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Matthes Report

A Matthes Report: Ken Roczen

Insight and analysis from Ken Roczen.

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What a great day for Honda and Kenny Roczen at Hangtown, as the German took his first win since his brutal injury at Anaheim 2 in 2017. Although he did not win the second moto, he was amazing all day long and maybe, just maybe, the “old” Roczen is back. You know, the guy that won two 450MX titles over here?

The reason I say that is because for the last half of the 450SX series, Roczen has rarely ridden to his usual standards. He has been plagued by some sort of physical issue that tires him out. On top of that he has had some bad luck as well and, at times, it was like a different dude out there riding the #94 CRF450RW. We had Roczen on the PulpMX Show this past Monday and talked to him about the win, his illness and more.

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On Hangtown and dealing with this issue… “I just went out in practice and no matter what – this was the first race – I just wanted to go out there and do my best every single time. I’m over just riding around and not feeling great. I’ve put my mind into a different spot now. Just went out and did the best I could every single time and it worked out great for this weekend.

“In 2016, I knew I was just so comfortable with everything and so good with everything. Even honestly no matter how the practice was going to be I was always like, it doesn’t really matter because, once I go racing, I knew I was going to be the best guy out there. This weekend I didn’t. I just went out there with no expectations and not knowing what’s going to be. The other guys might be a lot faster or not. I just went out there and tried to do the best I could. Luckily it was going in a good way.”

On getting used to a MX set-up after being on SX for so long… “Sometimes too coming off of supercross you are so used to having your suspension stiff as shit all the time, you think whenever you get back onto outdoors stuff you are like, ‘Wow, this stuff feels like a couch. We need to go stiffer, we need to go stiffer.’ You could be just going backwards and digging yourself a hole. GP riders, for example, they have months to really prep everything. We kind of don’t. It’s tough because at the same time you want to try and test, but then you run out of time and you have to do some motos as well.

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“Then doing motos on something that you’re not happy with is not the key either because, coming to racing, you have to have something that you are halfway decent and that you like. There’s this super fine line. Sometimes honestly you can get lucky and you hit the target dead on. Like in 2016, I didn’t do… With Oscar coming in, and we did some changes to the motor and whatever. We had a really good base suspension setting and I didn’t change hardly anything at all. That is ideal situation, but obviously it doesn’t very often happen. A little difficult situation, I think not just for me, I think for a lot of riders probably.”

On his physical issues… “Here’s the thing, man. In supercross when I started going downhill, I swear to you, I would have lost a bet for a lot of money because I would have sworn to you I had either… I didn’t know, but I’m like something isn’t right. I was so bad. I couldn’t even do a half a lap of supercross. That’s how bad it was. I swear to you. My practice mechanic, he’s around me every single day. There were days I went out there and I don’t even know why I left the house, because I was feeling so miserable and I went on the track and I was so out of it. My focus, my body, my fatigue… Everything.

“I felt like I was riding supercross and bumming around there and I felt like my heart rate was 90. I couldn’t even get into a fighter mode or anything. That happened for so long. That’s what was so frustrating. You get sick or whatever and you feel like crap for a week and you bounce back from it, but the fact is that my body has changed after all these surgeries whether I like it or not. I was expecting that at one point to wake up one day and be like, “Here we go. Now it’s uphill.” That never happened, though. Even up until Vegas I was struggling and stressing, because it’s not fun for me going to the races that way and in everyday life.

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“I hate waking up every day, I feel okay and then within twenty minutes everything just went south so bad. I’m like, this is not normal. I am not out of shape. I’ve trained for months and months and months. I started going really good and all of a sudden shit really hit the fan. Then I started going downhill. That’s why I didn’t talk about it anymore on the races, because it doesn’t help me. I was really avoiding the media and the TV people coming over and asking me, “Has anything changed?” I couldn’t hear it anymore. It was what it was.

“Now I’ve seen these specialists. I went up to Stamford after Vegas to really get an insight on stuff. I had some problems a little bit and I think everybody does. When you’re an athlete like that and we work out a lot and whatever, there are certain things that are not going to be 100% absolutely top notch, but nothing we could pinpoint that said, that’s why everything is that way. I think there were a lot of little things that could end up being one big thing, but overall even the genetics doctor that I saw said that it most likely has been – because I was on back-to-back antibiotic cycles, and with my body the way it was, when you are on an antibiotics cycle it cleans you out.

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Meaning it kills your bad bacteria, which is what you want, but it also cleans out your good bacteria, everything. I was already in kind of a deficit in that and that just gave me the last little bit. From there on, like right now I’m just working on getting into a daily routine week in and week out, and getting my body and everything back to where it’s supposed to be. That’s kind of the switch that I had to flip. It’s a fact that I have to fight through some certain discomforts or whatever when it comes to training, but I am ready for that. If somebody told me, ‘Ken, go out and eat some horse shit or whatever. That will make you better.’ I would have done it. There was no such thing, so I’m ready. I’m in a good spot right now and I’m hungry. I’m ready for whatever.”

On the feeling he had at Hangtown this year… “I kind of got a little bit of flashbacks of 2016. Last year coming into outdoors, that was a complete shit show. I don’t even know how I raced in Hangtown because, believe it or not, I still have some problems with my thumb. Not sure what it is. Luckily not as bad anymore, but last year I had to get ready thirty minutes before I normally would because I had to tape everything up or have somebody tape it up. There was just so much work prepping for it to go racing and riding. The aggravation through the entire week with my hand hurting and everything. There was a time, especially before Hangtown, I had to stop riding. I was literally riding parade laps. That was my training the entire time.”

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On re-signing with Honda for three more years… “First off, I wouldn’t say there weren’t many options, but for me the one thing that made sense was that. That’s kind of what I was leaning towards anyway. Obviously that whole conversation I was hoping that they were not going to be not interested. We’re going to get something from them, at least a look at. I really didn’t want to go, even though we’ve had our struggles. I never really wanted to leave.

“Obviously having a three-year deal is amazing. With Honda and me, we got a great relationship. They do whatever it takes, which is great, but also besides all the racing, I feel like there are so many doors open. It just made the most sense. Even in the future when I’m retired, I think I will always be a Honda guy, whether that’s racing dirt bikes or maybe going in a different direction in the future. Who knows?”

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Honda Racing Corporation

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Matthes Report: Daytona

Predictions from Steve Matthes!

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The 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series riders and teams just had their first week off of the season this past and when the halfway flag gets thrown this Saturday night at Daytona, we’ll officially be halfway through the 450SX series.

Here are some random predictions on some random things in regard to both the 450SX and 250SX classes.

– It’s been a while since we saw anyone not named Cooper Webb or Ken Roczen win a 450SX main event but we may finally get someone different this weekend. Now, don’t hold me to that because the top two riders in the points have been so good. This is Daytona though. This is something different for the guys and we know how good Eli Tomac is down at the speedway. I’m not going to stamp a Tomac win but it says here he will be more competitive this weekend than he has been. Good vibes will be hanging in the air for ET and even if he does not get a start, he can make it work there. I predict a strong performance for Tomac this weekend with either a win or a runner-up ride.

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– Honda’s Chase Sexton makes his return to racing after a crash in Houston while leading the 450SX main. The #23 will be a boost to the series and I think he’ll do something memorable this weekend. I do not know what exactly; maybe win a heat, lead some laps or podium the whole thing? I’m not sure but Sexton will make a splash. You watch!

– Jason Anderson has been getting progressively better since his awful opening round and subsequent finger injury. Now, how much his improvement had to do with the harder packed Orlando track is something we’ll see. I think he’s on the right track to be top five or on the podium at Daytona.

– Marvin Musquin is very good at Daytona – he’s had some hell of good rides there with a couple of 450SX podiums and a win in 250SX. It’s been a hot and cold season for Marv, but he’ll be hot this weekend.

– Dylan Ferrandis was great at Orlando 2 but had just an eleventh to show for it after he had to pull into the mechanics area for mid-race repairs. On this track, with more of an outdoor-ish feel to it, I think Ferrandis really shines. I predict a top five for the Yamaha rider. Yeah, I said it.

– I predict Justin Cooper wins the 250SX West main event. Boring, right? I know. This series is his to lose now with Jeremy Martin out with a shoulder injury. Cooper was not even at one hundred percent at Orlando 2 and he did that. Wait until he gets an extra week of prep for this one.

– I’m not sure what Star Yamaha team owner Bobby Regan said or did to rookies Nate Thrasher and Jarrett Frye in the time since Orlando 2 but I guarantee you it was not good. I’ve heard many stories about how Regan has talked to riders under the Star tent and with both kids underperforming at their first ever supercross, I predict they both come out with better performances than what we saw in Orlando. How much better? I do not know, just better.

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– Garrett Marchbanks does not win this main event like he did last year but he does end up on the podium, which is a good result for him and his team.

– Troll Train will shine this weekend and redeem himself after KO’ing himself last race. That’s what “we” do.

– I think Martin Davalos will fall down at some point in this weekend’s main event. I hate being a negative Nancy here but he’s done it in every single race this year but one. I cannot see how Marty gets through a rough and tumble Daytona track where things change every lap without making a mistake but maybe this is exactly what Marty needs to stay on two wheels!

– I predict that Kyle Chisholm will continue to Chiz, because Chiz will always Chiz. In fact, he might have some extra Chiz happening because he is usually pretty solid at Daytona.

– This one is not tough to predict but Ken Roczen will continue his great season with another great ride. Hey man, I can’t be wrong if I just predict stuff like this!

Thanks for reading!

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes on: Alex Nagy

Feel-good story from Orlando.

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There are a lot of cool stories in the pits in the course of a year of Monster Energy Supercross but let’s face it, these days with COVID-19 still affecting everything, things still suck. Although the racing in Orlando was cool, in terms of some fans being there, it’s still not supercross, you know?

In Orlando, we had a cool story going on though. Privateer Alex Nagy made his first ever main event via his third in the 250SX LCQ. Nagy is a privateers privateer, you know? There are guys that are what you would call privateers but they are on teams and sometimes have expenses covered  some guys get everything paid for but not factory help at all and we still call them privateers. The word “privateer” has changed a ton over the years for sure, but there is one thing that’s not in doubt and that’s that Alex Nagy is a privateer.

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Nagy had lined up for 132 races and had made 118 night shows, most of them in the 450SX class. The 250SX East series has been wrecked with injuries so that definitely helped Nagy’s case, but he’s also been riding very well. In Orlando, we saw history!

“I honestly haven’t even kept track of how many night shows or how long,” Nagy told us after the race. “My first year of racing supercross was in 2013, and I did that on a 250. Then every year after, I’ve been in the 450SX class. This is kind of like my first time back in the 250SX class. I’m glad I was finally able to capitalise on a good coast to ride and be able to put it in the main finally.”

Look, once he made the main the rest was gravy, right? Nagy rode pretty well in the 15-minute main event though to end up with a fifteenth on the night. That’s pretty decent for a guy who’s not used to racing that long. Nagy got six points toward ditching his three-digit number and getting one of those two digits that the cool guys get.

Surely Nagy was going to reward himself with some sort of extravagance for his efforts, right?

Nope.

“I’m going to spend the night here. I spent the night here last night. I spent the night in the van the night before, and I’ll probably spend the night in the van tomorrow night too,” he told me. “It’s kind of funny because even in Indy I stayed in the van. I didn’t run it, didn’t use the heat in it and didn’t have a heater. I just had four sleeping bags and I just ground it out.

“Honestly, it sucked. It was cold waking up in the morning. Then when you are kind of cold and then you’ve got to put cold clothes on or cold gear on, that was rough. Like I always say, you don’t even really think about it. It’s just in the past.”

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Nagy spending the time in freezing cold Indianapolis sleeping in his van for rounds four through six is next level. Hey, he loves the sport and it shows!

This is a part of the issue I have with the MXGP series. Yes, there are wildcards out there that some riders can get but it’s not easy to show up at an MXGP and race like it is for riders over here in SX and MX. That’s one of the things, in my opinion, that make motocross great. A guy can get a bike, modify it a bit and line up with the world’s greatest riders. Talent is the separator, not money spent. Nagy has spent time riding in the winter down in California but unfortunately not this year. His program is, how we say, pretty loose!

“I didn’t even have an off-season because I was in Illinois the whole time. All I did was ride. I would ride with a track that was half snow, and then two jumps of dirt. That was all I did. I wasn’t in California. This was the least prepared I’ve been going into a year, and I did the first round on a 450 and was able to get in on it which was sweet. I was stoked on that, to make the night show.

“Then I wanted to do a 250 the whole time, but I didn’t get the bike that I’m riding until the night that I left for Houston. I pretty much just had a brand new 250. I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll race the 450 at the first one and then switch the suspension over.’ I broke the bike in in the parking lot. The first time it ever saw dirt was the practice at Houston 2, which is pretty funny.”

The thing about that is he broke the bike in around the pits and he hadn’t ridden the bike on a track until the first practice at Houston 2! The bike had stock bars, stock grips, a stock head pipe and suspension modified last year. Yet, somehow, five rounds later he’s in the main!

Nagy’s now going to race the much-more competitive 450SX class while the 250SX East series is on hold and I don’t like his chances to make the main there. However, Alex Nagy will be out there sleeping where he can and practicing where he can. Nagy’s enjoying his life and now he’s got that main event on his record. We need more Alex Nagy’s in the pits.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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Matthes Report: Ken Roczen

A look at Ken Roczen’s triumphs.

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It’s not too hard to imagine that, although Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen just grabbed his second win in a row in the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross series, he should actually have four wins. He passed Houston 1 winner Justin Barcia a couple of times in the first main of the year and, of course, we all know that lapper Dean Wilson cost him another win.

It’s not a stretch to imagine Roczen with four wins out of five races to start the season and his current points lead being even bigger, right? He has been amazing and on it right from the first round and it’s cool to see; having Roczen healthy, happy and fast in SX is a good thing for the sport.

One of the things I was wrong about, and boy there’s a lot, was Kenny’s adaption to the all-new 2021 Honda CRF450R. The bike barely shares anything with the 2020 model and I’ve seen plenty of riders and teams at the highest levels struggle to figure out new models. The most recent Kawasaki, for example, wasn’t easy for Eli Tomac and the Team Green guys to get a handle on right away. The 2009 Honda. The backwards-motor Yamaha – there could be a book written about trying to get that bike set-up and working right.

The point is that with data acquisition teams are able to get improvements done to the bike but it usually takes a year. Then of course parts and 2021 Honda 450 bikes themselves were late getting to the USA only adding to my thought that this might be a year where the team and Roczen are constantly learning. The fact that Tim Gajser was on it all last year in the MXGP’s probably helped a bit but SX is quite a bit different from MX as we all know.

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We had Roczen on the PulpMX Show on Monday and I asked him about the bike.

“There’s always little things that could be better, but I think ultimately it comes down to the stock bike has to be good from the get-go to be able to start off and not have huge problems,” Roczen said. “Our previous bike was not quite like that – it was a very difficult bike to set up, especially for all different kinds of conditions. We are in a super good spot.

“My bike is very raceable, especially in the conditions that we have had. It’s been rough. It’s been rutty and tacky. I think it will just be that much better even when it gets a little bit more hard-packed. I think we have had the most difficult conditions. I think everybody would agree with that. We are just solid.”

Honda’s had former SX/MX winner Trey Canard aboard to help with the testing the last couple of years and there’s no doubt that he has been a huge help to the team as far as getting a base set-up down so that the team does not waste a lot of time with Roczen testing. He’s able to just focus on himself.

“I’ve said this a few times; this bike is not a revolutionary bike. Honda has done this in the past with big steps like the dual mufflers or the aluminium frame and, although this bike is different, it’s not so different from the previous model. We were never so far off with this bike; it was pretty good the first day we rode SX. We could race it like this. It gave us a good head start on things

The biggest thing for me is there is less rigidity in this frame. At the end of the mains when the ruts are choppy and bumpy, you have to be perfect. This bike makes a difference and the rider can sustain a hard effort. These guys are going fast the whole time. The power is also more usable in more ways.”

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The new “thing” for the factory teams is having someone like Canard, or Ryan Morais at KTM, who is still a great rider, knows how a bike works and can eliminate some directions that the team wants to try. I’ve been there as a mechanic and spent some long days at the test track trying clamps, bearing races, cams, pistons etc. and trying to get through what works and what doesn’t. The riders themselves don’t really enjoy those days. The quicker you can get the testing over, the better. The riders can then focus on putting in laps and getting themselves ready for the season.

“I think the last three years, I’ve learned a lot. At first we would come up with something and he [Roczen] didn’t like it or he didn’t win. The wins for me as a test rider were hit and miss. I’ve gotten to know him better,” Canard says about specifically testing for Roczen.

Yeah, maybe I was off on my take of him figuring out a new bike or maybe Canard has been such a massive help that they have overcome those usual new bike blues. Either way, Roczen looks as good as ever here to start the series. I wondered if Canard himself was surprised at how good the #94 and the new Honda 450 look so far?

“I’m not surprised at how good he looks. The last year and a half, his health has been a struggle. Even the races he did win, it seemed to me he wasn’t happy with the way he rode. He came a long ways since we started SX – we started a bit late due to the nationals going longer. When he took that time off this past summer, I got a sense he would get things sorted and he did.”

That’s the understatement of 2021 so far.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Align With Us

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