When Ken Roczen entered the opening round of Monster Energy Supercross, Anaheim 1, two seasons ago, all eyes were fixed on him. The flamboyant German was racing a Honda HRC CRF450R for the first time and therefore there was pressure on his shoulders. Roczen faced similar levels of attention at the opener twelve months ago too, with it being his return from an injury that was potentially career ending.
The opening round of Monster Energy Supercross is always rather eventful for Ken Roczen, in short, except for this year. Roczen seemed to seep into the background at the pre-race press conference and then moved through the A1 programme in a quiet yet effective manner. "Last year I was really up in the air coming into this first race," he said in the post-race press conference. "I may have looked like I was fine, and I was, but last year with three weeks before the race I would just lay in bed at night trying to sleep and all of a sudden I would get an adrenaline rush thinking about racing. It kept happening.
"This year I was kind of super neutral," Roczen continued. "I was patient out there racing today as well. My highs are not too high and, even when I practiced out there today in qualifying practice and not at the top of the board, I do not stress about it. I knew coming into the racing that I am a racer and I love being behind the gate. It really just showed [on Saturday night]." There is no doubt that he was patient, but then that is not much of a surprise either. Roczen showed similar traits through the first five rounds a year ago and just picked away at each event, picking up multiple podium finishes along the way.
It was just a mental relapse at round six, San Diego, that cost him dearly and pushed him onto the sidelines. It is unknown if he will be able to avoid those hiccups further down the road, as that data is yet to be pulled in. This is a positive start though and at this point it seems the past is exactly that. "I don't have the mobility that I had before the injuries, definitely in my left arm," Roczen stated when questioned about his previous injuries once again. "The right one is actually pretty solid. I still have a little bit of stiffness pain, but this is my new normal. I honestly do not really think about it too much anymore."
There was uncertainty in the 450SX main event at Anaheim 1, as riders attempted to predict how the track would react with each lap that passed. Had there been a point where Ken Roczen started to question those previous injuries, therefore electing to back it down, it would have been then. Instead he kept plugging on and even set his fastest-lap time of the race on the thirteenth circulation, which was later than anyone else on the track. The circuit was at its worst at that point in the race. All of these things are very positive, as is the following quote from the pre-race press conference.
"I took a little bit of time off after that [the Motocross of Nations] and, I would say, started a little bit later than most people with training in hopes that… In previous years, I feel like I started peaking mid-December or somewhere around there and had plenty of time until the first race," Roczen went on to explain in detail. "This year it has seemed to work out perfect coming into the week. I have been feeling good, consistent on the bike and I am actually happier than I have ever been with the bike." Is that a sign of things to come? Is there more on the horizon for Ken Roczen? There is no doubt that he is long overdue some success.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX