Redux: Real Talk, Part II

Redux Real Talk, Part II

July 17, 2013 11:00am
There are 40-some points between Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey in the 450 Class of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, so now everyone’s attention is going to focus on the 250 title battle. Only seven points stand between Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac there. So after I riffed on the 450s last week let’s check in on the 250s, in order of points.

1. Ken Roczen: Lately I’ve heard people praising Roczen’s starts. And it’s true that his main title rival, Eli Tomac, is not as consistent a starter as Kenny. But a close inspection shows Roczen’s starts haven’t been all that great this year either—but holy crap has he pulled some magic on the first few laps! KTM’s Casey Lytle was even talking to me about this a few weeks ago. He told me the team people will literally just watch the video and marvel at those passes, and even Kenny can’t explain it.

Go back and watch the first moto from High Point. He’s barely even visible as the pack heads downhill into the second turn. Then suddenly, it’s like the seas part for him, and he goes from eighth to first in about five turns. EIGHTH TO FIRST IN FIVE TURNS! His start at the first moto of the year at Hangtown was even worse. He was 12th by my count, but found himself dueling for the lead about five minutes into the race. He also won the first moto at Muddy Creek by starting about fifth, and then carved his way to the lead in about a lap and a half. You think DeCoster and company ever show Dungey those clips?

What I’m getting at here is, with Kenny, it’s not about good starts but rather good first-lap speed. The dude wastes no time. It kind of reminds me of off-road racers, who have an innate ability to read terrain because they don’t get practice laps. Kenny seems to know exactly where to go from the drop of the gate, while most other riders have to have a brief feeling out period. And why wouldn’t they? The track has been nipped and tucked and watered and raced on since they last time they raced it.

You know who else is like this? Ryan Villopoto. He and Kenny have turned some crappy starts into solid track position early in the motos. That’s why anyone who tries to look at the official lap charts, which only track riders positions after the end of the first lap, will be misled into thinking Kenny has been nailing his starts this year. He hasn’t—but he’s turned hamburger into steak quite often.

Kenny’s other strength is consistency (and getting up front early is certainly helpful there). He’s had zero horrible races outdoors in the U.S. so far, and his rep from Europe was based on patience, smoothness, line selection, etc. Yeah, Kenny can scrub and whip and stuff, but like Barcia in the 450s, he’s much more consistent than his fun-loving-young-kid image would suggest. It also helps that the temps this year have been super mild compared to most summers. Heat and humidity might hurt him, but so far, there hasn’t been much to deal with. For someone to get this points lead away from him, they’ll have to do something special.

We'd like to see Kenny can attack SoCal traffic like he does the early laps in a 250 moto.
Simon Cudby photo

2. Eli Tomac: But special is what Eli Tomac is very capable of being. When lightning strikes the right way, Eli just goes to an insane level. What’s with the 250 Class the last few years? It used to be the class where a decent rider could get a start and hitch a ride with the lead pack. The speeds were so closely matched that the racing appeared as much like a Tour de France pack than a motocross race. But lately we’ve gotten used to insane blowing-through-the-pack charges. First, El Chupacabra. K-Roc with his first lap madness. And Tomac with magical runs like High Point and Southwick last year, and Budds Creek’s second moto this year. You’re not supposed to be able to do this—and yet they do.

Tomac is also benefitting from this short break between motos. Others appear to be hurting after the short break, but he’s just as strong. We’ve made some jokes this year about Jeff Stanton saying Barcia has boy strength versus man strength in the 450s. It’s almost like Tomac is the man amongst boys in this class.

Still, we haven’t seen Eli and Kenny actually battle in a long time. It’s going to be awesome when it happens.

3. Marvin Musquin: We all know Marvin can be technical and precise and fast and impressive. He can win races, for sure. But this year there were some doubts about him doing it on every type of track. Some tracks reward just hanging it out and being gnarlier then everyone else, and being precise alone isn’t going to get it done. So far, Marvin has indeed been really good on some weekends, but he’s also been just a notch off in the really rough stuff, like Hangtown chop and Southwick bumps.

4. Blake Baggett: Okay, the wrist injury is a huge deal, but when Blake made it work work en route to a Budds Creek win, there was a chance for a championship comeback. He also got second in the first Southwick moto. Since then it’s been tough again, and he’s some 60 points back of Roczen. That’s always been the thing with Blake. When he’s on, he’s amazing, but there’s that level of mystery to him. This weekend, for example, he could win or finish seventh and neither result would be shocking. Has to be darned frustrating for him.

5. Zach Osborne: Great season from Zach so far. He’s clearly “next best” in this class behind the front runners from last year, and all four of those riders have multiple 250 National race wins and championship experience. Osborne has never won a pro title or a race in the U.S. But he has proven he can get right into the mix and beat them on occasion, and one of these weekends he might piece it all together and get a win. If he could just get rid of the arm pump in moto one, he’d be even better. Still, this guy was on the career scrap heap a few years ago. America loves a comeback story, right? Then cheer for Zach!

6. Jason Anderson: Sixth in points sums up this guy’s year perfectly: he’s agonizingly close to breaking through. Super fast and strong, but hasn’t gotten the podium yet to really get attention and build confidence.

What’s good about Anderson is that while everyone else is saying 2014 is his year, he’s just focused on this year. First, you can’t take next year for granted—one injury can ruin that. Second, he knows you only get to be the man next year by learning as much as you can now. So he pushes hard. This second half of the season is critical, he needs a few podiums and maybe some laps led to build confidence, like he did indoors by getting that SLC SX win. A handful of mega stars were able to win this title right from the start (Hannah, Carmichael, Stewart, Villopoto) but most had to go through the building process, like O’Mara and Ward trying to break Barnett, or Dungey finally putting the pieces together in 2009. Anderson needs a few more steps this year to really be ready for next year.

And hey, what a year for this Rockstar team. It’s one thing to ride one horse to the top, but they’ve broken through with multiple riders in two different classes this year. And not just by grabbing all the top draft picks! All the riders on this team, Anderson, Davi Millsaps, Blake Wharton, Ryan Sipes and Nico Izzi, were some other team’s outcasts at some point.

When Tomac is on, it's a beautiful thing to watch.
Simon Cudby photo

7. Jeremy Martin: Look at this! Seventh in points! And yet you probably didn’t see any rides to note until that RedBud podium. I think this is how J-Mart does it. He won’t pop eyes with spectacular flashes, but rather a slow and steady build. His strength has always been his been his major asset and endurance, which is the opposite of a lot of these amateur kids (In his Loretta’s days, he always got better later in the week, especially as it got hotter and rougher). J-Mart is peaking at the right time, too. Here comes Millville!

8. Kyle Cunningham: Kyle rides good. He rides hard. He’s fast. He is up and down at times with crashes, but he was darned consistent in 2011 and solid again this year. Really, this dude just deserves a break once, and a win. Can the moto gods not reward him with some special circumstances and that one day where he gets the big trophy? The record book is dotted with days like that and Kyle deserves one. KC, we have a “One Race One Day” story in a 2025 issue of Racer X Illustrated reserved for you.

9. Justin Bogle: This was a pivotal summer for Bogle, who was next big thing in 2011.  But that feels like eons ago in this sport (Dean Wilson was the champ that year, to give you an idea). It seems like 50 other hot shot amateurs have graduated since, so Bogle needed to make some noise and reestablish himself this summer. Ninth in points doesn’t look good, but I think he’s actually accomplished something this year. He’s had a few moments with good starts, strong charges, battles, etc. that show he still has what it takes. He just needs to iron out the kinks, which is expected considering how much time he’s missed.

10. Cooper Webb: So much stuff is secret in this sport. We hear the working on things/bike setup/work hard clichés so much that we almost become immune to them. But Cooper Webb is proof that riders and teams do make incremental gains throughout the year. Webb is the latest rookie to come into the season in full outdoor mode while the established pack comes to the first few rounds with a supercross hangover. The rookie takes advantage of that and runs up front. Eventually the vets get their outdoor game going and the rookie results tail off a tad (sucks for Adam Cianciarulo, who had to jump in just about the time this was set to happen).

Webb has been awesome and he’s going to be really, really good. But as we’ve seen time and time again, you can’t judge these kids off of their first race or two. Things need to play out a little. At some point, though, Webb’s head is going to pop back out the water and we’ll be all hyped up on his again.

The first few rounds were awesome, but we won't really know where Cooper Webb belongs for a year or two.
Simon Cudby photo

11. Cole Seely: Cole’s rep as a SX-only kind of guy (he’s won a bunch of indoor races against the best of the best but has just one outdoor podium) is starting to fade by becoming a frequent member of that 250 MX chase pack. Andrew Short used to be much better at supercross than outdoors but eventually became a solid guy in both. I could see Cole eventually getting to that level, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

12. Justin Hill: You’re not hearing much about Hill, and that’s because of two things. First, he has finished in the 9th-14th range in 12 of 14 motos. But no one cares about the 9th-14th place spots in this sport! You’re better off holeshotting, riding over your head, and blowing off the track and DNFing. Leading and crashing gets you way more love than 11th! Second, he’s not as talkative as some of the other rookies. Webb and Cianciarulo are masters of the sound byte already, and Joey Savatgy is a social media pro. You don’t hear as much from Hill.

Still, in this field I think he’s doing pretty well. He is a rookie. Trouble is he’s also on Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki and the standards are high, so I think people get bummed on him when they do eventually glance down and see those 11ths.

13. Darryn Durham: If there are two riders on this list who should be higher in points, it’s Durham and Bogle. They’ve been really fast, but seem to always have crazy stuff happening to them. So the real question is, do they just have bad luck, or is there something inherent in them that makes this happen all the time?

And now, back to the Justin Hill deal. Teams would way rather have potential fast dudes like Durham and Bogle than a super consistent guy like Hill. Just the way this business works.

Surely no one is as frustrated with Blake Baggett's season as Blake himself.
Simon Cudby photo

14. Joey Savatgy: This was a sneaky good signing by the defunct J-Star JDR team and that’s why KTM and FMF were willing to spend extra money to make sure he stuck around (other teams, like Star Yamaha, tried to get him when JDR went down). He’s out with a wrist injury now but that’s not a huge problem. He showed that all-important potential to go really fast.

15. Blake Wharton: I went back and watched the Hangtown moto 1 archive (to look at Roczen’s start) and saw Wharton running a solid third early. That seemed normal at the time, but now seems totally alien since Blake’s summer has gone to crap. “Virus” is what the team said at RedBud, which he missed.

16. Martin Davalos: Note: When we throw around terms like “field is deep” we only need about 12 guys to complete that phrase. The fact that three riders who are missing time are still on this list proves that. Martin also has some sort of a virus.

17. Wil Hahn: Wilbur did a reverse, going really fast at his first two races back and then struggling at his third one at RedBud. You’d think it would go the other way around! You can definitely see the confidence that supercross title provided Wilbur, he just seems much more comfortable mixing it up at the sharp end of the pack now.

18. Adam Cianciarulo: Like James Stewart in the 450 piece last week, any amount or anything we say about this kid will be dissected. Does Racer X cover him too much? Are we nice to him? Mean to him? Do we cover Cooper Webb more or less? Just a constant tight rope walk here.

I was on the record as not a huge fan of AC jumping into the pros this early, but I’m not going to rail on that now because AC was sick and missed the first few races, and certainly he and his crew didn’t know that was coming. If he was healthy for Hangtown, he might have killed it there. We’ll never know. Now he’s got to fight through the deep end. Anyway, everyone will have an opinion on his season but the only one that matters is his. As long as this summer doesn’t put a dent in his confidence, he’s fine.

Forget the caption. Just stare at this Anderson photo for a bit. You're welcome.
Simon Cudby photo

19. Alex Martin: I think A-Mart’s team deal with Eleven10 was really a big mess and he never got a chance to get going early this season. He also had a wrist injury. So I’d expect much better things in the second half of the year. And there’s Millville coming up! Imagine the brothers Martin running out front in that one!

20. Dillan Epstein: The 250 teams are so huge (GEICO Honda and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki have five damned riders each) that it would seem really hard for any privateers to get into the mix. Epstein pulled it off by getting into the top 20 in five of the first six motos. He hurt his back at Southwick and that messed up his momentum. Epstein was probably the top amateur from last year not to get a ride, so we’ll see if he can stick with it, keep getting the results and eventually find his way on to a team. This is the long road, for sure.