Welcome to Racerhead. It's one of those rare off-weekends during the season where the riders on the AMA SX/MX circuit get to kick back and relax, maybe heal up, and definitely take it easy. It's also a bittersweet one, given the news that Ryan Villopoto has announced retirement. Let's get this out of the way first: RV is already on the Mt. Rushmore of American SX/MX, alongside Ricky Carmichael, Bob "Hurricane" Hannah, Rick Johnson, and of course Jeremy McGrath. He was a motivated, maniacal beast on a motorcycle, and he could win in just about any condition, day or night. When he rode for Team USA, we never lost the Motocross of Nations—though, unfortunately, he was only healthy and able to carry the flag four times during his ten years as a pro. His work ethic was Carmichael-esque, his determination like Hannah's, his pure talent like McGrath's, and his will to win just like RJ's. Actually, all four of those guys had similar traits—they could swap out every description attributed to them, and Villopoto had them all.
Many in the industry saw this coming, as far back as last spring, when he was putting the finishing touches on a fourth straight Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. As we've mentioned before, he led the last eighty laps of the 2014 series, and he kept the throttle pinned well after clinching the championship. It was after the Las Vegas finale that many thought he was going to head for the exit, and he did to some extent, passing on defending his 450 Class Lucas Oil Pro Motocross crown to get knee surgery and making breaks from his trainer Aldon Baker, his compound in Florida, and seemingly the sport altogether. Then Monster Energy invited him to race in Europe this season, and for a very good wage. He hesitated at first, then committed, then second-guessed, and then decided to go for it. His finishes reflected that uncertainty, and he found the fast men of Europe—Tony Cairoli, Max Nagl, Clement Desalle—to be formidable and fully committed. He did win his second race, in Thailand, but that was the only time in four races where he rode like the old RV. And when he crashed in Italy in April, fracturing his tailbone, the writing on the wall starting flashing in neon red letters: EXIT. It was a long, slow goodbye, and while I’m sure a lot of people were pushing Villopoto to get back on the bike, it just wasn't in his heart. He was over it.
Too often in this sport, racers don't get to choose their moment to call it a career. Injuries or other unfortunate circumstances do it for them. Villopoto got to choose twice, once last year when he came to a crossroads and decided to keep going, and now this week, when he decided to stop. It's not the perfect Hollywood ending, but it's his life, his body, his world to do as he sees fit. I think he chose well.
Throughout his entire professional career, Villopoto went his own way, yet he was extremely loyal, especially to people like Kawasaki, Thor/Parts Unlimited, Monster Energy, and more. His legacy is on the scoreboard: eighty-three total wins and ten titles (including his time in the 250 SX class). All of them were on Kawasakis, while wearing Thor gear, with a big green Monster Energy claw on his helmet or jersey. You just don't see that very often anymore.
Now it's time for some fishing, some hunting, some hanging out. It’s time for RV to take it easy and live his life. Have at it. It was a pleasure to watch you ride a motorcycle.
PRO PERSPECTIVE (David Pingree and Jason Thomas)
David Pingree: It’s difficult to really understand what has been going through Ryan Villopoto’s head since he wrapped up his last supercross title. Ryan doesn’t open up about his personal life to many, and his media team has been slightly less than forthcoming about what his plans have been. Still, the writing has been on the wall if you really stop to look for it.
I think three big things forced his decision to call it quits now. First, he’s accomplished everything there is to accomplish. When your goal goes from trying to be the best in the world to trying not to lose, the task goes from challenging to nerve-wracking. For the past four years he’s been lining up with everything to lose and a massive target on his back. That’s the worst kind of pressure.
Second, Ryan’s injuries have started to take a toll. Between the sickening St. Louis leg break to the ACLs, it’s been a lot of work to stay competitive. The only thing harder than doing the work required to win is digging yourself out of a hole just to get to your baseline. Severe injuries are also a real reminder of how dangerous this sport is. Ryan had to see a specialist in Colorado for his last knee surgery, which focused on rebuilding knees that had already been rebuilt. It sounds like this was the last shot he was going to get to keep his knee functioning properly. One more devastating injury and he could end up with some real problems.
Finally, his heart isn’t in the game anymore. There comes a time when you just know it’s time to quit. At a certain point—and it comes at different times for different people—the risk is no longer worth the reward. The second you realize that, you need to put in your two weeks’ notice.
I have nothing but respect for Ryan, and I wish him the best down the road. I hope he has some hobbies lined up—he’s got sixty or seventy years left to do something.
Jason Thomas: In the past few days, I have opined more than once on Ryan and this latest news on his professional future. Writing about his retirement brings back memories of when I walked away from racing myself. I was nowhere near the rider Ryan was, but I bet I know how he felt in many respects over the past six months or so.
I truly feel this entire 2015 season was one he never really was wholeheartedly desiring. Sure, he rode and trained and tried his hardest when the gate dropped, but it wasn't the same all-out, do-everything-to-win type effort that I’ve personally witnessed. That level of preparation and training takes every ounce of yourself to maintain, and I just don't think Ryan wanted to sacrifice that much of his life anymore. He had done it for five years straight, and having been around that program at times, it's a real son of a gun on a daily basis. Ask Ricky Carmichael—who also retired around this same age while under the same workload—how hard it is to exist at that elite level of fitness and performance.
That’s what it comes down to for many in this position: the lights are just so bright and the effort level so demanding to stay on the razor's edge. It’s incredibly rewarding, as we have seen with Carmichael's dominance, Villopoto's four straight supercross titles, and Ryan Dungey's remarkable supercross season this year. With those rewards, however, may come an internal struggle to find longevity.
I have often viewed Aldon Baker's program as simply the best in the sport. No one can argue with his track record. I have also come to the conclusion that such an intense program may shorten the lifespan of these elite careers. That kind of focus and effort takes a toll on the riders. Ryan didn't want to risk life and limb anymore, nor did he want devote every second of his life to training and riding. Contrary to popular belief in the pits, there is more to this life than lap times and bicycle rides. That’s what Ryan is going to go pursue moving forward. So, Ryan, go enjoy the things your hard work has enabled. A long life full of whatever fun you choose waits. You have earned every bit of it.
THE NUMBER: 17 (Andras Hegyi)
At RedBud, Yamaha won both the 450 and 250 Classes. That marked the seventeenth time in AMA Motocross history that Yamaha has won both classes at the same round.
AutoTrader.com/Toyota/JGR’s Justin Barcia got his second consecutive win while 250 National Champion Jeremy Martin got his fourth victory this season and retook the lead in the series points standing. It’s the first time since 1998 that Yamaha was able to win in two different categories at the same round in a national. It happened most often in the 1970s, when Yamaha riders Bob Hannah and Broc Glover were dominant in 250 and 125 racing, and also from big-bike riders like Mike Bell, Rex Staten, and Danny LaPorte.
Hangtown: Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
Racing World (Trabuco Canyon): Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
Southwick: Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
St. Peters (MO): Mike Bell (500) and Bob Hannah (250)
St. Joseph (MO): Rick Burgett (500) and Broc Glover (125)
St, Petersburg (FL): Rick Burgett (500) and Broc Glover (125)
Racing World (Trabuco Canyon): Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
Phoenix: Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
Omaha: Bob Hannah (250) and Broc Glover (125)
Lakewood: Rick Burgett (500) and Bob Hannah (250)
Rio Bravo: Rex Staten (500) and Broc Glover (125)
Road Atlanta: Rick Burgett (500) and Broc Glover (125)
High Point: Damon Bradshaw (250) and Jeff Emig (125)
RedBud: John Dowd (250) and Kevin Windham (125)
Southwick: Doug Henry (250) and John Dowd (125)
Broome-Tioga: Doug Henry (250) and John Dowd (125)
RedBud: Justin Barcia (450) and Jeremy Martin (250)
YAMAHA'S MULTIPLE WINNERS (Andras Hegyi)
Barcia also joins a list of Yamaha riders who have won back-to-back races in the premier class:
1972: Gary Jones took two consecutive 250 wins.
1974: Pierre Karsmakers earned two consecutive 250 wins.
1977: Bob Hannah won two straight 500 nationals.
1978: Bob Hannah eight consecutive 250 wins.
1978: Rick Burgett won four straight 500 nationals, and then two more (and his Yamaha teammates Rex Staten and Mike Bell also won races to give the brand a streak of eight straight, with Burgett finishing as champion).
1979: Bob Hannah had both a four-race win streak and then two more consecutive wins in 250 nationals.
1979: Mike Bell closed out the 500 season with three straight wins.
1980: Broc Glover won four straight 500 nationals, then two more at the end to take the title.
1981: Bob Hannah two consecutive 250 wins.
1983: Broc Glover won four straight 500 nationals on his way to another title.
1984: Ricky Johnson three consecutive 250 wins.
1984: Broc Glover grabbed the last two 500 national wins.
1985: Broc Glover won two straight 500 nationals, lost a couple, then won three straight on his way to the title.
1992: Damon Bradshaw took two consecutive wins in the 250 Class.
1997: John Dowd had two consecutive 250 wins.
1998: Doug Henry had two consecutive 250 wins on two different occasions aboard a YZ400 thumper.
2000: David Vuillemin took two consecutive 250 wins.
2007: Grant Langston ended the series with three consecutive 450 wins.
2015: Justin Barcia just won two straight 450 nationals—Budds Creek and RedBud.
MXGP OF LATVIA (Chase Stallo)
Round twelve of the FIM World Motocross Championship travels to Kegums, Latvia, this weekend, site of the 2014 Motocross of Nations where Gautier Paulin led a French team to the Peter Chamberlain trophy—shutting the door on Team USA for a third consecutive season.
In this visit to Latvia, the spotlight is still on France, just a new French star—Romain Febvre. The rise of the 23-year-old MXGP rookie has been a remarkable, if not very surprising. When I asked Adam Wheeler, editor-in-chief of On Track Off Road and Racer X contributor, about Febvre’s recent success, he cited his “total focus and speed of adaptations,” as keys to his accomplishment’s this year.
“Team principal Michele Rinaldi claims that he has never had a rider in his team (and that includes a roster of Stefan Everts, Marnicq Bervoets, Steven Frossard, David Philippaerts, Bob Moore) that can deal with pressure and keep the same level-head as Romain,” Wheeler said via email earlier this week. “The Italian was surprised by how quickly Febvre found a feeling for the YZ450FM during pre-season.”
Febvre, winner of four straight GPs, now has the pressure of a GP points lead and the prospect of dethroning the Antonio Cairoli—which he handled with ease in Sweden last weekend.
“Romain is humble and friendly and in no way the 'star' that he could easily be,” said Wheeler. “I can see that he is also not a person to cross. He confides in his extremely small group (three or four people) and is outgoing with everybody else, but when it comes to his racing there is a real degree of intensity. Everybody thinks that Febvre is due a big crash. The nature of the sport dictates that it is inevitable at some point, but I think Romain is far more in control that observers would like to believe. He is just a strong success story in a 2015 series so far where the smartest and least error-prone have earned the luck.”
Febvre has escaped that “big crash” this year, while MX2 leader Jeffrey Herlings can’t seem to avoid them. Two weeks after surgery to repair a broken collarbone, Herlings mangled his left pinkie finger in Sweden and ruled himself out of Latvia in a Twitter post this morning. “With pain in my heart I have to announce I wont be able to race in Latvia this weekend. Its not possible from the medical point of vieuw [sic],” he wrote.
Herling’s once insurmountable lead had dwindled to 78 over Tim Gajser, with the possibility of another 50 gone this weekend. Hopes are that Herlings can return at the MXGP of Czech Republic at the end of July, but no official return date has been announced.
Catch all the action live on MXGP.com starting at 6:00 am EST or a replay of the second motos on CBS Sports Network beginning at 12:00 pm EST.
THE NUMBER: 16 x 4 (Andras Hegyi and DC)
After his MXGP race last weekend in Sweden, Romain Febvre is only the sixteenth motocrosser to get at least four consecutive wins in a season in the FIM Motocross World Championship's premier MX1/MXGP class (and before that, it was the 250 class).
Torsten Hallman: the Swedish legend had five consecutive wins in 1963 in the saddle of Husqvarna.
Joel Robert: The Belgian hero had four consecutive wins in both 1964 and 1972. He rode with CZ in 1964, he did it with Suzuki in 1972.
Alex Puzar: The Italian known as Crazy Horse had four successive wins with Suzuki in 1990.
Yves Demaria: This French rider called "The Fly" grabbed four consecutive wins with Honda in 1994.
Marnicq Bervoets: The quiet but fast Belgian rider had five consecutive wins with Suzuki in 1996.
Mickael Pichon: The French motocrosser, well known in America, had nine consecutive wins with Suzuki in 2002.
Stefan Everts: Europe's King of Motocross, the ten-time world champion grabbed nine consecutive wins in 2003 in MotocrossGP, then got 12 successive wins in 2006 in MX1. Everts did both riding only with Yamaha.
Stefan Everts: He also won four in a row in this class in 2001, on his way to the world title.
Tony Cairoli: The eight-time FIM World Champion got five consecutive wins in 2010, seven consecutive wins in 2012, and four consecutive wins in 2013, all aboard KTMs.
Romain Febvre: Besides Everts, he’s the second Yamaha rider to get four consecutive wins in the premier class, winning in France, Italy, Germany, and Sweden.
Rolf Tibblin: One of the first great Swedish riders, Tibblin, later known for his motocross schools, won four in a row in both 1963 and '64 on his way to world titles both times. He was on a Husqvarna the first time, a Hedlund the second. (Might have to go to Tom White’s Early Years of Motocross Museum to see what one of those look like!)
Jeff Smith: Riding a British-built BSA, this British legend won four in a row en route to the 1965 500cc World Championship.
Paul Friedrichs: The great East German CZ pilot won four in a row on his way to the 1967 500cc title
Heikki Mikkola: The Flying Finn went on two winning streaks of four or more races, taking four in 1974 on his way to his first 500cc world title (Husqvarna) and five in a row when he won on a Yamaha in 1977.
Dave Thorpe: The English legend won four straight 500cc GPs on his works Honda on his way to a third world title.
Joel Smets: The all-around great guy and very fast Belgian won eight straight in 2000 (world title), four in a row in 2001 when he was the runner-up, and then seven in a row in '03 when won the title again. Each time he did it, he was on a four-stroke KTM.
Julien Bill: Finally, MX3 World Champion Julien Bill of Switzerland won six in a row in 2011 aboard a Honda, but the series wasn't quite as important at that point as what is now MXGP.
RIDER REACTIONS TO RV'S RETIREMENT (Chase Stallo)
Jeffrey Herlings: Thank you @ryanvillopoto. You are and you always will be a great champion. I am happy I could ride with you in our preperation for this season. Obviously our seasons both didnt turned out the way we wanted too. You are the fastest guy on the planet, and maybe the fastest rider ever. I will never forget, and will tell even my grand children later that I passt u at Lommel this winter lol. Thanks RV for what u did for the industry. Deep deep respect. Thanks for everything. You will be remembered for ever. Big fan.
Jeremy McGrath: I would like to say congratulations to @ryanvillopoto on an incredible career! Job well done! I loved watching you always, ever since we met at Lake Elsinore MX years ago when you were a kid! Way to go man!
Wil Hahn: @ryan_villopoto2 THANK YOU for one hell of a career and someone to look up to, wish you the very best in whatever is next for you. #respect
Ricky Carmichael: Want to give this guy Huge congrats on all his accomplishments throughout his whole career, was a pleasure to watch him race and watch how fierce of a competitor he was and how he dominated his competition. Congrats and Enjoy your time off, you have earned every minute of it. #respect
David Vuillemin: Congrats on a great career & enjoy retirement RV! It's gonna be the best job you've ever had! #WelcomeToTheClub
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That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. See you at the races.