James Stewart and Chad Reed had a cup of coffee with the big bounty in 2006 and 2007, respectively, with perfect Friday nights. But on Saturday, the focus on the money led to strange things. In ’06, Stewart bobbled during the hot lap competition, allowing Kevin Windham to score the fastest time. In ’07, Reed got a bad jump in the main, but, knowing he needed the holeshot to get the big money, held it on down the inside, igniting a massive first-turn crash—which ultimately cost him any chance of even winning the event overall.
Much more money was on the line this Saturday at the first-ever Monster Energy Cup. While Ryan Villopoto didn’t necessarily have to get a holeshot to be in line for the million-dollar bonus (it didn’t pay a bonus), he knew a bad start would end any hopes for a race win. The pressure was on RV to deliver—but he has proven time and time again to be impervious to pressure. He got another good jump, and about halfway down the start straight, began pulling the field, just like he did in the first two races.
Mike Alessi (800) sneaking in from the outside to grab the holeshot over Villopoto (2).
Photo: Simon Cudby
But then, a rival appeared. From an extreme outside gate, Mike Alessi dug into his old bag of tricks and found his once-unbeatable holeshot form. It looked like Mike was riding an RM-Z850 the way he launched from the gate and beat everyone to turn one. Villopoto started second.
That first lap illustrates the divergent career paths of the former amateur rivals. Villopoto was on the verge of capping one of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport by capturing the largest cash prize ever offered in a race. He is at the peak of his powers, now beginning to ignite “all-time” talk about where his accomplishments could rank in history when his career is over.
As for Alessi, the one who beat Villopoto so many times in the amateur days, the path is different. After a second-straight year without a victory, he finds himself without a factory ride. Villopoto would only stack the million-dollar bonus on top of the big bank account he built this year. Alessi wanted to use the purse to fund his 2012 efforts—which he may pay for from his own pocket.
The once heated rivalry has now lost its luster.
Photo: Simon Cudby
Alessi was riding a Suzuki for the second time in his career—after just ending his KTM factory tenure for the second time. Villopoto, meanwhile, is still under contract with Kawasaki, a brand he’s been riding since the 85cc (14-15) class. Alessi was fighting for his spot in the sport; Villopoto was only solidifying his position at the top.
Half a lap later, Villopoto made the pass, took the lead and took off with the Monster Million. Alessi didn’t do anything sinister or dirty to stop his old rival from getting the win—for whatever reason, he reserved that treatment for Ryan Dungey in a battle for second. Remember, when Dungey moved onto a 450 at Suzuki, Alessi was left without a spot on that team. And the same thing just happened again at KTM.
As for the Alessi and Villopoto rivalry, well, that one is long since over.