The 57th incarnation of the Motocross des Nations, the traditional end of season International tournament of the world's best off-road racers, will take place this weekend at Zolder, in Belgium.

The historic and prestigious event will take place on a purpose built new track laid over certain sections of the old motor racing course, with the 31 Nations and 93 riders using the facilities afforded by the permanent infrastructure.

Main news is that, for the first time in two years, USA will be fielding a team. Their exciting three-man line-up consisting of ten-times AMA Supercross and Motocross Champion Ricky Carmichael, along with Tim Ferry and Ryan Hughes.

Team USA start as favourites for the title, but are sure to face a massive challenge from hosts Belgium, who will field an all-2003 World Championship winning line-up of Stefan Everts (MXGP), Joel Smets (650) and Steve Ramon (125).

Belgium finished runner-up again in 2002 (they claimed the position beneath first time winners France in 2001) but with a completely different crew and will now be hunting that top spot they last held in 1998 in front of their home fans.

Defending title-holders Italy field two members of the team that clinched victory for only the second time in the history of the Nations, during last year's reorganised event (without many of the top teams). Andrea Bartolini and Alessio Chiodi have both scored podiums in this season's 125 World Championship and could be a formidable duo on the factory Yamaha 250cc four-strokes.

Also expected to put up a strong challenge will be Australia and New Zealand, both of whom missed the contest last year. The Kiwis gained a third place in 2001 and this weekend star riders Josh Coppins (Honda) and Ben Townley (KTM) will both be 450cc four-stroke mounted in contrast to their usual 250cc and 125cc two-stroke machinery.

France meanwhile, will miss out on the talents of the injured Mickael Pichon and David Vuillemin but Luigi Seguy represents one third of the 2001 winning trio.

Other stars finishing their 2003 Motocross season on Sunday include: factory Honda rider Gordon Crockard racing for Ireland, 650cc Championship runner-up Javier Garcia Vico for Spain, Brian Jorgensen, regular 'podium-ee' in the MXGP category and leader of Denmark, British Champion Stephen Sword heads the UK entry, Crockard's team-mate Yoshitaka Atsuta rides for Japan while new works KTM recruit Kenneth Gundersen turns out for Norway.

The Nations will again use the controversial format and structure employed for the first time 12 months ago.

The traditional three-moto structure of three engine classifications (125cc, 250cc and Open) was switched to two 'Finals' of any bike size the riders wishes to use, with all three team members racing at the same time.

A qualifying and semi-final process on Saturday and part of Sunday will determine the entry into the 'B' final before the main event 'A' final with the best two results of all three riders counting towards the final ranking of the Nations.

Great Britain holds the record for the most victories with 16 successes, the last arriving in 1994; they were also the first to win the event in 1947. The USA are hot on the Brit's heels with 15 wins and a remarkable streak of 13 consecutive titles covering the whole of the 1980's. Belgium trail the Americans by 3 crowns.

The weather for the weekend is expected to be overcast and cool.



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