Blake Baggett is back, folks! After a tough round one at Hangtown, Blake showed promise with 8-2 scores at Glen Helen for third overall. He led a few laps and the confidence was returning. This past weekend at Thunder Valley, though, he made his official return.
After a first turn crash in the first moto, he was relentless in his charge to the front. He preyed on the pack, passing his way all the way to third place and more importantly and impressively, past points leader Marvin Musquin and championship favorite Eli Tomac. The second moto would be more of the same from Baggett, methodically stalking leader Tomac. He made his move around the halfway mark and simply rode away from there. Tomac was unable to match the pace or even offer up a fight. Behind Tomac, Musquin and his red plate were holding strong in third, but nowhere near the race for the moto win. By race end, Baggett had stretched his lead to 12 seconds over Tomac and 23 back to Musquin. It was a master class from Baggett to say the least.
How did he do it? Just like he did so many times before on his 250.
Earlier in Blake’s career, he won a 250 national championship with a particular strategy that left his competition shaking their heads and fans mesmerized in disbelief. In theory, the plan was pretty simple. Blake would sit back and follow the leaders early in the moto. He didn’t push the pace or even move forward in the opening laps. It was almost worrisome for his team and fans because he was seemingly unable to get to the front. But it only “seemed” that way. At just past the halfway point, Blake would somehow find another gear that no one else had. It was deliberate and deadly. In fact, this tactic coined the nickname “El Chupacabra” in reference to the mythical Mexican beast of prey (thanks Weege). He would run down any riders ahead and once past, turn in lap times that no one else could match. It became his predictable modus operandi and it was a real conundrum for anyone hoping to beat the #12 that season.
El Chupacabra was brutal to the field but as the years rolled on, it seemed as if the beast was gone forever. He transitioned to the 450 Class and the competition grew stiffer. Did El Chupacabra fade off into the lore of moto history? Were the 450 riders simply too seasoned to be susceptible to the unorthodox strategy? On Saturday, we got our answers. El Chupacabra was back!
In the second moto, Baggett lost the early lead to Tomac and many thought that would be the end of it. Eli has been able to systematically control the field once he gets the lead and there was no reason to think moto two at Thunder Valley would be any different. Through the early laps, a dynamic began to shape up. Tomac’s lead was solid, but it Baggett was starting to erase it. At the halfway point, in true Chupacabra form, Blake kept his pace in the 2:15 range while Tomac had slipped down into the 2:17-2:19 range. In fact, Baggett was two seconds faster than anyone on the track that lap. Guess what also happened that lap? Baggett blitzed past Tomac and went for the kill shot.
It was the exact formula he used to win in that 2012 250 National Motocross Championship. He slowly upped the pressure until he was the only one who could hold the pace. He learned where he could charge and where Tomac was vulnerable. And just as the halfway flags flew, it was time to go. His 2:15 lap times were simply too much for anyone else to maintain. As everyone else’s pace wavered, Blake poured on the intensity. Attacking when others are vulnerable is textbook cycling strategy but Blake has mastered it in moto. Most riders are simply trying to hold their lap times while Blake is steadily upping the pace and dropping the field.
How was he able to do it? As you might guess, he also used textbook 250 strategy. The hard and fast rule is as the power goes down, your momentum must go up. The smaller bore bikes are where Baggett developed this skill and his application to the 450 last Saturday was poetry in motion.
All of his lines were on the outsides, carrying more momentum than everyone else. He wasn’t slowing down for the inside rut and wasn’t laboring to regain his speed on the turn exits. The Thunder Valley ruts were long and deep, killing all of the exit speed. He was able to ride on the outside of those ruts, though, keeping speeds higher even if it was the longer route. With the elevation at 6000 feet, power was down for everyone. That reinforced Baggett’s advantage, as those using the insides wouldn’t have that usual 450 torque to get them back up to ideal speed after a slow inside rut. It was the perfect example of opportunity meeting preparation and he executed his plan to perfection.
So as we move past Thunder Valley, what will the new normal be? Eli was easily the best rider as we left Hangtown. He dominated the day. At Glen Helen, though, things were shaken up as Musquin and Jason Anderson both grabbed their first career 450 moto wins.
Now, the picture becomes even blurrier as Baggett was the class of the field in Colorado. All of the key players are looking at themselves in the mirror this week saying “this is my title for the taking.” Only one of them will be right, though. After a weekend off, the momentum pendulum will be wound up for a big Pennsylvania swing. We can only guess at this point on who will be the storyline leaving the next round. The uncertainty might just be the best part of the series, too.