So what’s on the radar for Thunder Valley? Thunder.
Spring weather has gone amok in the central states, there's flooding down in Texas, and all of the telephone lines are down.
And a storm system is likewise bearing down on Lakewood, Colorado—both literally, and in the form of the third round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
Sunnier skies are possible for Saturday, but predicted rains today and tomorrow could play a significant role in this weekend’s racing. The good news: no rain is predicted for Saturday.
Location and barometric pressure notwithstanding, Eli Tomac has already been lightning in the first two rounds. We need to put the brakes on the 24-0 talk, but after the first two rounds, Tomac’s momentum is building like its own thundercloud.
And the Nationals now roll into Eli Tomac’s home state.
Tomac claims that Thunder Valley isn’t really his home track, as he lives, trains, and rides on the other side of an expansive state.
Hey, Eli... Just saying, it’s your home race.
Denver and Durango are just about three hundred miles apart, and within one thousand feet of each other in altitude. Thunder Valley is, of course, located some fifteen miles west of downtown Denver in nearby Lakewood. The city is listed at 5500 feet in elevation, with the track itself reputedly sits right below six thousand.
The Tomac homestead, actually in Cortez, is about six hours southwest and listed at 6500 feet in altitude—depending, of course, on what side of which huge mountain you happen to be on, and just how high you want to climb that steep slope. Literally or metaphorically.
Back in the day, multi-time champion John Tomac’s day to be specific, it was the standard for competitive bicyclists to live at high altitude. Tomac’s parents don’t reside where they do solely for scenery or because of bow hunting. They were very much a part of the professional athlete exodus to the Durango area in the 1980s.
Eli was asked about the impact of training at altitude on a recent Pulp MX show. He pretty much went silent, but just because he didn’t want to extoll its virtues to his competition doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an answer to the question. In his most recent national in Colorado, Eli won both motos and the overall, going 1-1 in the 250 Class in 2013.
Tomac is still a long way from going 24-0. But 6-0? Maybe not so far. Tomac is odds-on for that deal.
Still, there are other racers who remain on the radar as well, including two noted mud riders who have seen their results improve dramatically in two weeks time. And if the rains come and the track goes from hard and slippery to wet and really, really slippery, all bets are off.
Ken Roczen was not only fast to recover from a mattress-related injury—fastest qualifier and third overall at Glen Helen just one week after a dismal opening round—he is also rightly heralded as an accomplished mud rider. Roczen rightfully earned that reputation after clinching the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, and he’s doubtless determined to claw his way into position to defend his #1 plate. Cloudy skies could brighten Kenny’s forecast. (Conversely, the first time many Americans swooned at the speed of the young German rider was at the Motocross of Nations race held on a sunbaked Lakewood track. So there’s that, too.)
Justin Barcia also made his first podium of the season last week at Glen Helen—his very first of the year. (Who’d have thought it’d be late May before that happened?) His second-place overall does much to restore Justin’s confidence that he can be a player in this thing. He was thirty-fifth in the first moto of the season and second in the first moto last week; that’s a pretty significant move, but there is still slight room for improvement, no? Remember that Barcia won the 2012 250 Thunder Valley National—ahead of eventual national champion Blake Baggett, Roczen, and Tomac. Justin finished third overall in his one 450 race at Lakewood in 2013. Barcia is a formidable mud rider.
And then there’s teammate Phil Nicoletti, who, like Barcia, is a mud rider from the New York area. After scoring his first-ever outdoor podium in the 450 Class with a third in the first moto last week, Nicoletti comes into Colorado rolling hot himself. (Weston Peick doesn’t really figure into “great mud rider” conversations so far as we know, but he’s sitting third in overall points, highest of the AutoTrader.com/Toyota/JGR Yamaha riders. If not for the possibility of a rain race, we might have just used this space for a deeper discussion of who will be the leading rusher for the Joe Gibbs squad come season’s end.)
Barcia’s second-place finish last week came at the expense of Ryan Dungey, who would have almost certainly gone 2-2 behind Tomac had he not suffered bike problems in the first moto. Although a pass by Tomac certainly seemed imminent, Dungey was in the lead when his KTM faltered for the first time. Just 6 points down after Tomac’s domination at Hangtown, Dungey is now already 19 adrift.
The aforementioned Baggett won the 250 Thunder Valley National in 2011, and then won it again in 2014. The former 250 champ will get on the box in the 450s at some point, and past results could loom large in his determination to make that step in Colorado.
Christophe Pourcel won the 250 Thunder Valley National in 2010, but finished seventh there last season. Pourcel is likely praying for rain, or maybe that’s just him rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Pourcel has had four top-ten finishes in as many motos after coming into the season less than completely ready. Despite any other lingering doubts, Pourcel is nonetheless a redoubtable mud rider. It’s not at all crazy to think he could finish in the top five, or even on the podium if track conditions slide his way.
It's sometimes said in sports that rain is the great equalizer. If storms do hit Thunder Valley, it'll be interesting to see if Eli Tomac ever got that memo.