After highlighting some "Sleepers" in yesterday's blog, we're going after the Heavy Hitters of the 2011 MXoN in this article and no surprises for guessing that we'll be starting with Team USA.
While the other countries have been struggling with injuries and limited resources, America have had one of the easiest choices in terms of picking their riders. Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey are head and shoulders about the next best placing American - Mike Alessi, so there was definitely no "James Stewart" controversy with those picks. Even the 250 decision of Blake Baggett was a pretty easy one as well because behind him in the championship was Eli Tomac and Kyle Cunningham and although Tomac did have a couple of seconds, he really didn't have the results necessary to be considered ahead of Baggett.
So without a doubt, this is the American "A" team and one of the strongest they've fielded in recent years and with all the injuries to other teams, it should be the one holding the trophy come Sunday evening.
The main challengers to them will be the French team of Christophe Pourcel, Marvin Musquin and Gautier Paulin. With Frossard ruled out due to his lung infection, Pourcel has stepped into the breach and arguably, on recent form, could've given Team France a better chance of victory. That of course, does rely on Pourcel riding to his potential... which could be risky.
Behind those two, it looks like it could be a real dogfight for the third step on the podium. Germany and Belgium are pretty much out of contention with all their injuries, but that still leaves a few teams that are for hoping for a bit of glory.
Team Great Britain for the first time in recent memory haven't had to worry about any injury problems in the lead-up to this race and with their team of Tommy Searle (MX1), Dean Wilson (MX2) and Brad Anderson (MX3) they definitely stand a good chance of breaking their 4th place hoodoo. Wilson wrapped up the 250 title in America at Steel City so he's riding with real confidence, Searle will be on an unfamiliar 450, but he did race it recently at Hawkstone Park and win, so he's no slouch. Brad Anderson was the slightly contentious choice ahead of Shaun Simpson but his 5th overall at the British GP sealed his place in what is a solid line up.
Battling hard to beat them will be an Australian trio who'll desperately be trying to rid themselves of the MXoN bad luck streak they've been on. Despite having some of the fastest riders in the world, they consistently come up short in this event and in fact, have only ever finished on the podium once, many many, years ago. However with Chad Reed, Jake Moss and Brett Metcalfe they could not only grab themselves a podium spot, they could seriously win this thing, especially if the rain comes.
Other than those four teams, I think the only other nation that can sneak onto the podium would be the Italian team of Antonio Cairoli (MX1), Alessandro Lupino (MX2) and Davide Guarneri. Any team with a 5 time World Champion can't be completely ruled out, so if Lupino can get that Husqvarna rolling like it did in Gaildorf, and Guarneri has the ride(s) of a lifetime, Italy could still make it onto the podium.
However this really will be an injury hit event as missing from the line-ups will be Clement Desalle (Belgium), Steve Ramon (Belgium), Ken de Dycker (Belgium), Jeremy van Horebeek (Belgium), David Philippaerts (Italy), Max Nagl (Germany), Marc de Reuver (Netherlands), Ben Townley (New Zealand) and Steven Frossard (France). Those are just the riders from the big countries who'd have definitely been here, we're also missing riders like Harri Kullas (Finland) and Zach Osborne (Puerto Rico) who will be much harder to replace for the smaller countries.
In reality, it looks like be a USA vs France duel, with Great Britain and Australia adding to the mix with some good individual efforts. In saying that, this is the Motocross of Nations where James Stewart can throw away a 20 second lead, where a flat tire can deflate an entire country and the dreaded green netting can quickly end any bikes' chances of finishing.
Year Team   Riders Track
2010 USA Ryan Dungey / Trey Canard / Andrew Short - Lakewood, USA
2009 USA Ryan Dungey / Jake Weimer / Ivan Tedesco - Franciacorta, Italy
2008 USA James Stewart Jr. / Ryan Villopoto / Tim Ferry - Donington Park, UK
2007 USA Ricky Carmichael / Ryan Villopoto / Tim Ferry - Budds Creek, USA
2006 USA James Stewart Jr. / Ryan Villopoto / Ivan Tedesco - Matterley Basin, UK
2005 USA Ricky Carmichael / Kevin Windham / Ivan Tedesco - Ernee, France
2004 Belgium Stefan Everts / Steve Ramon / Kevin Strijbos - Lierop, Netherlands
2003 Belgium Stefan Everts / Steve Ramon / Joel Smets - Zolder, Belgium
2002 Italy Andrea Bartolini / Alessio Chiodi / Alessandro Puzar - Bellpuig, Spain
2001 France Yves Demaria / Luigi Seguy / David Vuillemin - Namur, Belgium
2000 USA Ricky Carmichael / Ryan Hughes / Travis Pastrana - Saint-Jean-d'Angely, France
1999 Italy Andrea Bartolini / Alessio Chiodi/ Claudio Federici - Indaiatuba, Brazil
1998 Belgium Marnicq Bervoets / Patrick Caps / Stefan Everts - Foxhills, UK
1997 Belgium Marnicq Bervoets / Stefan Everts / Joel Smets - Nismes, Belgium
1996 USA Jeff Emig / Steve Lamson / Jeremy McGrath - Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
1995 Belgium Marnicq Bervoets / Stefan Everts / Joel Smets - Sverepec, Slovakia
1994 Great Britain Rob Herring / Paul Malin / Kurt Nicoll - Roggenburg, Switzerland
1993 USA Jeff Emig / Mike Kiedrowski / Jeremy McGrath - Schwanenstadt, Austria
1992 USA Jeff Emig / Mike LaRocco / Billy Liles - Manjimup, Australia
1991 USA Damon Bradshaw / Mike Kiedrowski / Jeff Stanton - Valkenswaard, Netherlands
1990 USA Damon Bradshaw / Jeff Stanton / Jeff Ward - Vimmerby, Sweden