It was one of those told-you-so moments on Friday night before the debut Built Ford Tough Tennessee National: Ron Tichenor Sr. was on hand, bench-racing about the season so far. He said, “Do you remember back at the Motocross of Nations when I told you that Ryan Villopoto was going to have everyone handled pretty soon?” I didn't, but I guessed it was probably at Budds Creek back in 2007 when RV showed the world his flat-out speed with two runaway wins on his 250.
“Nope,” Tichenor said, “it was in England the year before! I could see even then that he was going to be something special, just like Ricky Carmichael.”
It may be seven years later, but he was spot-on. The more I see Ryan Villopoto ride outdoors, the more he reminds me of Carmichael. Villopoto's flat-out speed, his down-low style, and his obvious determination to win any time he’s on a racetrack are all Ricky-like.
Villopoto lead from nearly start to finish in the first moto, extending his moto win streak to five.
Simon Cudby photo
And up until Saturday at about 3:10 p.m., many thought Villopoto might pull off his own 24-0 season in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, as the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider seemed invincible for the first five motos. He won the first moto at Muddy Creek with a nearly start-to-finish win, getting some heat from an inspired Justin Barcia but then locking down the lead and pulling away. Ryan even made a save on that first lap at Muddy Creek that echoed some of RC's wild rides, which almost always ended up with him straightened out and still on the gas.
But in the second moto, Villopoto made an early mistake and then another, and just like that the perfect season was gone. Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey seized the chance to get his first win of the series and get himself some momentum going. He kept his head down, kept moving forward, and came on strong when it was time to settle the overall between himself and Barcia. (And Honda Muscle Milk's Barcia took another step closer to success on the big bike outdoors, as his results and speed have improved with every moto.)
Yet to me, Villopoto was still the most impressive, even in defeat. After his crash he came through the pack by going where no one else was, using every inch of the track and throwing caution to the wind. He did not want to settle for second—let alone third—and made some creative passes on a track that was more narrow than most. He was also blitzing back up through a very deep field of talent—no easy task on even the widest of tracks.
Ryan Dungey put an end to the streak in the second moto at Muddy Creek.
Simon Cudby photo
As a matter of fact, the biggest difference I see right now between RV and RC is the depth of talent they were up against for much of their outdoor careers. Carmichael's motocross competition didn't always include his contemporaries like Chad Reed, James Stewart, Kevin Windham or Mike LaRocco—and hardly ever Jeremy McGrath. Each of them cycled in and out of outdoors with various SX-only contracts. Meanwhile, Villopoto has a faster, fuller pack to deal with, namely the reigning champion, Dungey, who proved this weekend he'll always be there and ready to win. Add in former 450 champs Stewart and Reed, plus former 250 champs like Trey Canard and (until this week) Dean Wilson, plus Barcia, Mike Alessi, the JGR Yamaha guys, and more, and Villopoto's had five moto wins in six tries against a loaded deck. Few have ever had to face such strong competition.
While not all of those riders are at the top of their game right now, Villopoto is, and that's impressive for a man who missed three of the last four outdoor tours with injuries. He has the points lead after three rounds, and barring a first-lap crash this past weekend, he likely would still be undefeated—just like you know who.