Midway down the first drop away hill on the course, just a few turns from the start, Villopoto was curled in a fetal position some 40 feet away from his battered bike. He started to struggle to his feet only to go down again. His helmet visor was gone. His motorcycle looked at least bent, and maybe broken.
Meanwhile, half of a big long track away, the rest of the field roared away toward completion of that first lap. Villopoto had come into the race just eight points behind in the championship. Rivals Chad Reed and Ryan Dungey were long gone, jockeying for position with early leader Davi Millsaps.
It didn’t look good. It did not look good. It couldn’t be good.
Then Villopoto picked himself up, successfully this time, and made his way to the beat-up bike. And even as his motorcycle began falling apart, RV's charge started coming together.
Hard charger award?
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson
Villopoto finished the first lap in 37th, moved up to 29th in the second, and was into the top twenty by the seventh lap. His sidepanel began to drag the ground, his exhaust system began to blow apart – ultimately jettisoning the muffler altogether – and still 'Poto stormed through the pack. He'd push all the way into the top ten on lap 14 and ultimately finish ninth.
And still, it appeared that Villopoto's shot at a sixth successive podium was slim. Up front, Reed had held off a determined charge from Dungey throughout the first race. Reed was content for a time to follow Millsaps in second, with Dungey pacing in third just behind. When Dungey made his signature mid-moto push, Reed responded by dialing it up – powering around Millsaps on the approach to the biggest jump on the outdoor circuit, and purposefully pulling a tear-off while flying over LaRocco’s Leap and into the lead.
And so it went. The defending champion managed to put a wheel alongside Reed on occasion, but could never make a pass stick. Dungey chased Reed into the sand whoops on the last lap, but the points leader went inside-out in the succeeding corner to protect the lead. Dungey's last-ditch attempt to go inside of Reed before LaRocco's Leap spun the wheel. RD cased the landing, and CR had the win. Again. Going into the final moto of the day, Villopoto needed the win to have any chance at a podium – and more important, to minimize the damage done in the points chase. Dungey needed the win to secure the overall, and needed the points even more than Villopoto did.
Unlike the to-the-wire first moto, this outcome was never in doubt. And with 'Poto speeding off into the distance with a wire-to-wire runaway, all Reed needed to do take the overall win was secure third place. After shadowing Mike Alessi for eight laps, Reed went around, rode to his fourth overall victory of the season, and stretched his points lead back into double-digits.
Reed had to battle with Alessi, but in the end would take home the overall at RedBud.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson
Scoreboard, six races and twelve motos into the season? Reed has four overalls and six moto wins – including wins at five of six races, each round except Lakewood, and a 16-point lead. Villopoto has one overall and a total of four moto wins – one in each of the last four rounds. Dungey, 22 points back, has one overall and two moto wins – he’s been second overall three times, and has eight second place moto finishes including two more at RedBud.
Was RedBud a turning point for the season, or merely the midway stop on the schedule?
RedBud was just the kind of championship ride you could expect from Reed. If Chad Reed wins this outdoor championship, RedBud can serve as an example of how smooth and steady, cool and calculated he really is.
RedBud was just the kind of championship ride you could expect from Villopoto. Hard luck and hard rides… if Ryan Villopoto wins this outdoor championship, people can point to RedBud as an example of how resilient, fast, and determined he really is.
RedBud might be the kind of championship ride that will deliver a defending title for Dungey – but it really might not. If Ryan Dungey wins this outdoor championship, RedBud probably won’t come up in the discussion. For all three, the second half of the year will prove how important the last race of the first half really was.