Insight: Jeffrey Herlings

An in-depth and entertaining discussion

· 20 minutes read

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Jeffrey Herlings has had a turbulent term, as injuries have effectively ensured that he has spent lengthy periods sat on the couch. Those health problems have been covered extensively at this point and no one wants to run through the same boring stuff over and over, so here is a different interview! Herlings covers the road to his first world title in 2012, which involved a grueling duel with Tommy Searle, below. There is also some Motocross of Nations talk and some debate about whether he should race a European supercross. Either listen to the interview to get a feeling of the mood or read it.

MX Vice: First off, what has been going on since the ‘Nations? It has been six weeks. What have you been up to? You got a G-Wagon, which is probably much better than anything that has ever happened in your life.

Jeffrey Herlings: Obviously true. After the ‘Nations we went testing that week and then I had surgery the week after. They removed all the material from my collarbone, from my foot and ankle. I lost about two and a half kilos just in material – that was pretty good – and then ever since then I just had to take a few weeks off, because the bones are pretty empty will all the material being out. It needed some rest. Today we are at the EICMA show. I did get a G-Wagon, obviously. It's a funny car to ride with. Today we are at Milan at the EICMA show, talking to you.

(Ray Archer)

What about the surgery you had? Was it all pretty normal? Should you be walking normally now?

Kind of. I do not know if I will ever walk normal again, but I will try to walk as normal as I possibly can. They just removed everything, and everything is intact so it's not a big surgery. They just opened the skin, took the material out and closed it. The bone needs to heal, of course. It was good. Surgery has been good. I'm happy all the material is out. I do feel an improvement since the material is out. I'm excited to see how it will be when I start riding.  

Are you done now with surgeries or have you got more to come? Have you got more metal in your foot?

Done. Done deal.

The foot is done then. Forget about it, right?

Everything is done. I've got no screws, no plate and nothing left in me. It's like starting with a clean sheet again.

I remember last year when we were here, we were talking about how you took your Lamborghini through the McDonald's drive through – your favorite thing in the off-season. Has the G-Wagon gone through there yet?

I have just had it for a week, I haven't run through the drive through at Burger King, KFC, McDonald's or anything like that. This year I've been actually watching my food a bit more, because last year I got so fat. Even now I gained some weight. I got so fat and then I had to lose all the weight, which I actually did and it all for nothing. I was already was out before the season started. It's so hard to lose it all again, so this year I've been eating a bit less. Coming back to your question, I have not driven through the drive through yet. I think it will fit though.

(Ray Archer)

I feel like that's the number one thing you can do. That is when you have made it, when you are rolling through there with that. There is one thing that's proper bugged me since ‘Nations and I've actually wanted to ask you about it. Did you feel like it was a bit weird? I came to interview you afterwards and figured there would be no way I would be able to get near you, because I thought there would be fans everywhere. It was dead though, especially compared to when you won the title. Did you feel like it would be, not a bigger deal, but I felt like it was a bit like, where the hell is everyone?

Yeah, true. The weather did not help, because it was raining constantly. The thing was that we won, then we had the podium, and then after the podium we met the king and this and that. Then went to the press conference, which I believe took over an hour. From the moment we finished the race, until we were finally free, it was like two or three hours. By that time all the fans were gone, because they would not keep waiting for three hours in the rain.  

I do understand. I think if it was good weather it would have been different, but I was actually also a bit disappointed. I thought it would be more of a party. It's the first time Holland won, and it was in our own country with so many spectators. I was like, "Yeah, tonight we are going to blow the roof off." It didn't happen though 

If you compare it, I guess winning the title at Assen was, not a bigger deal, but as far as the party goes and the enjoyment of it, I guess that was much better.

Yeah, it was way better. That was also a personal thing though. Now we won as a team, but I actually did not do well myself personally. I had a second and a fourth, so I was not really in the mood to really go party. I really wanted to go 1-1, but I messed up with some crashes and a bad start.

(Ray Archer)

With all the circumstances like track being flat, the mud and the rain it just was not the day I expected it to be. Still, we won. That is really special. We did not really get back what we deserved. We had such a big win in our own country, but I thought it would have been more spectacular and like a bigger party. Things like that did not really happen. 

You are not pissed off about your ‘Nations results, are you? You don't look back now and go, "F**k sake, I wish I had gone 1-1" right? You won as a team and that is what matters, I guess?

No. I'm not going to be like some guys and say, "Yeah, but we won as a team so I'm happy." No. I'm not happy. I wanted to go 1-1 and I didn't succeed. Definitely I'm not happy with my own performance, because I really trained hard. The road back after my broken ankle was just about Assen and trying to go 1-1. I think if it would have been a real deep sand race and the weather would have been okay, I could have pulled it off even with two bad starts. It was just a gamble with the mud, the track being flat and the rain. I got beat fair and square.

I think I was the fastest guy, or one of the fastest guys if you can see all the crashes I've had. Especially in the first moto… With ten minutes to go I was still sixth or seventh and half a minute back or more and I closed all of the way up to [Tim] Gajser. In the second moto came from dead last and crashed three or four times but still finished fourth. I think I was one of the fastest guys, but the fast guy does not always win. I think 2019 was a year to forget quickly. It didn't go as planned, but 2020 is already around the corner and we'll see how things turn out.

(Ray Archer)

2019 was a year to forget and we don't want to talk about injuries, so I figured we would do something a bit different. How about we talk about your first world title in 2012? I wasn't around then. What memories do you have from that season? You battled with Tommy. What sticks out in your mind?

I think 2012 and 2018 were the best years, because I hated it so bad. We would literally cut each other off on the start gate and things like that every single time when we were together. I almost wanted to put mirrors on my bike, because I wanted to see where he was going. I was so scared of the guy like he was going to clean the sh*t out of me.

It was so much fun battling with him though. Looking back on it, it was a lot of fun. It was also the same with Tony last year in 2018. We were so competitive. Every morning I was like, "I want to beat that guy, I want to beat that guy." It was a lot of fun. I won both times, so it was fun. 

That year was pretty weird though, huh? If I remember right, you had a car crash in Russia? There was a lot of sh*t happening on the track, because you and Tommy were going a bit mental. Then off the track there was all kinds of stuff going on. It was a mental year, when you think about it, especially considering it was your first world title.

I did not even have a driving license then. I was sitting in the back, actually. We won the GP and it was one big party. We were driving back to Moscow or something. Our driver – who was actually a Dutch guy and not like a random taxi guy – was just not paying attention, talking sh*t and ran wide open into a standing still truck at like one hundred kilometers an hour. I went with my head through the front window. 

Were you sat in the front seat then?

No, in the back, but I was sitting in the middle and trying to see both of them. I was not paying attention, and then he hit it. I did not have a seatbelt on. I went through the backseat, through the middle… Seriously. It really happened. I even have the photos of it. I went through the front window – that is why I had a big scar on my face.

(Ray Archer)

I remember you having like a plaster above your eye.

Yeah, because my head went through the window. If I think back on it, it was not good. I was really lucky to even ride in Moscow, because I had some damage. There was some glass inside, and in the brain… I don't know. I was knocked out for like ten minutes. It was a tough one. 

I'm actually shocked now. I was at home then and reading stuff, and I literally just read a little thing saying, "Jeffrey was in a car crash." I was like, "Oh yeah, he just bumped someone." That sounds insane. 

Yeah, that was a serious hit. We even have the photo for it.

Oh yeah, in this photo you actually look dead [laughs].

That seriously wasn't good, man. I thought the season would have been over, because I also broke, like, four ribs. Less than thirteen days after I had to race in Loket, I remember.

Loket is a great place for you, so that's good. 

Ups and downs. Dislocated the shoulder, won a championship, got cleaned out by Tommy Searle in 2012… I still came back and won that moto, and I won the overall so that was good.  

Would you like me to remind Tommy of that one?

He was scared, because he cleaned me out. He was actually faster than I was, and then he cleaned me out. I was so pissed. I stood back up, then I caught him and I wanted to clean him out. I didn't succeed though. I pulled him up all the way to the bank, but he didn't crash. It was a good year. It was fun.

(Ray Archer)

Do you reckon that was your most intense year ever then? Like you said, 2018 with Tony was similar. You were teammates though and it was a bit nice. With Tommy you could sit there and go, "I hate that guy," and no one was going to tell you off as you were different teams with different sponsors and everything.

It was different. Last year with Tony was even more competitive because we were on the same team, but then you had to be nice and things like that. I really like Tony as a person and as a competitor also I like him. That's not why you want to beat the guy – it is hard to be friends with. With Tommy, he was in Kawasaki and I was KTM. They were two rivals anyway. I also hated him at that time, so it was a fun time. 

I remember the British GP that year. A little bit further up from where I was stood – I was there with an air horn as I had nothing else to do – some guy threw a sandwich at you on the sighting lap or something.

I remember.

I thought this was going to be a fun thing to talk about, but it is actually quite depressing for you.

I did the first lap of warm-up on Saturday morning, and in Matterley you always go up the hill a bit. Everybody was like, "Boo!" I went up and then you have those waves, the left and then the right. Just before the jump, I just got thrown a tomato right up my face. 

Wait, it actually full on hit your goggles?

On my goggles, so it just splashed. I was like, "This is going to be such a long weekend!" I had so much food and drinking bottles thrown against me that weekend. There was the parade lap on Sunday with like all classes. I said to my practice mechanic, Ruben, "Take the bike. You are going to make the left with everybody screaming at you and everybody booing at you. Good luck. I'll watch you from the hospitality truck." He did the sighting lap and that was pretty funny.

(Ray Archer)

Imagine if one day you find out it was actually me who was throwing the tomatoes at you [laughs]. 

I would never do an interview anymore [laughs].

It is funny, because that year has got so many weird stories. You won your first world title and, if I remember right, Lierop was the week after Matterley and that was maybe your best race ever. It was at least your most dominant race ever.

I lapped him [Tommy Searle] and he got the middle finger from a lot of fans. I loved it. Everybody was like, "You have got to lap him" and so I lapped him. That was good. I think if I watch back that race, I'm like, "I'm so happy I don't need to race against that guy, because he was flying." Seriously I lapped up to second in both motos or something. I don't know exactly. 

I think one moto you did second and then one moto there was maybe one person you did not lap. Jeremy Van Horebeek maybe?

Van Horebeek, then one time I believe [Max] Anstie and Van Horebeek. It was a good one. It was fast.

Just so people know, you are cool with Tommy now. We can joke about this, because you are cool. It is not like I'm sh*t-stirring here.  

No, we are cool. Tommy and I, we are good. I would not say best friends, but we are just friends. We are normal. We speak to each other. I want to also congratulate him on a great career. It's a shame he never won a championship. 

Well, that's your fault [laughs].

Yeah, it's my fault. I don't really feel sorry for that one. He was a great ambassador for the sport, I think. He was special in his way. It is just a shame he never won a championship, but he had a great career, so now it's time to enjoy his child. He's getting an old guy, so time to retire almost.

(Ray Archer)

I like this. I wondered if talking about 2012 was going to be the most random thing ever, but it's actually been the most fun thing we have talked about. Are there any other years that stick out in your mind as the most fun, enjoyable or craziest? Is there anything else that comes to mind?

I think 2012 was the best, together with 2018. All of the other years were just pretty standard. In 2014 I was winning pretty much everything but broke my femur and did not win the championship. In 2016 I won a lot and got the championship again – 2016 was a boring year. I pretty much won everything, almost. 2018 was a great year. It was 2018 with Tony. Those were the two most beautiful years, because there was a lot of competition and rivalry going on. The rest of the years were so-so.  

Last thing on 2012. I guess that year was the big one for you as well. 2018 was a big battle and everything but you were the best guy. When you won the title, it was kind of like, "Yeah, I'm the best guy. I won the title. Of course." Whereas when you won the title in 2012 it was kind of like, "F**k yeah. Got him." It was that much of a battle all year. 

Yeah but I did not feel the pressure, whereas last year I really felt the pressure. In 2012 I never really had injuries. I dislocated my shoulder when I was 18 years old. That was the only thing I basically had. In 2016 I almost won the championship, then broke my collarbone and still won the championship. In 2015 I was leading but dislocated my hip. In 2014 I was leading and just needed a few more points, then broke my femur.

I was so scared that I would injure myself again. That's a little bit the thing going on with me… If I race all year then I have got a high chance of winning the championship. The thing is, if you look back in the years then you need to be honest. Every year I was either there and I won, or I was not there. 2018 I was there, I won. 2017 I was injured, so I got second. In 2016 I was there, I won. 2015 I was injured and I didn't win.  

This year you definitely weren't there.

This year I was just…

A strong 18th in the championship, I think? Maybe your best result ever. 

Yeah. I still won two GPs. This year let's take it as a holiday, then. I feel gutted for this year. I took a good holiday this year, so for 2020 I'm all sharp and all good here.

(Ray Archer)

Let's bring it back around to where we are now. What's the plan from now? Is tomorrow the start of intense training and that, or is it going to be in December or January?

No, I learned last year. I gained so much weight and I started November 20 but by the time I shattered my foot I was the perfect weight. I was fast. I was strong. I felt better than I ever was before. I feel like I need to start a bit later this year. Throughout the years I have learned a lot and I think it is not important to be on your best at the first GP, but you should be good from round five onwards. It's such a long series.

I'm going to start a bit later, somewhere in December most likely. Start off calm and work my way up throughout the year. I've proven this year… After I broke my ankle, I spent four weeks off the bike and then I won in Turkey. I am a guy who doesn't need three months of bike time to be able to win. It is better if I take as few risks as possible to not start riding now. Two more months of riding is two more months of possible injuries. 

I guess apart from that strategy, nothing else is really going to change as far as training programme or gym stuff goes? You are not going to make any major changes to what you have got going on? 

No. I think the thing I was doing was good, so I need to stick what I know and stick to doing that. Just need to make sure I'm there at all races.

(Ray Archer)

I guess it's one of those things where after a year like this one it would be so easy for someone like you to sit there and go, "Oh my god. I need to change everything." Really, this was just one of those freak things. [Arminas] Jasikonis crashed in front of you on a sighting lap. That is not going to happen again. I guess it is just stay calm and go again next year?

Yeah. Coming back for more, man. As long as I can start on the year healthy that's important. I've had a lot of injuries, not the worst ones. Obviously with the foot that was not a good one, but the rest… Every year almost I have broken my collarbone, but a collarbone is not like an ACL or a hip or a back or whatever. I will just try to be at all twenty races, try to be smart and fight for the championship again.

Last year when we did the interview here, we talked about how intense your training was and how you would not be able to do that forever. Has having a big holiday this year given you a bit of a boost to go again next year and the year after that?

Yeah, I charged up the batteries. Since 2010 I have been doing it ever year. With my hip I had three months off, but now this year I almost had a year off of racing. It's definitely been charging up the batteries. If my foot will heal up a bit more and I can be pain-free completely, then yeah. I don't see a reason why now I can't do a few more years.

I'm going to end it on possibly the worst question I have ever asked you. I put a thing out to the fans saying that if you want to ask Herlings anything, drop it in and maybe I'll do it. I got one question that I knew you'd like, because it just never goes away. Someone wants to know if you are ever going to do Paris…

Last year they actually asked me. The problem was they asked me three days in advance, because [Marvin] Musquin did his knee or something.

(Ray Archer)

Wait, they wanted you to replace him?

They wanted me to replace him on the Monday before. I was like, "Sh*t, I gained 14 kilos. I haven't touched the bike for five weeks. Now to do supercross? I don't think that’s the smartest thing."

You went, "Is there a McDonald's nearby? You might just catch me then." [laughs]

I told the guy, if you want me in the future then let me know in advance. He hasn't contacted me ever since though. If I want to do it, I want to do more supercross. I want to do Geneva, Bercy, Melbourne and a few others. Not just one. I don't want to put in all the sacrifice and all the training for one event.

If I could make a deal with doing a few rounds, I would possibly be open to do it. Not just for Paris though. They obviously did not request me this year. They knew I was going to take my material out anyway, so I did not have really a chance to do it. In the future I would definitely be interested in doing it, but they need to contact me.

I thought that was the worst question ever. I can't believe you were actually interested in it! I thought you were just going to tell me to go away.

No, actually I do like supercross. Not going in America for a full year, but in October and November you can still train in the south of France and do some supercross. Like I said, I don't want to do a few and not against the top guys. When you go to Paris there are like three, four or five good guys. It is the same in Geneva, same in Melbourne and whatever. When you go to the US there are like twenty heavy hitters or ten. There it’s a little bit more top.

Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer

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