First of all, two weeks ago in our point/counterpoint, I said Team USA would be Dungey/Baggett/Barcia. I think we all saw this coming.
I also think I know where this is going. Barcia gets picked for Team USA because he has done well at the only sand race on the U.S. circuit--Southwick--and now a short time after the team is announced, people are probably thinking he shouldn't be on the team because he just did badly at the only sand race on the U.S. circuit--Southwick.
So, are we supposed to use Southwick as the sand barometer or not? Up until this year, Barcia won a moto each time he raced at Southwick (2009, 2010, 2011) and on a 450 last year he could have possibly won the overall if his bike hadn't let him down in moto one. So, if you're going to say that Saturday's results at Southwick prove Barcia shouldn't be on the team, how can you not argue that the previous year's results prove he should be on the team?
(He also had a first-lap crash in moto one and hit a tree while running third in moto two. Kind of hard to judge his sand prowess based on that.)
I say ignore Southwick. Both the good and the bad for Barcia. It's not even really anything like Lommell, anyway. It's the closest comparison we have, but saying Southwick is to Lommell is like saying a pitcher would automatically be a great quarterback because they both have to throw a ball.
Forget Southwick altogether. I think, in general, Barcia is a good sand rider (beyond just Southwick). His high-revving style works a whole lot better in sand than hardpack (oh yeah, he just won Washougal. But seriously, you can't judge an entire rider's career based on how he did at one race) and he has said a million times that he grew up riding on softer, sandier, loamy stuff rather than hard pack. He knows how to ride sand, not just Southwick. He has a ridiculous amount of heart and determination, he's in shape, and I don't think pressure phases him. He's also a really good starter. Not Mike Alessi-level, but really, really good. Ask the other 250 riders who have watched Barcia get a ton of holeshots the last two years. He's a great pick and he'll do fine.
That said, I feel like Mike Alessi got the shaft here. I don't know if he would perform better than Barcia over there or not, but I do feel like, by default, the second-ranked 450 dude here should get the second spot. Did anyone think we needed to dig into the 250 Class instead of using Andrew Short on a 450 in 2010? You have to remember that every country will put their best 450 guy into MX1, so Alessi (or Barcia) don't have to go and outperform Cairolli, Desalle or Pourcel. They have to run with the second best 450 guy each country has, and they're both capable of that.
Put it this way: if Alessi got picked, no one would have said, "Hey, why didn't they put the second-ranked 250 guy on the 450?" I also think James Stewart should have been approached, prodded, asked (and even begged) to ride, but it doesn't sound like that happened.
All I can say is, it's stupid for me to armchair quarterback this when Roger DeCoster is the man picking the team. He knows more about winning des Nations and riding sand tracks in (his native) Belgium than I do. I think Barcia will do well and is a fine pick. But I think Alessi would have been good enough, would raise fewer eyebrows (can't believe I just typed that, but it's true in this particular situation) and Stewart would have topped them all. But DeCoster knows more than I do, and that's why you'll never see me hoisting a Chamberlain trophy.
Team USA was selected this weekend at Southwick and it wasn’t that much of a surprise, really. The first pick is pretty obvious in Ryan Dungey--duh. The next one was the 250 series leader and last year’s Team USA MX2 entrant, Blake Baggett. The third guy was the debatable spot and team manager Roger DeCoster went with Justin Barcia for a couple of reasons. One is that the guy flies in the sand and two is that he’s just plain flying this year. Barcia’s been very good this year, winning a second straight supercross title and also winning more nationals this year than his previous three years combined. With the MXoN taking place at Lommel, Belgium perhaps the nastiest sand track ever, we’ll need our soft terrain specialists ready to go and Barcia, this past weekend notwithstanding, is one of the best we have.
The USA is lucky, no matter who they send over they’re always going to be the favorite. There are so many great riders to choose from and the selectors can’t really make a bad choice. It’s interesting that the guys chose to put Barcia on the 450 as he hasn’t raced one all year but he’ll be fine, the MX3 rider just has to maintain a fast pace and place in the top three and the USA will be fine. Anyone want to bet against Barcia being able to do that?
The rest of the world, most of whom would love to see the USA lose this race, are licking their chops thinking about the USA riders struggling in the deep sand but I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen. Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings are certainly capable of giving Dungey some trouble (if Herlings rides the 450 like rumored) and they may even beat him a moto or two, but team USA is too good to struggle in six motos. Baggett’s fast and fit, Dungey is Dungey and Barcia, again, is so good in the sand. There’s no other countries (Belgium with Clement Desalle, Jeremy Van Horebeek and Ken de Dyker may be the next best) that can match the speed AND three-man depth of the USA.
Do I think that Mike Alessi should have been picked? Yes indeed I do. Again, the third rider doesn’t need to kill it, they just have to be fast and to me, there are risks with Barcia just as there is with Alessi. What about James Stewart? He was written off kind of early in my opinion (but with him not going to Southwick and I’m guessing not going to Unadilla, it’s starting to be more believable that he got passed over) but again, no matter who you send over (I wouldn’t complain if Jake Weimer went either, he’s a past MXoN winner) the USA guys are going to be great and the rest is just nit-picking and bench racing.