An extremely unlucky, occurrence in the first race of the MXGP of Pays de Montbéliard – the final round of the Women’s Motocross World Championship – extinguished Courtney Duncan’s chances of a debut title this weekend.
Despite an epic comeback in the second moto where she lapped all but the second-placed rider, Duncan was forced to settle for third place in the championship.
The weekend had started positively for the Otago-based Altherm JCR Yamaha rider and she was convincingly leading the field by 15 seconds on the final lap, when she came across five riders who had crashed on the tricky hillside of the Villars sous Ecot circuit and were blocking her way.
Duncan (21) was forced to take evasive action to avoid them and swerved off the track, crashing into a fence.
Her coach Josh Coppins says initially the official verdict was positive.
“After a jury meeting immediately after the race FIM decided they would award points from the lap prior due to the track being blocked and unsafe.”
Then in a heart-breaking decision for the talented Kiwi, the jury reversed the decision, retracted the adjusted results and reinstated the original standings. This gave the top four riders fighting for the championship, the first four places, meaning Italian Kiara Fontanesi took the win, Nancy van de ven, of the Netherlands was second, and France’s Livia Lancelot third.
This left Duncan fourth in the championship and nine points off the lead going into the second race yesterday.
Coppins says it was a tough blow for Duncan, who had been in brilliant form following last weekend’s penultimate round in the Netherlands, where she finished up second in the championship points, despite managing a knee injury.
“We had a very good week you could see that in Courtney’s racing. She was around 15 seconds in the lead [in the first race this weekend]. She was the fastest and it was some of the best racing she’s done this year.”
“Walking the track on Friday we knew that some girls would not get round if it got wet and that’s what happened. Saturday was unlucky but we all know these things can happen in racing. It was unfair and it was a real shame that it impacted the championship,” Coppins says.
Duncan says that while she was devastated about the race one decision she tried to clear her headspace and demonstrate what she was capable of in the second race.
“I tried to just stay optimistic and thought it is what it is. I was disappointed naturally but there was not much I could do about it, I just had to get on and do the best job I could.”
Race 2 was the first on the track after overnight rain and Duncan jumped out to the early lead with Lancelot and van de ven in tow. For seven of the ten laps the top three remained the same which would have resulted in the championship for van de ven. However it wasn’t meant to be as van de ven got stuck, then fell on the uphill step and was passed by Germany’s Larissa Papenmeier, losing the points she needed.
Duncan took the win ahead of Lancelot by 46 seconds. In the championship Fontanesi beat out Lancelot by a single point for the title while Duncan took third for the weekend and third for the championship, only two points behind Fontanesi.
A disappointed Duncan says the final race was at least some bittersweet consolation.
“I rode as hard as I could in that second race and actually lapped the new world champion, which made me feel a little bit better. I’ve turned the page and am looking ahead to next year. I’ll be looking to minimise some of the mistakes I made earlier in the year and I’ll be back for another attempt on that world title.”
Coppins was saddened that it has now been two years in a row that “controversial unfortunate incidents out of Courtney’s hands – call them bad luck, call them racing incidents, call them what you like – have cost her two world titles.”
Last season Duncan’s championship was derailed when an errantly-positioned photographer blocked her path on a jump, causing her to crash and injure herself.
Coppins says: “It was pretty disappointing that mistakes from within the promoter and Federation of International Motorcycling FIM, Youthstream officials and the hosting French Federation of Motorcycling have impacted the championship yet again. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, we gave it our all, we did everything we can, I just feel sorry for Courtney.”
The consolation for the weekend was Duncan’s ability to rise above what must have been an extremely difficult headspace and find an incredible turn of speed in the final race of the six-round championship, Coppins says.
“I’m really proud of the way she handled it and to come out and dominate the second moto, and win by over 40 seconds, lap up to second place and lap the new world champion. It shows only what could have been.”