The 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season opener is undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated opening rounds in the history of the sport. In the lead-up to Anaheim 1, the 450SX class has been pulled apart in many different ways; there are many sub-plots in the premier division that are going to be enthralling, undoubtedly. It has been a very long, quiet off-season, hence why everyone is excited to get the series started!
In the pre-season bench racing, there have been a lot of questions that have started some heated debates. However, most people agree that Ryan Villopoto is heading into the 2014 season as the undoubted favourite for the 450SX title. Ryan was unbeatable last year, and he has only gotten stronger since then; the off-season has been solid for him, again. In my opinion, Villopoto could potentially win around nine races in 2014, which will culminate in him claiming the title for the fourth time, I believe. You cannot say much more about him, honestly; he is going to be great every week and extremely tough for anyone to beat.
Although Villopoto is the undoubted favourite, the battle for second place should be hotly contested, in my opinion, as there will be a large group of riders that will be attempting to dethrone the reigning champion. Obviously, Ryan Dungey will be there in the end, just like he always is. However, I am starting to question whether his consistency will be enough to keep him ahead of some of the younger guys. Stereotypically, the Red Bull KTM rider does struggle to hang it out and get aggressive, which may hinder his results.
I expect riders like Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen to bring a new level of intensity to the premier division, which could rattle Dungey. Will he be able to respond and up his game? Obviously, Ryan is an incredible talent; he is one of the fastest riders on the planet. However, there are some issues with his program, which may lead to him being surpassed by guys like Barcia.
Speaking of Justin Barcia, I think that he will be one of the riders to step up this year and put himself in contention for victories more often. Barcia is capable of battling with the top two, we all know that, he just could not do that consistently last year. I believe that he is going to be a threat each week. The Muscle Milk Honda rider may not win the 450SX title, but I really would not be surprised at all if he ends up beating Dungey in the series standings. If he does not win more than two main events (he won that many in his rookie season) I would be very surprised, as he is surely aiming for much more.
Personally, I believe that James Stewart is one of the greatest unknowns at the moment. We all expect him to win races, but can he challenge for the championship? Following his victory at the Monster Energy Cup, most people are excited about the prospect of Stewart returning to his winning ways. However, will he be able to do that? I honestly would not be surprised if he goes out and wins a handful of races or just wins one. In my opinion, James is not going to win the title. But, he should be right there with Dungey and Barcia. Stewart probably expects more than that, but he is going to have to prove himself again, I believe.
Both Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen are going to add a lot of excitement to the premier class next year. However, whether they are going to challenge for the title in their first season aboard a 450 remains to be seen. I do not think that either guy is going to be in a position to clinch the title, but they should be battling for wins and podiums most weeks. I predict that Roczen will do the best out of the two, as I said in this piece a couple of weeks ago. In 2013, Eli struggled when he had a brief stint on a CRF450; he just could not get along with the bike. I am certain that those issues have been rectified, but it has left me skeptical about how he will adapt.
I honestly have no idea how Chad Reed is going to perform in the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross series. In the past, Chad has been the most consistent rider in the field. But, after his torrid 2013 campaign, I have been left baffled. I do not think that Reed will be as bad this year, but I also do not foresee him winning any main events. I predict that he will finish right around the top five more often than not, just like he did last year. It seems that most people forget that his results in supercross last year were not as bad as they were outdoors; he was just a tick off of the top guys more often than not. So, if Reed improves on that, he will be in the thick of podium battles.
Unfortunately, two title contenders (Davi Millsaps and Trey Canard) will be missing from the starting gate at Anaheim 1 after being struck down by injuries. Although both guys are going make a return to the series at some point, their title hopes have been demolished. It sounds like Canard will be back sooner than Millsaps. So, it is obviously more likely that Canard gets back to race winning speed, as he will have more time riding with the top guys. Millsaps and Trey are going to add an interesting dynamic to the 450SX class when they return – they will be stealing points from the contenders each week, which will influence the standings by the time the series rolls into Las Vegas.
Evidently, the fight for the 2014 450SX Monster Energy AMA Supercross title is going to be thrilling, as there are loads of guys that are capable of stealing wins each week. Obviously, the fight behind them is going to be just as exhilarating – we are going to put the spotlight on those guys in another 450SX preview tomorrow!
Words: Lewis Phillips
Image: AMA Supercross