Welcome to the first Staging Area column of 2019! Anaheim is always so highly anticipated. Everyone focuses on this event so much more than say, Glendale, yet they weigh the same for points, purse, bonuses, etc. The pressure on the riders is palpable, though, and many sponsors expect their rider to do well at Anaheim for some sort of validation on the new season. It’s a stressful day for riders and teams but incredibly exciting for everyone else. Having been on both sides of that fence, I will take my current fun and exciting side every time.
So, who will come out swinging and who will leave Angel Stadium feeling dejected? Injury rumors are the hot story, with Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin, Zach Osborne, Malcolm Stewart, and Benny Bloss all seemingly dealing with an off-season mishap. How those different levels of injury affect Anaheim’s results will be anyone’s guess until the gate drops on Saturday night. The riders and teams have all kept their secrets tight-lipped and the journalists have all been prodding for info. One thing’s for sure, there’s no hiding anything on Saturday.
I think this uncertainty with Tomac and Musquin bodes well for Ken Roczen and last year’s champ, Jason Anderson. Both appear ready to come into January hot and heavy. There are four Anaheim 1 wins between Roczen and Anderson (Roczen: 2014, 2015, and 2017; Anderson: 2016) so I wouldn’t be surprised for a fifth. No one can be sure how Tomac’s (rumored) sore back and Musquin’s minor knee surgery will reflect in the early rounds. Maybe there is no drop-off at all. Maybe they take a round or two to find their rhythm. In any case, the others absolutely need to capitalize. Remember, this is exactly how Anderson built up that huge lead in 2018. He won early and rode mistake free while Tomac and Musquin struggled mightily. Can Anderson do the same in 2019?
Dirty Little Secrets
Assuming we have a dry Anaheim, the track will get more and more slippery as the night progresses. This is nothing new for the riders, they know what to expect and practice on these conditions regularly anyway. It can lead to untimely tip-overs when the intensity is ratcheted up, so watch for front tires sliding in the heat of battle.
This particular track is very busy. Often times, A1 is a basic layout to get the series started. Not in 2019! There are more rhythm sections and whoops than I can remember being at any A1 since maybe 2000. The start is average length but rolls into a long, sweeping 180. With the angles laid out on paper, a good start should be possible from anywhere. Just after the start, there is a short straight and a few bumps leading into a right turn but nothing overly difficult. This should give riders an opportunity to sort themselves out before getting into the meat of the track.
The first rhythm section is very basic, a 5-jump combo that riders will sort out very quickly. The over/under bridge is up next, sending riders floating up and over. The landing leads right into the first whoops section. This will be a crucial section as those with the confidence to accelerate hard down the landing and into the whoops will make big time here. The difficulty is that riders will be descending from the bridge and into the whoops, putting all of that force into the forks. Ideally, riders want their forks completely unloaded when entering whoops, giving them the full range of fork compression and a level plane. This descension will result in the opposite end of the fork spectrum and a place to make up ground for some.
The end of the whoops leads directly into the first standard supercross triple, also causing headaches for some. The 250 riders will need to maintain that speed on the exit of the whoops if they hope to clear the triple. There will be surely be some harrowing moments in the unseeded 250 practices as riders struggle to clear the triple.
A left-hand bowl berm (nets?) sets riders up to a big rhythm section down the first base line of the stadium. Riders will either double or triple from the turn and their rhythms will differ accordingly. With the turn looking tight, I think the line will be to double out of the turn, then triple, triple and double into the next flat left-hand turn. That line will allow the riders to “race” through the initial turn and not waste time setting up for a difficult seat-bounce triple.
The flat left turn goes under the bridge and into a few small bumps, followed immediately by a 90-degree left. Riders will need to rail the outside of this turn in order to jump over the start straight twice in a row (nice wrinkle). Those two doubles lead to a 90-degree right hand turn and another big rhythm section. I will be interested to see if riders can triple out of this turn to the downside of the tabletop. On paper, that’s the ideal line. Rail the outside, triple over the tabletop, triple again over the next tabletop, and double into the turn. Not everyone will be able to do this but those that can will gain huge time. This line could be the difference between success and failure for the 250 class.
Another 180-bowl berm sends riders flying into the second whoops section. These whoops will again be critical. Anaheim whoops can be very difficult or very easy, but in either case, exit speed out of these 180 turns and correlated entry speed into the whoops is important. Look for riders to line up passes in this section, finishing with a block pass in the hard left-hand turn at the end. Riders cross the start straight toward a 180-bowl berm and catapult over the finish line to start lap 2.
Questions I Need Answered
Do pre-season injuries make an impact Saturday night?
Who will emerge as the alpha dog for the 250SX West Region?
Who leaves Anaheim disappointed? There are ALWAYS a few.
Can Justin Barcia match his 2018 opener? It was a game changer for his career.
Which of the three rookies (Osborne is out) will have the best 450 regular season debut?
How does 2019 start for Chad Reed?
Jason Anderson won his off-season races and comes in fully healthy.
Adam Cianciarulo has been the 250 buzz this off-season. He should win races this year.
Shane McElrath will be the title favorite for many, leading this series in the past two seasons.
Justin Hill has been flying, according to multiple reports. If he gets a top three start, look out.
Ken Roczen has come in under the radar, but I expect a strong Ken Roczen.
With Tomac, Musquin, Plessinger, and others dealing with lingering injuries, it’s anybody’s guess as to their readiness for Saturday.
Zach Osborne suffered a crash just before Christmas, putting him out for a few rounds.
Weston Peick, refusing to show weakness, wins a bare knuckle brawl contest at the Anaheim pits fan fest.
Steve Matthes is BACK and onto the starting line for track walk.
Jerry Robin is somehow the biggest talking point on Saturday afternoon.
Chad Reed holeshots something.
Justin Hill puts some sort of creative combo together that leaves people scratching their heads.