The French-versus-USA battle has dominated Motocross of Nations conversation this year, under the simple premise that the French own a four-year win streak at the event and the Americans are hosting the race on home soil, where they have yet to lose. In this sport, the stars cast such a shadow that it’s hard to notice what happens underneath. But you have to adjust that thinking when it comes to Motocross of Nations, the lone team race on the calendar. This is where teams matter, and one team just made a major power move that could completely change the event.
Beware The Netherlands.
Or the Dutch, or Holland, or whatever you choose to call it (all three names work, officially). You could even call it Team South Africa, really. See, this is not the team of Jeffrey Herlings and company any longer. South Africa’s Calvin Vlaanderen is now on the Dutch squad, and he’s rounded into a weekly contender for Grand Prix wins in the MX2 division. Vlaanderen is improving at a rapid rate this year, carding podiums in half of the last 16 motos, including two moto wins and an overall GP victory. Each week, he’s in the mix in MX2, right near the top of the class. Pair him up with MXGP dominator Herlings and the solid veteran Glenn Coldenhoff, and the Dutch have significantly boosted their chances to win.
For the last two years, the team has finished second to France, including at the 2016 event. The Dutch had victory in hand until the very last lap of the final moto, when Romain Febvre made a clutch pass to put the French up ahead. Those teams featured Herlings, Coldenhoff, and Brian Bogers, but Bogers’ 2018 season has been awash with injuries. Getting Vlaanderen, a native of South Africa, onto the team isn’t just a good replacement—he’s arguably an upgrade. As an MX2 racer last year, Bogers produced two podium moto finishes; Vlaanderen has eight already this year.
But how did a South African even end up on a team from a completely different country? Well, Vlaanderen races under a Netherlands license, but that’s not unusual. The rub came when he won the GP in Indonesia and asked to hold the South African flag and have the South African anthem play on the podium. That rankled some folks back home.
“There is actually a big story about that,” Vlaanderen explained to MXVice.com. “This week MSA, which is Motorsport South Africa, they complained to Youthstream because I have not asked them for permission to ride with the South African flag. I think it is ridiculous. I am really pissed off about it. That is why I just said, 'You know what? Screw that. I am going with the Dutch flag from now on.'
“MSA have never helped me in my career, never once,” he continued. “Now I am really proud to represent South Africa and to put them on the top step of the podium and also on the podiums before that. When I hear that they complained because I did not ask them for permission to ride with the flag, that is just ridiculous. I am really pissed off about it. I am obviously still a South African and I am proud to be South African, but I am also half Dutch and now I am also proud to be half Dutch.”
Vlaaderen also explained that since adopting the Dutch flag, he’s also taken some heat from Dutch fans since he’s not a native. One would have to think bolstering the chances of a Dutch Nations win, which has never happened before, will calm everyone down.
“That is true, but that also comes with more pressure to do well at the Nations,” he said.
When we posted the official announcement of this team on Racer X Online last week, South Africa team manager Wayne King posted about it in our comment section:
“Being the manager of the S.A. MXoN, Calvin was asked by me personally to be a member the South African Team," King wrote. "He declined and decided on the possibility of being chosen for the Dutch Team. While I respect his decision, being part of a possible podium team while, we may not even make the A Final...but wasn't it JFK who said, 'Ask not who country of your birth can do for but what you can do for your country?' He was born in South Africa and spent his entire junior career racing here. Sure, there's arguments for and against, but you know what, we have chosen a team without Calvin, we'll be there and we'll try our damnedest to make our country proud!”
Subsequently, Team South Africa has been announced for the event:
- Michael Docherty (MXGP)
- Bradley Lionett (MX2)
- Caleb Tennant (Open)
With Vlandaaren now teamed with the dominant Herlings and capable Coldenhoff, this team is right in the mix.