We know mud races are unique, so we never try to take much from the results of one and apply it to a dry race. But what about Oakland? It wasn't a mudder, but it was rough and rutted. Should we take everything we saw there with a grain of salt?
Jason Thomas: It was rutty, sure, but it wasn't the Blackwater 100. I don't think the exact same scenario will play out this weekend on a completely different surface, but I also don't think we can dismiss what we saw either. The mental side of the sport is always changing regardless of the conditions. Eli's confidence has to have grown even more and Ryan Dungey has to be frustrated with the way it turned out. For Webb, his whole day marked a huge turnaround so he will roll into Texas with a positive outlook. Results are so mental for the elite group so any positive or negative has an effect.
Steve Matthes: Yeah definitely. It was tough out there and so many riders were making mistakes, you can't make too much of a declaration from Oakland. The guys were having trouble clearing the obstacles and with perfect dirt heading east, we'll see some things change. But being as how the riders are pretty mental, riders like Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb will take their great rides and use them as a confidence builder. So this race means something unless you did crappy, then it means nothing.
David Pingree: I think you take it for what it was … a very technical and difficult racetrack. Ryan Dungey finds himself in the driver’s seat of this championship and playing it on the safe side. He got out front and rode solid and steady without taking too many risks. For Eli Tomac there is only one thing to do and that is win. Last weekend in Arizona he found his happy place or got his chi balanced or pulled his head out of his ass, depending on who you talk to. Honestly, a track like that suits Eli. He likes the rough, rutted courses that he can muscle his way around, and it showed.
The 250 class elite came to the front again and the battle is clearly on between Justin Hill and Shane McElrath. Shane got off to a great start, but hasn’t been able to match Hill’s speed the last couple of rounds. No surprises in this class, unless you check Davalos’ Snapchat.
From lapped by third place to finishing in third place, in the span of three races. How the heck did Cooper Webb improve this much, this quickly?
JT: I don't care what they say, they changed something on the bike. He looks like a completely different rider than what I saw at Anaheim 1. His aggression and comfort level are in a completely different place than they were a month ago. Whatever was holding him back earlier in the season is a distant memory now.
Matthes: I'm not sure really, he looks great. The first two races he looked like someone who won a contest, was strapped to a YZ450F and sent out there to see what they can do. He's now moving the bike around, putting it where he wants to, and he's his usual attacking self. Webb's now moving up into the group of riders that are going to be a threat for podiums every week. But Yamaha changed nothing on his bike. Oooooooo...K.
Ping: I think Coop had a lot of pressure on him, much like Tomac, and was riding tight. With a few rounds out of the way we are finally seeing the Webb we expected. We know he can ride a 450. We’ve seen it at the MXoN and down in Australia at Aus-X Open. The Yamaha camp has said they haven’t made any significant changes to the bike so this change is all mental. I think Coop will see the podium often from here on out.
Even on a bad night, Hill wins again. Does he have this?
JT: I think it's too early for any of that talk. He is only leading by one point and Shane McElrath has shown how resilient he is, bouncing back from two LCQ trips and still nearly winning. He was looking great last season, too, but one big crash in Detroit changed everything. He looks to be the man with the plan right now but as we know, racing is a week-to-week business.
Matthes: No way man, there's, like, a 38-week break after this week where anything can happen. Justin told us he's going to get a 450 for the break, well he said he HOPED he could get a 450 to ride. And he'll do some outdoor testing as well. Then we hit the Seattle and Salt Lake City races where weather could, once again, be a factor. He's only one point up bro! I think he's the most talented rider in the class, but that doesn't mean anything. Say he hits Nicoletti this weekend in a turn and there's a “Transfer of Power.” Like I said, anything can happen.
Ping: The second he starts thinking like that he won’t “have it.” McElrath isn’t done yet and there is a small number of points between them. Shane is now in a must-win position instead of the “don’t blow it” mode he’s been in since the third round. I think you’ll see more fight coming from McElrath to get himself back in this. These are two really good guys with a bunch of talent. It will be fun to watch it play out.