going to look very well if their bike isn't finished, or breaks or doesn't show up on time, but once the preparation is done, it's mainly the rider. It's not like a soccer coach. You can't have that much influence, no matter who you are, on the race results."

Along with being the most important, well attended and widely watched it's also the most difficult motocross race in the world to win.

"It's that day. You have to compete that day," said David Bailey in a 2006 documentary produced by this author. Bailey was a member of Team USA from 1982-1986. "You can't be sick, you can't have an off day, you can't just not get along with the track or have a bad start. No excuses will work."

The 35 nations qualify down to 20. Each competitor races twice in one of three classifications based on the FIM World Motocross championship series, MX1 (450), MX2 (250) and MX3 (Open). The divisions are combined to form a 40-rider gate for three motos (MX1/MX2, MX2/MX3 and MX1/MX3). Each country's score is based on where their riders finish in each heat. The worst finish of the six scores is thrown out, and the team with the lowest combined point total wins the Peter Chamberlain Trophy.

"If the bike's not running well or you crash in the first turn you find yourself digging a little deeper than you ordinarily would," Bailey said.

Team USA's first victory in 1981 changed the way the world viewed the Yanks in motocross. In '81, an American had still not won a world motocross title and it was only one year earlier that the US had finally won the annual FIM USGP in Carlsbad, Calif. In Beilstein, West Germany, an all Honda squad of Chuck Sun, Danny LaPorte, Donnie Hansen and Johnny O'Mara shocked the motocross world by winning. And they won for 13 consecutive years. The stories and legends of these victories are what Villopoto, Dungey and Baggett grew up hearing.

"Once we go over there we have a target on our back as a team," said Villopoto who represented the USA in the MX2 division from 2006-2008. "We've won it so many times and when we go over there it's their time to show us what they have. It's fun (pause) as long we don't lose."

Dungey is appearing on Team USA for the third consecutive year. Last year in Denver he led America to victory by winning both of his motos in the MX1 division. Being a team event, riders are put in a unique situation where they may share information and strategies. Dungey has never worked with Villopoto at the MXoN. He has, however, spent the last nine months battling the Washington native for the AMA Supercross and Motocross titles, which were swept by Villopoto.

"If anything you get to know their personalities a little better," Dungey said. "You already know who they are because you race against them. One thing we don't see is what they're like away from the racetrack and we get to see a little of that."

According to DeCoster, the choice was clear to choose Villopoto and Dungey, the top two riders in AMA Motocross, for Team USA 2011. The less obvious decision was which rider to choose to represent America in the premier MX1 class, which is where the best riders in the world compete, and which rider will run in the MX3 division. With Dungey being the 2010 team captain and having led America to victory and Villopoto being the new AMA Motocross and Supercross champion, it left a lot of room for debate. DeCoster said it doesn't matter and Dungey was chosen to wear the number one plate based on his prior experience in the MX1 class.

"It's really irrelevant," DeCoster said. "Maybe a little bit of bragging rights but I hope that nobody is paying much attention to that because we want to go there as a team and do like we always have done. The Americans have been really good at putting their race season fights behind them to go there as a team."

Team USA's toughest competition will most likely come from Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy. The Aussie team features top AMA MX riders Chad Reed and Brett Metcalfe while the French, German and British teams have Marvin Musquin, 2011 FIM World MX2 Champion, Ken Roczen and the 2011 AMA 250 Pro Motocross Champion, Dean Wilson.

For a full list of countries and competitors, click here.