Following a painful couple of months, the new season is upon us. Monster Energy Supercross is around the corner! Following the departure of the reigning champion, Ryan Dungey, the door is wide open for recent hashtags to resurface and someone else to claim the number one plate. It is quite clear that an unpredictable season lies ahead, just look at the number of stars featured within part one of this preview!
There is no doubt that every single fan at Anaheim 1 will be fixated on Ken Roczen, which is brilliant for the sport. It is now easy for the casual fan to grasp an interesting story and root for a specific rider. Heck, Roczen may even overtake Chad Reed and prompt the loudest cheers in opening ceremonies. Will he feed off of all of this attention or will it prove to be an unwanted distraction as he attempts to make one of the greatest comebacks that the sport has ever seen? Roczen is particularly strong mentally, so that should not be too much of a problem. There is no doubt that the magnitude of the situation would affect certain riders though.
Will Roczen be the same guy that he was at Anaheim 1 a year ago? The way in which he dominated at that event was phenomenal, as he ended sixteen seconds ahead of the eventual champion. Expecting that again may be a little much, as it is rare for someone to be so flawless, so most would be ecstatic just to see him inside of the top five. However, based on the social media posts and other interviews that he has taken part in, there is no doubt that Roczen believes he’ll be stood atop a podium soon enough.
It is still so disappointing that fans did not get a chance to see Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen square off at one hundred percent last year, but hopefully that duel is coming. The fast-approaching season may go down as one of the greatest in recent memory if that turns out to be the case. The promoters will have Ken Roczen to thank too, as he would have denied all naysayers and achieved what most considered to be impossible. There is no doubt that the sport needs a story such as this to fill the void that Ryan Dungey left.
The Monster Energy Knich Yamaha awning is just full of questions marks! Cooper Webb had a substantial amount of hype behind him entering Anaheim 1 a year ago, which is quite different to the current situation. Following a lacklustre season, which was full of sub-par results and small setbacks, most wrote Webb off and cast him to one side. Much like his current teammate, Justin Barcia, the machine was partly blamed for the mediocrity, but the newest YZ450F is supposed to be light years ahead. The fact that Webb actually believes that should ensure that he is in a good spot entering the season opener this weekend.
A point that has not been focussed on too much is the fact that whilst most spent the month of October putting in lap after lap at the test track, Webb was sat on the sidelines with a wrist injury. That may not be too much of an issue, seeing as he started riding again in the first week of November, but those first few days were spent on an outdoor track and testing time would have been of paramount importance with the all-new machine from Yamaha. By the time that the gates drop this weekend, he would have spent way more than a month on a supercross track. Will it be enough?
Although his maiden season aboard a bigger bike was uninspiring, there is no doubt that he can win main events this year. The title may be out of reach for the time being, as that would be quite a step up, but the fact that he did land on the box in Oakland last year shows what he is truly capable of. When conditions suit him and his set-up, he can turn it on and challenge the greatest riders that the sport has to offer. Most forget that he actually passed Eli Tomac straight up last year. How many guys can really say that?
It seems that most are unsure where to place Jason Anderson in bench-racing discussions. Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin are certainly going to be title contenders and then you have the rest in that second tier. Anderson is either in that elite group or somewhere between that and the rest of the guys, if that is even possible, as he is certainly better and more capable than someone like Blake Baggett. The AUS-X Open proved that he has his teammate handled, as he dominated on the second night after finally making it through the first turn unscathed. However, on the other hand, he was then a tick off of Musquin in Geneva. There are so many elements at play here.
Anderson is a three-time winner in the premier class, but that may not be a true representation of what he has achieved. Two of those victories could be considered gifts. The second occurred in Detroit in 2016, when Ryan Dungey was penalised two spots for jumping on a red-cross flag, and then his latest victory was at the last Monster Energy Supercross round that was run, Las Vegas. Eli Tomac and Ryan Dungey were embroiled in a title fight that left the door wide open for someone to sneak through and take the win.
What does all of this mean? Well, it is just difficult to make an educated guess on where Jason Anderson should slot in. There is no doubt that he will stand on the podium more often than not, as well as win races, but will he be able to put together a championship-winning run? That may be a tall order, although it is worth considering that he was hampered by a foot injury last year. It is unlikely that was too big of an issue, however, as it would have been fixed much sooner than it was.
"It does not matter who wins three months before the season even starts," Ken Roczen wrote on social media. Does that answer all of the questions regarding the amount of wins that Marvin Musquin has acquired this off-season? There is no doubt that victories in Paris and Switzerland do not mean too much in the grand scheme of things, but there are positives to extract. It is quite clear that Musquin is hitting all of his marks and will enter Anaheim 1 ready. Does that mean that he will dismiss challenges from Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen with relative ease? No, but it is safe to assume that he will be in a position to get his title hunt off to a solid start.
Certain question marks were raised through the off-season races, despite the fact that Musquin achieved everything that he set out to. The indoor event in Paris was intriguing, for example, because he looked particularly vulnerable on sections of the circuit. Competitors like Dean Wilson and Cole Seely tackled the tricky whoops with confidence, whereas Musquin just could not master them. It is not like that is anything new, as he has always struggled to overcome that particular obstacle across the globe, so could it cost him a title? Not exactly, but he may give up vital points at a handful of the rounds.
Consistency is not much of an issue for Musquin though, as he lands on the podium more often than not, but intensity may be where he struggles to match his fellow heavyweights. Good starts could counteract that though and that is one of his greatest strengths. The fact that he pilots the most competitive bike in the class only helps him in that area too. Would it be a shock to see Musquin lift a number one plate above his head in May? Not at all. It would, however, be surprising if he beats Tomac and Roczen straight up to get to that point.
When the Monster Energy Supercross series concluded in May, there was no doubt that Eli Tomac would be the heavy favourite to claim the title the following year. A turbulent time in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross caused most to forget just how strong he was indoors, however, and now the focus is on how many cracks there are in his armour. One would argue that Tomac struggles when things are not going his way and point to East Rutherford as an example of that, but was that just an isolated incident?
It was fairly similar to what happened in Salt Lake City four years ago, when Eli Tomac was battling with Ken Roczen for the 250SX West title. Tomac was in a great position that night and simply needed to seal the deal, but fell apart in a dramatic fashion and watched the title slip away. Does that sound familiar? It is not like one can just presume that he is going to struggle to put the pieces of the puzzle together again though, as he was perfect at nine of the seventeen rounds last year. The statistics really tell the full story.
One hundred and eighty laps were led by Tomac, whereas the eventual champion led ninety-seven. Tomac claimed wins at nine of the seventeen rounds, more than double the amount of victories that anyone else had, and then he also had the best average-starting position in the premier class. Those facts really make it seem as though he is going to be tough to beat across seventeen rounds, but that does not mean that you should expect him to set the world alight this weekend. It will be tough not to jump to conclusions after the season opener, there is no denying that, but it is worth noting that Tomac has never even stood on the 450SX podium at round one.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Simon Cudby