Back in their kid days, Ryan Villopoto and Blake Baggett used to run around together. At Loretta's, if you saw Ryan you often saw Blake with him, and vice-versa. As they rose through the ranks together with Team Green, the Washington-born Villopoto spent a lot of time staying at Baggett's house and riding with him in California.
Today, there are still parallels. Baggett is now lead dog for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, the same spot Villopoto used to fill. Same team and bike, same Thor gear. They're both trained by Aldon Baker. And at the Motocross of Nations, Baggett runs #2 as Team USA's MX2 Class entrant. That's RV's career number, and when you check that digit, their size and riding style, the bike and graphics….well, they look the same! But looks are one thing and performance is another. At the MXoN where Baggett needs to channel his inner Villopoto.
RV has always shined at this race--in fact, he carries one of the best records ever at the pressure-packed event. In four races, Villopoto has won his class all four times. His 1-1 overall scores on a 250F in 2007 stand as one of the greatest performances in the history of the event, and his clutch third-moto win last year saved the day for Team USA.
On a 250F in 2006, 2007 and 2008, Villopoto took overall moto scores (while racing against 450s) of 3-2-1-1-10-1, making him the top MX2 rider at the event each time. In the three 'Nations since, Team USA has struggled in the class. In 2009, Jake Weimer took 8-25 finishes in his motos, making his seventh best in the MX2 Class. In 2010, Trey Canard went 12-7 for third in his class. And last year, Baggett could only muster 17-17 finishes, for fourth in the class.
Two things to consider. First is the gate pick. Each team picks two gates per moto, and lately the U.S. team has put their 250F rider in the worst of its two gates. Combine the bad gate with a starting-line drag race against 450s, and Weimer, Canard and Baggett found themselves way, way back off the start in their races. Other times, the gates have been more fair across the board (and at Budds Creek, Villopoto, incredibly, pulled holeshots on his 250!).
Experience might play a factor. Since Villopoto, Baggett is the first Team USA MX2 entrant to go to the event twice, and he and his family have admitted that last year's debut was a totally new experience (Baggett had never even gone to Europe before). They feel like everything they learned last year will help mightily this year, although Baggett also admits sand is not his best terrain.
Can he carry his #2 Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki to the front of the pack like the other #2 Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider used to? Team USA could certainly benefit from it.
Baggett hopes to improve upon his performance from France in his second year with Team USA.
Huub Munsters photo
Ryan Villopoto's MX2 results:
2006 3-2 (overall moto finishes, first overall in MX2 class)
2007 1-1 (overall moto finishes, first overall in MX2 class)
2008 10-1 (overall moto finishes, first overall in MX2 class)
Team USA MX2 results since Villopoto:
2009, Jake Weimer 8-25 (overall moto finishes, 7th overall in MX2 class)
2010, Trey Canard 12-7 (overall moto finishes, 3rd overall in MX2 class)
2011, Blake Baggett 17-17 (overall moto finishes, 4th overall in MX2 class)