Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb snagged his second win of 2020 and his ninth career premier class win on Wednesday night when he held off a late charge from Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac. Both riders had to put late passes on Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Zach Osborne who led 20 of the 27 laps and held on for the final spot on the podium.
All three riders spoke with the media in a Zoom press conference call after the race, hosted by NBC Sports’ Daniel Blair.
Daniel Blair: Congratulations, guys. 450 division, I’ll start with you, Zach. Since we’ve been in Salt Lake City, it looks like you’ve been finding your groove. Even Sunday’s race wasn’t a podium ride, but it was a solid ride. You charged the whole way through. This one, obviously getting out front made a huge difference for you. Just kind of take us through that main event, the early laps, what it felt like to be up front again. I know it’s been a while. And then just battling late for a win here at round 12.
Zach Osborne: I feel really good about our little trip here to Salt Lake so far. It’s been successful for me, for the most part. Like you said on the broadcast, leading the whole race ate me up a little bit at the end, but it is what it is. I’ll take a third and keep building this momentum that I have from Sunday. Sunday, I didn’t get on the podium, like you said, but it was also another good ride for me. Just building some momentum. I feel really good with my bike at the moment, probably the best I’ve ever felt on hard-pack dirt and just these sort of conditions. I think we’re just kind of building some speed.
Eli, [you] didn’t get the win at this one, but from a points perspective, it was a big win; opened up that points lead into double digits now. Did you leave the race going, “I would have liked to have won,” or are you looking big picture a little bit now as we’re getting closer to the end and look at the points and go, “this was a big win for me?”
Eli Tomac: Positive that way with the points. Yeah, I would have liked to win, but second was okay on the night. Just the way things were going, I didn’t get the starts that I got on Sunday and that was it, basically. Too many good guys in front of me early on in the main event to really catch the lead group. So that was it for me. But overall, satisfied with the way the points fell.
Cooper, congratulations on the win. Late in that race, I can’t help but think about you and Zach and, I’m assuming, the hours you guys have ridden together and battled together at the practice track. Was there somewhat of a comfort in that knowing that you were going up with someone that you somewhat know? You know their riding tendencies, racing tendencies? It looked like late there it was a one-on-one kind of thing. Was that somewhat of a comfort for you just knowing that it was Zach and maybe not being either Eli or Kenny, but it was someone that you ride with and train with?
Cooper Webb: Yeah, it felt like another day in Florida but just on race day. It was good. He had a great pace going and I kind of knew that the whole main event that he laid it all out there. I felt like our pace was really good. He was riding well. Late in the race, I saw Eli was definitely kind of inching closer and closer and I needed to maybe make it happen. So, I was able to make the pass late. I tried to kind of breakaway, but Eli got around him and really put the hammer down. So overall it was a great race for me. To get my first win here in Salt Lake was great. So far, it’s been two good days of racing. Looking to keep the ball rolling. It’s awesome whenever you can get a win. That’s for sure.
Cooper, what was your routine between the races? People are wondering about the altitude and the short break. Anything you did differently? Did you feel differently racing on a Wednesday?
Webb: I quite enjoy it, honestly. It was kind of strange. I didn’t ride dirt bikes or anything. I went and played golf and did a little bit of cardio and stuff. I actually enjoyed it, just being able to kind of show up on race day from a previous race day. It was kind of cool. Didn’t really feel like a Wednesday. To me it felt like a normal race day. But now today, Thursday, it does feel a little weird. I think it was overall a different kind of program than what we’re used to. We’re used to a lot of days in-between. But I quite enjoyed the quick turnaround. It was nice.
Same for you, Zach. Did the elevation or the time in-between feel weird at all, or was it pretty good?
Osborne: For me, I actually felt really good. I wish we raced more and practiced less like this more often in normal times. Maybe this whole thing can spark something like that in the future. I don’t know about other people, but I feel like for us as racers a lot of the hours and the hard stuff that’s done in the week doesn’t always show on the weekends, whereas with this schedule you don’t ride as much and there’s just more racing. It just seems like a better way to me. For sure, it has benefitted me a little bit right now because I typically recover pretty quick. We normally ride on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’m typically a little bit off on Monday and better on Tuesday. Being that we raced on a Sunday and then we had Monday and Tuesday, so Wednesday was my normal Tuesday. So, I feel pretty good about it. This week I’m going to ride a little bit tomorrow to keep things headed in the right direction. I look forward to Sunday.
Same for you, Eli. Did you ride between races, or will you ride between this with a little longer break between here and Sunday?
Tomac: Between Sunday and Wednesday, no. No riding. Tomorrow, I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’m still actually waiting on that. Either way, I like this right now. It’s nice not having to get on the airplane and fly between. It feels like we can maintain this. This Sunday/Wednesday thing is cool.
Cooper, my biggest question for you after the win last night is do you feel like the layoff due to COVID was probably the best thing that could have happened for you after Dallas?
Webb: I mean, it was definitely a help. At that time, I was struggling with the body. It was a good help. I think the biggest thing was just to be able to have that break to look back and realize what maybe I was doing wrong or what we need to be better at and stuff like that. So, it was definitely a help there, but at the same time I really enjoyed those east coast style races with the soft dirt and the ruts. It’s definitely been quite opposite of that here so far, but I’m pretty stoked with how I’ve been able to adapt on this hard-pack stuff for sure.
Eli, Sunday it shows rain and 50. It’s a big difference between sunny, dusty and 80’s plus out here. How are you preparing for that, especially when you need to protect what you’ve built?
Tomac: The weather can be one way or the other. It looks like we’re going to get moisture, but you just don’t know. I’m trying to protect a little bit, but at the same time there’s still five races. There’s still a lot left on the table. I’m just trying to stay level-headed.
Eli, even earlier this year and in the past you’ve had issues when you’ve been in bad positions early in the race, but lately you’ve seemed a lot more patient and a lot more kind of methodical in the beginning on finding the pace. You’ve even been passed in both these races by Cooper and Kenny in the last one, and you’ve come back to get to the front. Is that something you’ve been working on to try to close this first title out?
Tomac: Not specifically. I feel like just maybe I’ve done X amount of races and had X amount of time racing now that you just get more comfortable or you know what to do in these certain situations. So, I feel like it’s an experience thing.
If you prefer to watch the virtual press conference, you can view it below:
Zach, you Husky’s were really fast this Wednesday from the jump. One, two, three in free practice. I think one, two, three, four in the first qualifying practice. Did you guys find something early this week? Or were you guys working together on it? You guys had a lot of speed right out of the gate.
Osborne: No, definitely not. The vibes were high, and the mood was light, that’s about all I can say about that. It wasn’t like we were going testing or anything like that. We were just three dudes having fun, at the moment. That’s all I can say. It was one of those days. If only we had a camera in our lounge, it would be a reality TV show.
You weren’t doing the triple on in the main and that was costing you a little bit of time. I saw you battling with Tomac there earlier, and actually doing well doing the double-single there. Was that in the back of your mind? Why didn’t you pull the trigger in the main?
Osborne: I kind of set my mind before the main that I was going to jump the whoops, and also I was going to go double-single because at the end of the heat race I actually felt like I was making some time going double-table-single. But I think in the main where they redid the berm and they redid the face you didn’t have to seat bounce as hard to get on. So, it allowed a little bit more drive. After I watched the race, it was quite obvious that occasionally it was a little bit faster, but I didn’t have eyes in the back of my head, and it wasn’t on the pit board, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. It was maybe a tenth or two here and there, but there were times also where it was still good to go double-table-single. It was just one of those kind of pre decisions that I had kind of made. I didn’t really feel like it was something that I had to do, so I just was doing the double-table-single. Like I said, after watching it back I probably should have been doing it.
Zach and Cooper, altitude has kind of been the theme of this race. A lot of guys are really struggling. We expected Eli to be good. He lives at a high altitude. What did you guys do? Has either of you got a therapeutic exemption for oxygen or anything?
Osborne: I didn’t do anything. Altitude is something that I’ve never really had an issue with. It doesn’t really affect me. I spent a summer in Colorado at altitude. I don’t really have any issues with it. I have a history of chronic bronchitis and asthma, but it just really doesn’t bother me. Nothing really changed on my end. Just the normal training.
Webb: I’m not educated enough on altitude. I haven’t really changed anything I’ve been doing. We were in Florida doing a lot of laps and it was super-hot. It seemed like me and Zacho were really pushing each other hard to kind of duplicate that race day vibe. So, I’ve just been doing my normal thing, training like normal. You definitely notice it, but I think it’s something that you just kind of push through and know that it’s going to affect you a little bit.
Cooper, what was it like for you going back to the same stadium but this time at night and a different track layout? How much different was it for you?
Webb: It was definitely quite a change in schedule from being early, early, to the latest one I’ve ever raced. It was definitely different than what we’re used to, like we’ve all said multiple times. But it was cool. It felt comfortable. How everything went, it seemed like this time around I felt like with the mechanics and the routine was a bit more easy just because everyone kind of knew what to expect. The track was more moisture this time. Definitely more technical layout and stuff like that. I thought it was cool. I was stoked that they changed the track obviously entirely, but it was quite a bit different entirely from last Sunday. They were able to do that in two days, which was pretty impressive. I thought they might maybe leave the same layout or just change a few sections here and there, but it was cool that they did a full-on rebuild.
What has been the reaction from your sponsors and what they are doing to help you guys bridge those financial gaps that your teams may be seeing now due to the fact that you guys are missing out on a lot of merchandise sales, on a lot of the travel pieces when you guys come to places like Quest Field or Century Link Field which has a massive amount of people that attend?
Osborne: I think the biggest thing is just there’s no people in the stands, but I would think that there’s more viewers on TV, so it really hasn’t affected us that much in the short-term. I don’t know what the long-term looks like or as far as the business side of things go very much, but to this point it really hasn’t affected us a ton.
Webb: It definitely is unique. It’s cool when we go to different stadiums and you kind of get to see the different fans and the different styles of the city and stuff like that. Yeah in our sport merchandise, we’re kind of held by the gonads a little bit. Not much we can do there. It definitely stinks not going to all these multiple venues. But at the same time, it’s just temporary and get back to normality and hopefully get some new fans going and get the pay schedule back on.
Eli, the fact that there’s no fans in the pits, there’s no interaction, no autograph signing and everything, is it easier for you to focus just on racing?
Tomac: Yeah. It really is. You lose that general vibe, especially the night show vibe. It’s more calm. It feels like it’s just more mellow. That’s been the case for myself. I would say round one was really weird, and then round two I felt like it was more of just a mellow vibe. That’s what I think about it.
Cooper, one of the most underrated parts of your game, I think, is your ability to chess match, that you and someone else are similar speeds that last five laps. You have the lead and you tend to always come out on top in those. I can’t remember the last time you got passed late in a race when you’re battling for a position. Was your pass on Zacho with, I think, three minutes left, was that part of the chess match because you saw Eli coming, or was it just an opportunity thing?
Webb: I think a little bit of both. I saw Eli coming and I knew that I needed to make a move to try to avoid him catching me. So, I felt like our pace was really good, but like I said, I could tell Eli was catching us a little bit, a little bit. I knew that he was going to be strong down the stretch. I felt like I needed to get going. I tried a little earlier, actually maybe a few laps before that, and then Zach really stepped it up for those laps. Then he kind of made that mistake in the whoops that gave me my opportunity. Racing is, and especially I feel like with our long main events, it is a bit of a chess match because it is a long main. So, it’s one of those things where depending on what position you’re in you have to take what you got and go with it. I was pretty obviously stoked with how I rode and the way I handled the race. I knew Eli was really riding strong, so I had to hold it down and make it happen.
Is that something you’ve always been good at, that figuring out your situation, keeping people behind, closing the races? Is that something you can even work on?
Webb: I’m not sure. The goal is always to obviously be out front, and that’s what I try to do. It’s something that I enjoy doing. Just kind of riding back there and checking everything out, I guess. I knew the pace was strong enough to last that time. I didn’t want to get into a cat-and-mouse game where we pass each other back and forth. I’d rather just ride the wheel for however long I need to and then be able to make that adjustment on the fly or whatever.