Jeffrey Herlings has been featured in the MX Vice podcasts a lot this season, but all of those were conducted moments after he had just finished a forty-minute moto. Herlings spared more time for MX Vice editor, Lewis Phillips, at the EICMA show in Milan earlier today and, in a more relaxed setting, provided some intriguing comments and was able to talk more in-depth about some topics from the season that was. There are plenty of laughs in here too! Both the podcast and written version of this interview are available below.
MX Vice: This is a special interview! We are not at a race, you are not drenched in sweat and I am not just bugging you at the worst possible time! We are actually sat somewhere proper. It has been six weeks or so since I last spoke to you, so just kind of bring us up to speed on what you have been up to.
Jeffrey Herlings: Obviously, we have not spoken for six weeks. You probably miss me already. It has actually been good. I had some time off. Been doing different things. I have not been riding. After the ‘Nations I just did a little bit of riding, just for one week at an event for KTM Netherlands on the Sunday, and then I have not ridden anymore. I have not been riding for, like, four weeks or so.
I am starting to miss riding by now. The first two weeks were so much fun, just going from one junk food place to the next junk food place, eating, chilling and hanging out with friends. Now you are like, "Okay, this is not the life." I want to get back to racing and want to get back to what we have been doing all year. I really enjoyed the time off, but now I feel like, "Okay, two more weeks and then let's get started on 2019 again."
Can we talk about your car? That is sick. That is definitely one of the best things that has happened to you this year.
Yeah, besides winning the championship that is one of the best things. I have got a pretty nice house I think myself. I have got some cars. I was like… The Huracan was one of the cars that was on the bucket list, let's say. I was like, if I win the championship it is time to do it. I did win the championship, I had some time to search for a pretty nice one and I found one. I am tuning it now. Just got on the new Akrapovic pipe that I am thankful for. Now it makes a crazy nice noise. The Lamborghini Huracan is a sick car!
All year a lot of people have liked it when we have joked about McDonald's and all of that. I guess you have been hitting that quite a lot? A lot of cheeseburgers, McNuggets and just whatever you like?
Yeah, obviously every day pretty much I have been eating a McFlurry. I pass a McDonald's near my house wherever I go. When I pass, I'm like, "Let's get a quick McDrive, McFlurry, KitKat, chocolate…" At one point I came then they were already like, "Oh, is it you again? Now we know what you want." I'm like, "Okay, good." It's actually been fun. I have been eating a lot and I did get fat a bit, but it is only a few weeks a year.
In two weeks, I will restart the training and I will definitely have to lose the weight again. If you do it six weeks of the year, then the other ten months you have got motivation to not do it. If you do it twelve months straight, year after year, it is almost impossible. When you have six to eight weeks off to really be able to enjoy the time off and spend time with friends, family, eat and whatever, it gives you motivation for another year of racing.
Do you feel guilty at all when you are eating this stuff? In the back of your mind, are you like, "Sh*t, whatever I eat now I am going to have to work off again?" Is there a part of you that's just like, "Do I really want to do this?" Are you just all in?
For the moment I am just all in. I don't feel guilty at all. For all the times I have been eating salad during the year, I don't feel guilty to eat another hamburger. I feel like there is nothing I need to do right now. I need to be good from February until October. I need to make sure I am on the right way, that I am fit and I am just being correct on that. Whenever I get to the first MXGP in 2019, I just need to make sure I am fit and in good shape.
Whatever I do now, I can do what I want. I feel like also, with KTM, I do not have to test anything for the moment. I can do what I want! Whenever I start riding, I just need to make sure I get back into good shape and make sure I start winning again next year. Then it does not matter.
Let's talk about training a bit more. Going back, obviously 2017 was… I don't want to say rough, because it ended good, but it started rough anyway.
It started sh*t.
Okay. It started sh*t. Let's put it that way. You kind of turned it around in the off-season and you needed that time. Looking back now, just explain what the hell you did. You obviously went absolutely insane, like the hardest you have ever gone in your life.
Yeah, definitely. From 2016 to 2017 I won the MX2 championship and I was twenty-two-years-old. I was busy with the wrong things. During the winter I was too busy with partying, spending time with girls, eating and less on the training programme, testing, and whatever. I paid my toll for that when the season started; I was not in good shape, then maybe because of that I crashed. Mentally I thought I could win, but physically I was not in the best shape. I went down, broke the hand and then the first four or five races were a terrible mess.
I felt like I let KTM down. I felt like I let the team down and the people around me, because I was hired to win. If I look back at the images, I showed up… Obviously Qatar and stuff I was injured. I had the broken hand. It is hard to judge just by that but even after that at rounds three, four and five, when I was not in that much pain anymore, I was not in good shape. I was looking fat. I was not fast enough. I was not training enough. I started to realise, "Hey, if I do not step my game up…" I want to be the number one guy. I started working my butt off, started to lose weight, started to test a lot and started to ride a lot.
I got better and better during the year and at the last six GPs I think I won five of them. I even did not finish one, otherwise I would have probably won the last six even. That gave me a lot of motivation. I went to US, won that and at the ‘Nations I won individually my class. At the end of 2017 I was where I was supposed to be. I kept that rhythm going through the winter and then decided to train even more and be even more specific on the food programme, the training programme, with the testing and riding the bike.
It all paid off, because this year we won seventeen out of the nineteen MXGP rounds that I raced. I got second twice. I won the championship, the Dutch championship and the individual overall at the Motocross of Nations. I feel like I left nothing on the table. I feel like I did everything I could. I think it was necessary to win, so it was a good year.
I guess you have trainers with Red Bull and everything, but do you actually have a personal trainer who is with you every day and sets out a plan?
No. Obviously for Red Bull they do have those trainers, but then I need to be based in Austria probably. I cannot do it. No, I do everything myself. I have spoken already many times about how I have been to Aldon. I learned a lot over there. I did a copy and paste kind of thing. I feel like I have got the right programme for me right now. I know what I have to do. For me, to do it multiple years is not a problem.
I just need a few weeks during the winter off to really enjoy life and enjoy everything. Then to be in the programme for ten or ten and a half months, it does not really hurt me. Definitely when you get to July or August and you have been doing it for so many months, it is like you start to count down the weeks. But I think that is normal, but as long as you get the results it is not too big of an issue.
That was what I was going to say. You had to go hard before this year to make up for the stuff that you f**ked up the year before. Are you going to have to go just as hard this winter or, because you have kind of set the base, is it going to be a bit easier for you to go through the off-season and everything?
Well, I know what to do now. Going into the halfway point of 2017 I was still experimenting with things. I did not know exactly what was good or what was not good for my body. But now I did it for one, one and a half years, and I am starting to know like, "Okay, this is good for my body. This is what I need to do." I am starting to really know what I am capable of or whatnot. What I did in 2018 was good.
Can we improve? Yeah. I can definitely keep learning and improving things. At one point you need to be satisfied and happy with what you have got and what you can accomplish. I think if I do a little bit the same as 2018… I know it has taken a toll out of me, because it is a lot of hard work. A lot of dedication goes into it and sacrifices but, I think if I can repeat it again and do it, then for sure I can fight for the championship again this year. Maybe on the bike we can gain a little bit and training we can gain a little bit. On everything just maybe little, little bits and try to still become better, because the competition will come closer again.
Were there actually things then before 2018 that you were doing in training that you were like, "That exercise or whatever doesn't work for me? I feel f**ked after that. I shouldn't be doing that anymore?" Did you learn from little mistakes?
Yeah, because I had been experimenting a lot during 2017. Like, "Okay, this is too much. This is maybe not enough," in the gym or whatever. I did a lot of gym during 2016 and 2017. I gained a lot of muscle. I thought I needed to be strong and I need to be a little bit like muscled up, but then I felt like I got arm pump. I felt like I was not sharp enough or quick enough. Then I realized that is not good for me. I did gain a lot of weight, because of that. It was negative for the start.
Actually, I did not feel like I needed that power. I thought with a 450F you need to be strong and this and that… For me, I don't need to. I almost did not do any gym during 2018, just some abdominals for my back muscles and my stomach muscles. Not really for the legs, arms, to gain big muscles or anything like that at that specific part of the body. I did learn a lot during 2018 and I think that was good for 2019. I don't need to experiment and do it again in 2019.
I remember that you said in Teutschenthal that the way you were doing things at the moment, living like a nun and everything, you cannot do that forever. Do you think there is going to become a point, say, in four years where you will be able to back off the training and extend your career? Is it a case of having to work this hard, this hard, this hard and then immediately stop?
That's a little bit what the guys with Aldon have been doing. If you look at Ricky Carmichael, he was working so hard and boom! Done at a young age. Ryan Villopoto was working his butt off and winning, winning, winning, winning. Boom! Done, over it. Ryan Dungey; winning, winning, winning. Done, over it when he was working with Aldon too. I did a little bit the same programme. It is very hard for you mentally and physically to do, but as long as you win it gives you a lot of happiness and satisfaction. That is what you do it for, but it is hard to do it year after year after year. It is like a daily job from 08:00am to 05:00pm or actually, no, it is like a 24/7 job.
Whenever you are in the evening you still cannot eat whatever you want. You cannot say, "Hey, I am going to stay awake until 03:00am partying" or whatever. It is like a thing you have to do for, in our case, ten months a year. A 24/7 job. It takes a lot of energy also out of yourself and out of your body to every day get two to three training sessions in if it is on the bike, road bike, gym, swimming, intervals or whatever. It is tough, but I feel like if I do not do it then I am not able to be as dominant as I was in 2018. I feel like for 2019 I need to do the same, or maybe even in a smarter or better way, otherwise I will not repeat what I have done this year.
This is a loaded question obviously, but do you have an idea of how long you think you are going to be able to go for? I'll make that simpler: We are probably in the second half of your career, right?
Well, I started when I was five. I am twenty-four by now so if I need to race another twenty years, I will be forty-five. That does not make sense. I have been on the MXGP scene since 2010, so that makes it nine years I would say… Eight or nine years. Am I halfway? Yes, somewhere there, or maybe even past that. Depending also on injuries, motivation, money and many results. It is depending on a lot of things. Maybe three years from now I am still winning GPs and winning championships.
It is like, "Yeah, let's do another two or another four years." I don't know. I'm twenty-four right now, but I have got two more years of contract with KTM so 2019 and 2020 with an option for 2021. I definitely would say finish those two years, then do another two and then obviously look. I am not planning on stopping before twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Maybe I will still be racing when I am thirty-two or thirty-three, like Tony [Cairoli] is right now. It is really depending on a lot of things and how the results will be. That is probably the most important. For now, I cannot really give an answer. We will see how things will turn out and how things will go.
The motivation after 2017 pushed you through the 2018 winter. You do not have that same anger in you this time. That is not a problem, is it? You are chasing world titles and that is enough motivation.
Yeah, definitely. I felt like I let KTM down, because I felt like I was hired to win the championship in 2017 and I just messed up by getting injured myself. KTM had a great bike and the team was working perfect, so it was all myself why I did not win the championship. I felt guilty. I felt like I had to prove myself towards KTM and towards all the world that I am capable of winning in the biggest class. That is what I did this year and now I have done that. I have a lot of joy.
Now I have less anger. I do have a lot of motivation to repeat myself. I don't want to now say, "Hey, I've done it," and celebrate all winter long and then do it like 2017 to mess up again. I know what it takes. That is why I now take the six weeks off; enjoy it, eat, drink, party, girls and whatever. Just imagine all the bad things! Then end of November I will restart and then I will do the same as I did all 2018 season, because I know that is what it takes to win.
I guess we had better recap this season a little bit. Looking back now, is there one race that sticks out in your mind where you were riding the best you ever have? Assen was obviously the best for the whole thing. Just with your riding and technique, is there one race that you look back on and just smile?
I have had many good weekends this year, because I have won seventeen MXGPs. It is hard to say. There are some GPs that I still think about like, "Whoa." Like Argentina, second moto, those last few laps were like, damn, we were going fast. Then to win it that way. Same at the British GP to pass Tony both motos somewhere near the last lap. That was obviously a very nice GP. I feel like in Lommel I was super-fast.
Assen, to win the championship there was amazing. Go 1-1, home crowd and win the championship. Beautiful weather. Everything was good. The scenario was just perfect. I had many good races. I think also Imola, one of the last races of the year, I did really good. The second moto I won by over 30 seconds. I had many good GPs and it is hard for me to say, "That GP was just super, super good." I had many good ones this year.
What about the ‘Nations qualifying race? Is that up there for you or do you feel like that was kind of you just riding normal?
I felt like that was just me kind of riding normal, but I went down first lap. I had to go in the pit lane. My bike was a bit bent because of the crash. People were running over the bike and ran over me. Then to come from dead last to third, that was pretty special. Also Sunday I was actually doing good, because I won the first moto. In the second moto it was just my teammate in front of me and I felt like he was riding really, really fast. I did not really have a need to pass him.
They say, "Yeah, he beat you!" I'm like, "Yeah, okay, he beat me but he was my teammate" and I felt like, if I really had to, I maybe could have done. Anyway, he won [and was] great. Glenn [Coldenhoff] did a great, great job actually, but we did great on the ‘Nations and went 1-1-1-2. It a shame we did not win, because we deserved it after Glenn ran such a great race. I think we had a good year.
I guess we do need to talk about the ‘Nations a little, because everyone is still going on about that. You did not win and you should have, like you said, but are you at all disappointed? When you found out about Calvin [Vlaanderen], were you like chucking helmets against the side of the truck? How did that all go down?
No, because that was before the second moto. Then I never expected Glenn to go 1-1. I was one hundred percent sure he could go for a win in the first moto. I was like, when it is MXGP against Open class, if he goes top five then he did a good moto. I don't know what he ate for breakfast, but damn he was fast! It was his best race. He even told me himself it was his best race ever in his life and it has been shown, because he did not even make a podium this year and at ‘Nations he went 1-1!
Everything clicked for him, but at that point I didn't know [that was going to happen]. I was like, "Yeah. It's not nice, but it is like it is." Afterwards I was like, "Damn, we were so close!" How big is the chance that we'll go 1-1-1-2 ever again and be that close to winning? The other teams were struggling like Team France, with Marvin [Musquin] not being on the team and [Romain] Febvre being injured. We had a big chance. Maybe next year at Assen. It will be nice to go to Assen and hopefully win there. Calvin needs to keep on his goggles at least.
Heading into 2019, is there anything that you feel like you need to fix? Any little thoughts from this year with bike set-up, training or anything that you just want to try and clean up?
No. If you look at the team and the bike, it has been awesome in 2018. There are new parts available that I still need to test when I get back to riding, so hopefully we can gain a little bit. It is hard. I think with KTM we are on a top level now, so to gain one second is almost impossible. If we can find only a few tenths or just a little bit to let us improve the bike, that would be nice. I will try to improve a little bit myself. Got more experience and another year on the big bike. We try to improve a little bit and hopefully that's enough to keep winning.
You say that it is tough to find one second, but do you feel like if I stuck a McFlurry on the end of your front fender…
I will find two. I want to go that fast for the win then I will get the McFlurry.
That is my idea. I need to sell that to Pit [Beirer]. I think I have said it before, but thanks again for this year. I have bugged you a lot and I probably should have backed it down at some point. The rounds when I ran after you were probably a bit keen, but people like them. We have got to do it!
You owe me a McFlurry. Two now.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer