SX: The Holeshot – Oakland
Through the first three races of the 2015 Monster Energy Supercross season, Ken Roczen looked like he had things figured out well before any of his closest rivals and as a result, he had opened a comfortable lead in the championship before the season was a month old.
However, one mistake by Roczen in Oakland has effectively turned this season upside down and made #WhosNext more relevant than ever. With a new points leader, a banged up Roczen and a renewed sense of motivation for the entire 450SX Class field, this weekend’s third and final visit to Anaheim now looms very large.
Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the weekend:
– Roczen’s casing of the triple and the aftermath of that just goes to show you how quickly this sport can change. It’s been said before and it will be said forever – supercross is inherently unpredictable because of the nature of the sport and incidents like Roczen’s are a reminder that nothing is ever as it seems and no one is ever safe from misfortune and heartbreak.
– I think most of us watching thought the season was over for Roczen when he slammed into the bike, jamming his wrists and watching his head rebound off the handlebars. Fortunately for him and for the fans of the sport, it looked much much worse than it ended up being, although it even took Roczen some time to realize he was actually OK. He’s very lucky to not have broken anything, but is probably even more lucky he didn’t get a concussion nor bust open his chin from the impact with the bars.
– While Roczen’s crash became the story of the night, there was still plenty of light shining on Trey Canard with his incredible ride to victory. The Honda rider crossed the line in 10th on the opening lap, but he patiently found some lines on a rapidly deteriorating track that worked well for him and used them to his advantage to climb all the way to the lead in just six laps. Once out front, he was simply too good and he ended a huge winless drought that dated back to his rookie season in 2011. The years since then have been rough on Canard, to say the least, but he without a doubt looks faster and more formidable now than he ever has in his career.
– Fittingly enough, the battle for the win came down to Canard and Chad Reed, who just one week prior grabbed all the headlines in Anaheim for all the wrong reasons. The black flag heard round the world and the incident that led to it could have remained a dark cloud over the rest of each rider’s season, but both moved on from it and did what they do best – ride a dirt bike like two of the best riders on the planet. It was the perfect way to bury their differences and officially put that drama behind them. While Reed will pay the long-term price of it in terms of the championship, he’s moving forward in search of victory. It shows how much of a veteran he is and it proves that victory is the best medicine.
– Depending on how this season plays out at the end, Oakland could be that race we look back to as a make or break for Ryan Dungey. While Dungey walked away with the points lead and finished on the podium for the third time in four races (which gives him the best finishing average in the 450SX Class) you can’t help but think he might have let a win slip away. Dungey was well ahead of Canard at the start, six positions to be exact, but he had a terrible third lap that caused him to lose valuable spots, including one to Canard. Once he got going again Canard was well on his way to the front and there just wasn’t enough time for Dungey to recover. Given how well Canard was riding it may not have mattered, but I’d give Dungey the credit to have the speed to hold of the Honda rider. Nevertheless, a runner-up finish is nothing to complain about on a night when you become the points leader, but the look on Dungey’s face afterwards made me think he was feeling like that race should have been his.
– Only four points separate Dungey and Roczen, while Canard lurks 14 points out. Dungey knows how to race with the red plate and while Roczen’s efforts this season suggest he can bounce back and reclaim control, Dungey knows the ball is in his court right now and he’s only getting better on the new KTM. If last summer’s AMA Pro Motocross Championship is any indication, there’s good reason to be excited about how things are shaping up.
– Ever since he won in Phoenix, it seems like that fire Eli Tomac had en route to his first career win has somewhat mellowed out. That’s not to say that Tomac has been off by any means, but the attack mode he exhibited that night hasn’t been nearly as prevalent. He’s clawed his way into fourth in the championship, from 20th, and is a modest 18 points out of the points lead, so it very well could be a strategic approach from a big picture standpoint. However, I recall a similar pattern from Tomac after he won is first AMA Pro Motocross race last summer. He was there every weekend, but he wasn’t at that level that took him to victory. Just something to consider as we near the big eastern run of the season.
– I assumed that any potential drama between Tyler Bowers and Cooper Webb was erased after Bowers put the blame on himself for allowing Webb to make a last-lap pass for the win in Anaheim. However, their incident in Oakland set off a potential firestorm between these two. I have no idea where this now bitter rivalry will go, especially since they share the same trainer, but considering the West Region Championship will potentially come down to them I cannot wait to see what happens next. This alone should give anyone enough reason to watch Anaheim on Saturday night.
– Webb is clearly on another level at this point and he’s just riding with so much confidence. I have yet to see anyone else attack the track quite like he has this season and since he is the points leader, you have to give him the nod for continued success. After all, he not only started the race in Oakland outside the top 10, he fell back into that position after the incident with Bowers and still managed to finish second. In another lap or two he would have surely taken over the lead. That says a lot about how he’s riding right now.
– Bowers is the first line of attack to Webb’s potential dominance and he’s been there each and every week this season. He hasn’t been flashy, but he’s been steady and he’s been aggressive when he needs to be. Wins are going to be a requirement if Bowers is going to keep pace with Webb and be a true threat for the title. I think he’s more motivated than every after everything that went down in Oakland so we’ll see how things play out in Anaheim.
– I had a feeling that when Malcolm Stewart signed with GEICO Honda late in the offseason that this would be his opportunity to step up and win. I knew he had the ability to get that weight off his back and I’m happy to see him finally do so. It feels long overdue, but he just rode so solid in Oakland. I know Webb was catching him at the end, but I can’t imagine what kind of emotions and thoughts Malcolm was dealing with during those final few laps. I’m sure it took all he had to keep hitting his marks and get to the checkered flag. Winning is not easy and winning your first race is even harder. Look no further than Jessy Nelson who was in this exact same position at the start of the season. Now that he’s been there, I’m very interested to see how Stewart’s confidence grows this weekend and beyond.
– Poor Justin Hill. He just can’t seem to make it all come together on the new KTM. He’s been exceptionally fast all season, definitely faster than he’s ever been, but it just hasn’t happened yet for him. He had Oakland all but wrapped up until his crash in the sand. The replay appeared to show Hill going for something he had yet to try in that tricky section, jumping in, and it bit him big time. He had such a comfortable lead at that point that it makes you wonder why he’d even bother changing things up when clearly his lines were working, but as a racer I think these riders are always in search of faster lines and faster lap times. I’m sure Hill didn’t think it would put him into the ground the way it did, but risk and reward is a big part of this sport and unfortunately it bit Hill this time. His desire to win is growing bigger with each passing week and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Hill is the rider to beat in Anaheim this weekend.
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