BTOSports.com Observations: Thunder Valley

BTOSports.com Observations Thunder Valley

June 3, 2015 3:15pm

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It was a quite a day at round three of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. It wasn’t a great day to be holding the red plate as the class leader, but more on that later. 

The Lakewood facility is one of the more underrated tracks/races on the circuit. You get to fly into Denver airport, which is closer to the track than a lot other races, there are good hotels and a lot of amenities nearby, and there’s great viewing at the track. All that makes it, in my opinion, one of those “must see” events. Seriously, check it out sometime; it’s a cool race. 

Normally, Lakewood is a tough track. It’s at higher elevation, it’s usually very hot, and it gets rough and rutted out. The bikes and the riders are pushed to the limit. This year, due to a ton of rain in the area before the race, it might have been the toughest test yet. The track crew scraped the top layer of dirt/sawdust off because it was going to be a mess otherwise, but that left the base of the track, which was very hard, as the main surface. The dirt was still soft enough that in some parts it developed deep ruts and braking bumps. Then the sun came out and hardened everything up, which made it tough to ride through the ruts—once you were in them, you were committed. And making sure your front and rear tires were in the same rut was challenging enough. 

Every single rider I spoke to after the races (post-race podcasts HERE) mentioned how gnarly the track was. Matt Lemoine said it was like “an EnduroCross.” I don’t think the track crew will be using Weston Peick’s description of the track in any advertisements. In general, the riders had a tough time with it. As I mentioned, Marvin Musquin and Eli Tomac came into the race with the red plates as the points leaders, but after heavy crashes are no longer leading anything other than “most tensor bandages used” categories.

Ryan Dungey enters round four with the red plate. 
Ryan Dungey enters round four with the red plate.  Photo: Cudby

We’re starting to see some separation here in the two classes, and that’s not a good thing in my opinion. The third-place rider in the 250 Class and the third-place guy in the 450 Class have a long way to go to get up with the front-runners. It’s a little disconcerting if you’re not one of the dudes up front because you can’t close this kind of gap with a couple of clicks of compression or rebound—you know what I mean?

Eli Tomac, the man who was a perfect five-for-five to start the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, was looking oh-so-good to make it six-for-six. He was the definition of killing it when he made a small error in a fast, gnarly, and rough downhill section, and went down hard. The crash dislocated his shoulder, which isn’t good, but it was actually the other shoulder that ended his season with a torn rotator cuff. It’s an unbelievable blow to Tomac, his team, and the series. Yeah, he was running away with it, but it was impressive to watch.

So Eli’s out, and that leaves Kenny Roczen and Ryan Dungey to fight it out for the 450MX title. But due to Roczen’s slow start to the outdoor season, Dungey has a 35-point lead on Roczen. Kenny probably should have won the overall this weekend, and I’m sure he’s going to go first or second in most of the motos from here on out, but if there’s one rider I would not want to have an over-one-moto lead on me, (I know you’re thinking James Stewart right about now… Okay, you’re actually not), it’s Ryan Dungey.

And I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here, but Roczen told me his back issue could strike him again at any time, and he will need surgery at the end of the year to zap this bone fragment. If it does come back and he struggles again, Ryan Dungey could just walk to this title, which is cool if you’re Ryan Dungey or his team, but not so cool for a thrilling 450MX title chase. Although Tomac was running away with it early on, I had faith that Roczen and Dungey could run with him. But I don’t believe the other guys in the field can run up front with Dungey if he’s the only one left.

The season is set to be a showdown between Jeremy Martin and Marvin Musquin. 
The season is set to be a showdown between Jeremy Martin and Marvin Musquin.  Photo: Cudby

With eighteen motos to go, the 250MX title is coming down to Jeremy Martin versus Marvin Musquin. These two are clearly better than everyone else (although I expect Adam Cianciarulo to get better and better) right now, and it’s not close. Let’s bust out our orange helmets and shoot these two out right now.

Bike: Martin has the same Yamaha YZ250F that looked amazing last year and won the 250 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Marvin has the new factory-edition KTM 250 SX-F, and it’s a better bike than he had last year. Both bikes are great, but I was more impressed with the Yamaha last year than I have been with Marvin’s bike this year. But whatever, it’s not like I’m there on the dyno at both factories. Let’s give this to Martin by a hair. 

Team: Marvin’s on a true, spare-no-expense factory team, with multi-time world champion Roger DeCoster as manager. Martin’s on the Yamaha factory-support team of Star Racing, with multi-time national champion Steve Lamson running things. With KTM’s goal being to absolutely crush everyone and Yamaha’s lack of a factory team/test program, I’ll go with KTM for the edge. As I’ve written many times before, if I’m a rider and have equal paychecks and have to choose between a factory team and a for-profit private team, I’ll go with the team that spares no expense to go racing.

Mechanic: Jeremy Martin has Pedro Sterling and Marvin has Frankie Latham. I don’t know Pedro, but he seems cool, and when I first met Frankie in 1997, his rider Tyler Evans stuck a toothpick into his neck and made him sleep on the floor of his pick-up truck with the hump for the transmission in the middle. As a former mechanic, I think I can say this is a draw, because nowadays it’s righty-tighty and lefty-loosey for these guys. They’re not building motors or suspension anymore. Heck, they’re not even doing tires.

Trainers: Now this is important these days, right? Marvin has world-renowned Aldon Baker in his corner and Martin has Johnny O’Show. Both of these trainers are gnarly, both of them are smart, and both do more than just order the rider to get on the bicycle while they watch TV. I don’t know, man, can we also call this one a draw?

Marvin Musquin trails Martin by 2 points in the standings. 
Marvin Musquin trails Martin by 2 points in the standings.  Photo: Cudby

Crazy People Around Them (CPAT for short): When you’re a star in the sport, you attract man-friends, gear guys, energy drink dudes, etc. who act like your hype men and pretty much make you think you’re able to walk on water. This is very bad, and many a rider has lost their way due to these people. Thankfully, I think neither Marvin nor Jeremy has any of these people in their lives. Marvin chills with his wife, and Jeremy’s family is around a lot, plus he doesn’t strike me as a dude that needs those kinds of people around him. So it’s a tie in this department also.

Rider Skill: Yeah, the most important part of the equation, right? Give a fifteenth-place guy Marvin or Jeremy’s program, and they’re still not going to win races. It’s the talent of these two that have them 1A and 1B of the 250 Class. They’re both in shape, they’re both fast, and they both have great bikes. Marvin’s better at starts (although not this weekend) and better at the more technical tracks, like Washougal and High Point. Martin’s probably better at going balls-out faster when he has to. They’ve yet to go mano a mano in any of the six motos this year, so I’m eagerly awaiting the moment it happens. I’m going to saw this off by saying Martin’s got more raw speed, but Marvin makes less mistakes. 

Now you know the riders and how they compare. Who wins? I don’t know, bro, but I’m looking forward to seeing one of these two hoist the #1 plate over their heads. Should be a good battle.

Let’s take a look at the results, shall we?

250MX Results 

1. 1 Jeremy Martin; Millville, MN; Yamaha YZ250F; 1-1 – If Jeremy clinches early, I’d like to see him grab one of his dad’s old Can-Am 400s (or whatever they were) and race the 450 Class.

2. 16 Zachary Osborne; Abingdon, VA; Husqvarna TC250; 2-3 – Osborne told me he had some sort of breakdown on Tuesday before the race that may or may not have involved some crying. He credited his wife for calming him down, and he logged this, his best ride in a long time, a few days later. I’m going to call Zach every week and try to make him have another breakdown because it seemed to work.  

3. 50 Adam Cianciarulo; Port Orange, FL; Kawasaki KX 250F; 5-4 – The boy wonder who’s no longer a boy (he’s like two Wil Hahns high now!) got his first podium ever in a national. He had to be bummed Christian Craig, a guy off the couch, caught and passed him late in moto one, but then again thirty-six other guys should be bummed as well. AC impressed me in the second moto. After getting passed by Jordon Smith, he regrouped and got him back on the last lap, which is very hard to do in a second moto.  

4. 28 Jessy Nelson; Paso Robles, CA; KTM 250 SX-F; 3-7 – Nelson did well in the first moto, and an overall podium was there for him for the taking when he was top three in moto two. Unfortunately for Jessy, like he did last week, he faded backwards and saw the podium go bye-bye. His manager Tyler Keefe told me he’s still getting fitness up after a long time off the bike due to injury. 

5. 68 Christian Craig; Plymouth, MN; Honda CRF250R; 4-6 – Wow. Where in the heck did this ride come from? Craig, off the couch as a fill-in for Justin Bogle, set the fastest time and posted these two impressive motos. And in the first moto he passed like four dudes late in the race to get that fourth. Who are you and what have you done with the Christian Craig we know? Craig was less than thrilled when I shared my predictions.

Marvin Musquin trails Martin by 2 points in the standings. 
Marvin Musquin trails Martin by 2 points in the standings.  Photo: Cudby

Christian Craig's first “suck it” to me (after I predicted he would be between tenth and fifteenth) was after qualifying, and the second was after the first moto. Welcome to media life!

6. 126 Jordon Smith; Belmont, NC; Honda CRF250R; 6-5 – I don’t know what happened in one week, but Smith’s rides this week were by far his best of the year. Not sure if Mike LaRocco threatened to beat him up after his first four motos or what, but this is the kid they want to see week in and week out.  

7. 25 Marvin Musquin; France KTM 250 SX-F; 14-2 – Marvin’s bad crash in the first moto while in second caused him to lose the points lead. Second moto he had nothing for Martin but was still thirty-two seconds ahead of third place, so, yeah, he’s okay.  

8. 80 RJ Hampshire; Hudson, FL; Honda CRF250R; 9-10 – Hampshire got in some motos at the end of last season, but like Alldredge, he’s basically a rookie this year. Four good motos out of six is a nice start to the year, and he trails Alldredge by 3 points for top rookie in the series.   

9. 157 Aaron Plessinger; Hamilton, OH; Yamaha YZ250F; 13-8 – Plessinger, like in a lot of his races this year, was quietly good at Lakewood. With Cooper Webb and Anthony Rodriguez out, he’s got to get some solid finishes for the team. 

10. 40 Shane McElrath; Canton, NC; KTM 250 SX-F; 12-9 – McElrath told me after the race that he struggled with the track a bit being his first time there.   

11. 55 Kyle Peters; Greensboro, NC; Honda CRF250R; 11-12 – After a great ride last week at Glen Helen, Peters backs that up with two more strong motos. Nothing against the Crossland/Motosport/GPI Honda team that he rides for, but Peters is doing the most with the least in the 250 Class right now.

12. 38 Matthew Bisceglia; Tualatin, OR; Honda CRF250R; 10-13 

13. 52 Mitchell Oldenburg; Alvord, TX; KTM 250 SX-F; 17-11

14. 37 Joseph Savatgy; Thomasville, GA; Kawasaki KX 250F; 7-34 – Savatgy had a rough day in Colorado. He crashed hard in the second moto and called it a day.  

15. 66 Christopher Alldredge; Powell Butte, OR; Kawasaki KX 250F; 8-25

16. 57 Jackson Richardson; Australia; Honda CRF250R; 16-14 – Nice couple of motos for Richardson, and at one point in one of the motos I thought this dude was way back. Then I look and he’s in the points. 

17. 343 Luke Renzland; Hewitt, NJ; Yamaha YZ250F; 15-15 – Luke’s got the force working for him this year, as he’s been consistently pretty good. That’s not easy to do for kids in the Nationals, folks.   

18. 88 Dakota Alix; Jay, VT; KTM 250 SX-F; 19-16 – Oh, sure, Alix, go ahead and finally put two motos together the first week I leave you off my fantasy picks. Thanks. 

19. 74 Zack Williams; Elko, MN; Honda CRF250R; 23-17

20. 273 Conner Elliott; Tumwater, WA; Yamaha YZ250F; 21-18

Look for Nelson's results to improve as he gets his fitness back. 
Look for Nelson's results to improve as he gets his fitness back.  Photo: Cudby

450MX Results 

1. 5 Ryan Dungey; Waconia, MN; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 2-1

2. 1 Ken Roczen; Germany; Suzuki RMZ-450; 3-2 – Roczen led most of the second moto after Tomac’s crash and looked to have the overall win in the bag when he got a front flat. Two front-end washouts later, he watched as Dungey took the checkers and the overall.

3. 4 Blake Baggett; Grand Terrace, CA; Suzuki RMZ-450; 4-3 – Very impressive ride for Baggett. I wrote this last week about Blake,: “Baggett was better than 7-7. Seriously, he was. His starts weren’t great (twelfth and tenth after lap one in each moto), and he took too long to get going, but there were a few laps where he was the second or third fastest rider on the track. Yeah, yeah he got seventh but it was a STRONG seventh bro.” So you readers knew this was coming. Baggett was great in Colorado.

4. 20 Broc Tickle; Holly, MI; Suzuki RMZ-450 5-5 – The best ride from Lakewood that no one will talk about. Tickle came from way back in both motos to work forward and get some nice results. Now the challenge for Broc is to back this up next week. He’s been unable to be consistent. If he can get to the point where he’s 4-7 each week that would go a long way for him. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too harsh, because he was awesome in Colorado. 

5. 14 Cole Seely; Laguna Beach, CA; Honda CRF450R; 8-4 – I “hung” with Seely in the Honda truck before the first motos. Okay, fine, he actually told me he was going to call security if I didn’t get out of the upstairs riders’ lounge.

6. 51 Justin Barcia; Monroe, NY; Yamaha YZ450F; 7-6 – Tough day for Barcia coming off a very good Glen Helen result. Surprising to me for sure. Oh, and by the way, he’s shaved his head, which was something I have been calling for a few weeks now. He probably has to get a different sized helmet now. 

7. 3 Eli Tomac; Cortez, CO; Honda CRF450R; 1-33 – I was standing next to Dan Betley when Tomac fell, and I can’t print the words he was saying. Can’t say I blame him, either. With Tomac out, I’m going to miss talking mountain bikes with John Tomac. I’m not sure he will though. 

8. 377 Christophe Pourcel; Groveland, FL; Husqvarna FC450; 11-7 – Just an okay day for the #377. Nicoletti told me that he caught CP in one moto and saw how much better his lines were, so he used those lines to pass Pourcel.

9. 46 Phillip Nicoletti; Cohocton, NY; Yamaha YZ450F; 10-9 – Nicoletti was neither a fan of the track nor his day, as he went backward in one of the motos after a good start. A few years ago when Phil didn’t like the track or have a good day he was 24-DNF so to be 10-9 and not be happy indicates how far he’s come.

10. 10 Justin Brayton; Fort Dodge, IA; KTM 450 SX-F FE; 9-10 – Good day for Brayton in Colorado, and he got out of the first three western rounds thirteenth in the points, which, for Brayton, is a good showing. He should start being in the top ten more regularly from here.   

11. 21 Jason Anderson; Rio Rancho, NM; Husqvarna FC450; 6-14 – Every round this year Anderson’s had one good moto and one (sort of) poor moto, so he’s got to correct that ASAP. In the second moto it looked like he was tired or maybe had a bike problem or something, because he dropped back pretty quickly, and that’s unlike him.

12. 11 Kyle Chisholm; Valrico, FL; Kawasaki KX 450F; 15-11 – Chiz got an incredible start in the first moto, and because we’re buddies I think I can say that I was shocked at how fast he went right to the back. It wasn’t good—let’s leave it at that. Second moto he did his Chiz thing, riding hard to come from the back and get a nice finish.   

13. 23 Weston Peick; Wildomar, CA; Yamaha YZ450F; 19-8 – Peick crashed twice in the first moto, and in the second moto he had no front brake. He was angry after the race.   

14. 39 Fredrik Noren; Sweden; Honda CRF450R; 14-13 – Noren twisted his knee on press day, and when I went to check on him before the motos, he had his knee elevated to get it as good as he could. The injury is on a knee he already had work on, and Fast Freddie doesn’t think this is something with permanent damage, but for his first week on the factory bike (he’s guaranteed at least three races), it sucks he had to ride injured. But, hey, on the bright side he was thinking that he might not even be able to race, so 14-13 isn’t too bad.

15. 22 Chad Reed; Australia; Kawasaki KX 450F; 18-12 – Reed’s never done that well at Lakewood, and after a crash in moto one left him last, he had to be about over it. Check out the news and notes below for more on him and his situation.

16. 35 Kyle Cunningham; Willow Park, TX; Suzuki RMZ-450; 17-15 – After last week’s debacle with Leib/Cason and his team, Cunningham broke away and found support from Ted Parks Privateer Journey team and Suzuki, and switched from his Kawasaki, like, this week. These results are actually pretty good, as the Suzuki and Kawasaki are quite different bikes.  

17. 84 Jesse Wentland; Elk River, MN; Honda CRF450R; 16-16 – Wentland turned down a full ride up in Canada (where he’s a front runner) to privateer it in the USA with Zack Williams. Sleeping in a van, showering in truck stops, and driving through the night seems like a worse deal to me, but hey, Jessy is chasing the dream right? Nice day for him at Lakewood. 

18. 48 William Hahn; Decatur, TX; Kawasaki KX 450F; 12-20 – Good first moto for Wil, but he crashed off the start in moto two. He rode hard to finally get into the last points-paying spot at the thirty-four-minute mark. It was a lot of work for one point, but hey, better than no points right?

19. 33 Joshua Grant; Riverside, CA; Kawasaki KX 450F; 13-35 – JG twisted his knee in the second moto and was forced to pull out. After the race he had a brace on and was walking very gingerly, so we’ll have to see what his status is for this weekend.

20. 76 Evgeny Mikhaylov; Russia; KTM 450 SX-F; 23-17 – Kraor Meats is back!

Broc Tickle rode quietly and solidly to fourth overall. 
Broc Tickle rode quietly and solidly to fourth overall.  Photo: Cudby

Some news and notes:

- Chad Reed is upset and told me after the race that he wouldn’t race any more nationals if he isn’t allowed to have his new personal camera sponsor, 360Fly, mounted on his helmet. MX Sports (Racer X Online's sister company) and the SX promoters Feld Motor Sports both have long-term exclusive deals with the camera company GoPro, albeit through the companies that televise and show each series on TV and the Internet, so this makes the use of any other POV camera prohibited. It wasn't a problem when it first came up because GoPro was pretty much the only POV camera that worked for SX/MX, but now others are starting to enter the space and they want to sponsor riders directly. This has been a problem for the RCH team as well as Team Honda, but they complied and continued to compete in both SX/MX. The footage rights are owned by NBC/AlliSports and Fox/Feld Motor Sports, and the contract says that footage must come from GoPro. Chad is welcome to have his camera in the pits, under his awning or really anywhere else other than the track, but he wants to run it during the races.

The idea of running dummy cameras on the helmet has been brought up before, but footage is not the only issue. GoPro became a series partner long ago in both series (as well as MXGP, I might add) and they have long supported our sport this way. So as the exclusive camera, there are restrictions about the idea of even running a dummy camera. And while no one wants to break a long-term deal in the middle of a series, Chad's adamant that he's going to run his own camera, one way or another. And if he can't, he says he's done, not sure what's going to happen to his other sponsors, all of whom have been getting pretty good exposure, so that's not good for anyone.

If what he said was true, we’ll lose a great rider, and that sucks. I truly hope both supercross and motocross promoters will rethink this exclusivity, which doesn't appear to be in any other category, and open this field up next time around. They’re in a tough spot, and no one wants to tell a rider "no" to a new sponsor, but Chad's legal team is the same as Roczen's and Carey Hart's, and they knew that it was an issue last year. Not sure how this is going to turn out. Neither SX nor MX have a lot of wiggle room, and neither are probably in a hurry to break network contracts. Television is what we all want, and this is how they pay for it, I guess. Stay tuned.

-Alex Martin came into Lakewood third in the points after basically killing it in the first four motos of the year. But Lakewood couldn’t have gone any worse for the guy. First moto his holeshot device didn’t come undone and he crashed down the first downhill pretty hard. He rode back to the mechanic’s area, got it unhooked, and was dead last. From there he rode a hell of a race to get up to sixteenth and was about to pass Musquin for fifteenth when he crashed on the last lap. Eighteenth was the best he could do. Second moto his rear brake locked on, and he again had to pull in for a pit-stop before coming from dead last to twenty-first. He was still very fast but unbelievably unlucky.

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. No, seriously, I do. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat about this race or anything else.