Team USA won the Motocross of Nations, for a record breaking 17th time, at Matterley Basin in Great Britain on Sunday - despite American riders failing to win any of the three races.
Instead, retiring ten-times world champion Stefan Everts proved the individual star of the show - on his very final top flight appearance - winning both his races, but even the legendary Belgium couldn't prevent the more consistent US team taking overall honours.
A fantastic 85,000 weekend spectators filled the Matterley site to create an exciting atmosphere, but verged on the point of overwhelming the venue - and particularly its road access - due to the unprecedented numbers. The track itself was rougher than when first used at June's British Grand Prix, with larger jumps, while any dust was extinguished by heavy rain on Friday and again on Sunday morning.
The fans got just what they wanted at the start of the first race, consisting of the MX1 (450cc) and MX2 (250cc) classes, when Everts powered into an early lead over American superstar James Stewart, New Zealand's former world champion Ben Townley and young US ace Ryan Villopoto. Everts and Stewart looked set for a thrilling duel, but Stewart soon lost the front of his Kawasaki on a downhill left hander - forcing a comeback ride from seventh to second, some 12secs behind Everts, with Villopoto an impressive third in front of reigning MX2 World champion Christophe Pourcel to be the top MX2 rider. Townley and team-mate Josh Coppins completed the top six.
Race two, between MX2 and the MX3 (Open class) categories, saw the flying Villopoto unexpectedly beaten by former world champion Antonio Cairoli, who had celebrated his 21st birthday the day before. With Italy out of overall victory contention, the race win was a massive prize for Cairoli - but he had to fight hard for it. Team USA's Ivan Tedesco, called up to replace the injured Ricky Carmichael, put his big 450 into an early lead from Christophe Pourcel, Townley and Villopoto with Cairoli just fifth.
Pourcel then lost control of his Kawasaki after getting sideways off a jump, handing second to Townley - but the kiwi was soon overtaken by AMA team-mate Villopoto. Ryan then made a mistake, landing on the trackside netting, and was lucky to keep control. That was the chance the charging Cairoli needed and he went on to catch and pass Tedesco - much to the delighted of the crowd. Villopoto and Townley also demoted Tedesco in the closing stages to make it three 250s at the front of the field, while Belgian Steve Ramon took top MX3 honours with fourth.
"I waited five or six laps to see the lines of Villopoto and Townley. I was close to Villopoto when he made a mistake and ran off the track," said Toni. "I really like this track and the fans were incredible when they were cheering me going to the lead."
After leading much of the race Tedesco eventually slipped to sixth after a late fall, but Belgium's hopes took a much greater knock when Kevin Strijbos, a disappointing eleventh in race one, crashed in the closing stages of race two and was forced to tearfully retire with his RMZ-250's wheels cocooned in trackside netting.
"The first race was not that good, I was just too slow so I decided to go for it in the second one and pushed really hard. On the last lap I made a mistake on the jump and crashed," sighed Strijbos. "I am disappointed that I could not have done better."