Briton Max Anstie may have started the MXGP of Ottobiano by slamming into the start gate in moto one but ended the day on the MXGP podium for the very first time, behind sand masters – overall winner Tony Cairoli and second placed Jeffrey Herlings.
In the sand of the all-new GP track in front of the huge and partisan Italian crowd, it was the clash for supremacy that everyone wanted to see as Cairoli and Herlings went at each other for both moto wins and the overall glory.
But in swealtering heat that affected many riders, Cairoli led the opener from early on with Herlings right on his heels. The gap was never more than a couple of seconds but as the end of the race neared, Herlings tried to outbrake the Italian and go round the outside of him. Cairoli brake-checked the Dutchman, and then accelerated away. Herlings had no answer, so backed it off to take second place as the heat took its toll. Gautier Paulin was third.
Second time out Cairoli and Herlings soon got by early leader Armenas Jasikonis and again raced hard and fast. This time Herlings took Cairoli but the Italian instantly hit back in the next turn and led again. But a few laps later he made a mistake and it let Herlings past. Cairoli tailed his rival for a few laps but then went past in front of the huge crowd. Herlings had no answer and eventually slowed down and accepted he was beaten, even taking off his goggles to get more air to his face. He was badly affected by heat at the end and was lucky to stay on board for second. He was too exhausted to get to the podium but his two second places gave him second overall.
Cairoli, who extended his series lead over Gautier Paulin to 67 points, said: “I was feeling great! My fitness is good so I could push when Jeffrey came by!
“We know Jeffrey is a good sand rider and he was very fast. The race is 30 plus two laps thought and I’m happy to have this speed at the moment. I took no risks at all all during the race and I’m enjoying such a great crowd. We did it again!”
But the Brits were going mad for Anstie who started race one hitting the start gate. By the time he got going he was dead last but put on an astonishing ride through the pack to finish fifth place after dmoting Glenn Coldenhoff on the last lap. Fourth place Romain Febvre was only a couple of seconds in front, too.
In the second moto, Anstie had a much better start and held fourth place behind leader Jasikonis, Cairoli and Herlings. As Jasikonis faded back to fifth, Anstie stayed strong and took a fine third place, just four seconds behind Herlings who had started to cruise. It was a great ride from Anstie who took third overall and his first MXGP podium.
He said: “It was awesome! In the first race I hit the gate and came from a long way back. In race two Jeffrey got around me and was going fast. I kept plodding away and ended up finishing strong. We’ve been building each weekend and the goal was to be on the box!”