After an epic two-race battle Duncan still holds championship red plate

Dunedin’s Courtney Duncan riding hard on her Kawasaki KX250 to hold onto the overall Women’s Motocross World Championship lead in the MXGP of Afyon PHOTO CREDIT: MXGP.

There wasn’t even a full second separating Kiwi Courtney Duncan and Italian Kiara Fontanesi in both motos at the MXGP of Afyon yesterday as they fought down to the wire each time.

While Fontanesi claimed her first 1-1 result since 2018, it was Dunedin’s Duncan who walked away from round four of the FIM Women’s Motocross World Championship (WMX) still holding onto the red plate by 9 points.

Both women had plenty to race for as Duncan battles to defend her second consecutive championship, and six-time world champion Fontanesi continues her comeback after becoming a mum in 2019.

Her own harshest critic Duncan sees faults, where her fans see a fighter.

“Naturally I’m disappointed. I’m always going out to win. I’m frustrated I let a couple of opportunities slip away and this one is going to sting for a while,” she says.

Bike IT MTX Kawasaki’s Duncan won the first Turkey-based round on Saturday, going 2-1, and the pressure ramped up on Tuesday for the second set of two races, with intense fights to the chequered flag.

The Afyonkarahisar track is situated around 1200 metres above sea level – altering the bikes’ performances – and the 30degC temperature left the riders drenched in sweat and with “nothing left in the tank at the end of the day,” Duncan says.

In race one, it was Germany’s Larissa Papenmeier who grabbed the holeshot ahead of Duncan, Fontanesi and Dutchwoman Nancy Van De Ven. Papenmeier then dropped out of the lead as Fontanesi was quick to make moves on the opening lap to take over first place.

Van De Ven then took fourth from Papenmeier, as Duncan set the fastest lap of the race and was looking to close in on Fontanesi. The Kiwi then took the gap down to 0.948 and kept the pressure there until the end of the race.

The final two laps were intense to say the least as Duncan gave it her all, pushing on the final corner to race Fontanesi to the flag. Bumping wheels at times as they wove their way around back markers, they were neck and neck over the final jump, with Fontanesi snatching the race victory by just 0.050 seconds.

In race two, Fontanesi was first out of the gate with Duncan hot on her heels. The Italian then stretched her lead to 3.256 seconds, though as the race progressed it was clear that the Kawasaki rider wasn’t going to let the race leader get away as she upped her pace.

Drama struck Duncan, who went down as she fought for the pass. Determined to not let the win slip away, she turned on her almost superhuman ability to whittle down a gap. She closed in from around 14 seconds adrift, to sit just 1.4 seconds behind Fontanesi, within just a couple of laps.

With three laps to go Duncan was all over her rival and a repeat of the first race occurred. Both riders fought hard and sprinted for the finish, but it was Fontanesi who held onto the win by a narrow tenth of a second margin (0:01.428).

Duncan says although it’s “not pretty” when riders nudge each other multiple times at pace, it’s all part of racing and she left nothing out there.

“I gave it everything I had and credit to Kiara, she deserved it at the end of the day.”

The WMX takes a five-week break before meeting again for the penultimate round in Spain on the new-to-all-riders intu Xanadu-Arroyomolinos track.

Duncan knows she’s mentally strong and she will work on tapping into the mindset that helps her find that incredible extra speed when she needs to.

“I definitely need to work on bringing the intensity earlier in the races, and find my own rhythm because at the moment I feel like I’m setting into Kiara’s,” she wraps up.

Kawasaki New Zealand’s Managing Director Shane Verhoeven says it was: “Another impressive performance by Courtney, bringing her a step closer to her third consecutive world championship.”

“With Kiara riding flawlessly, the win eluded Courtney after spectacular battles in both motos. However, with two rounds to go and the points lead in her possession, Courtney is in a good position heading into Spain.”

Watch the incredible last laps battle between Courtney Duncan and Kiara Fontanesi.

WMX – Race 1 – Top 10 Classification: 1. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GASGAS), 24:58.447; 2. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +0:00.050; 3. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), +0:44.584; 4. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +0:47.101; 5. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, Kawasaki), +0:49.461; 6. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), +1:00.283; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +1:08.396; 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), +1:12.445; 9. Lynn Valk (NED, Husqvarna), +1:19.101; 10. Elisa Galvagno (ITA, Yamaha), +1:41.622;

WMX – Race 2 – Top 10 Classification: 1. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GASGAS), 25:11.912; 2. Courtney Duncan (NZL, Kawasaki), +0:01.428; 3. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, Yamaha), +0:32.936; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, Yamaha), +0:38.571; 5. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), +0:47.563; 6. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), +0:54.019; 7. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, Kawasaki), +1:07.508; 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), +1:12.936; 9. Tahlia Jade O’Hare (AUS, Honda), +1:15.217; 10. Lynn Valk (NED, Husqvarna), +1:31.050;

WMX – Overall Top 10 Classification: 1. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GAS), 50 points; 2. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 44 p.; 3. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 38 p.; 4. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 38 p.; 5. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 31 p.; 6. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, KAW), 30 p.; 7. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 29 p.; 8. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), 26 p.; 9. Lynn Valk (NED, HUS), 23 p.; 10. Tahlia Jade O’Hare (AUS, HON), 20 p.;

WMX – Championship Top 10 Classification: 1. Courtney Duncan (NZL, KAW), 176 points; 2. Kiara Fontanesi (ITA, GAS), 167 p.; 3. Nancy Van De Ven (NED, YAM), 148 p.; 4. Shana van der Vlist (NED, KTM), 144 p.; 5. Larissa Papenmeier (GER, YAM), 133 p.; 6. Amandine Verstappen (BEL, KAW), 124 p.; 7. Lynn Valk (NED, HUS), 121 p.; 8. Sara Andersen (DEN, KTM), 101 p.; 9. Daniela Guillen (ESP, KTM), 98 p.; 10. Elisa Galvagno (ITA, YAM), 71 p.;

WMX – Manufacturers Classification: 1. Kawasaki, 176 points; 2. GASGAS, 167 p.; 3. Yamaha, 152 p.; 4. KTM, 148 p.; 5. Husqvarna, 121 p.; 6. Honda, 63 p.; 7. Suzuki, 31 p.;

Words: Catherine Pattison