Ken Roczen’s dazzling win at Anaheim crowned a stupendous four and a half years of professional racing.
It all began on the 10th May 2009, when a heavily hyped but just turned 15 year old Ken Roczen made his debut in the MX2 World motocross championship at round five at Agueda in Portugal. Roczen couldn’t race the first few rounds because he was too young, but his speed was never in question as he proved by scoring a fourth place in the second moto!
One week later, I was in Spain to see Roczen push second moto winner Jeremy Van Horebeek all the way only to come up two seconds short of a sensational victory. The kid was living up to the hype and his self confidence and poise was instantly apparent both on the track and with the media. Later that year at round nine, in his home country in Germany, Roczen won his first ever GP and became the youngest ever rider in the history of the sport to win a GP overall.
Two years later Roczen won his first world title on his first season on Red Bull KTM. The now seventeen year old battled fellow teenage prodigy, 16 year old Jeffrey Herlings, in what was one of the highest quality MX1 championships ever seen.
Roczen used his experience and self confidence to defeat Herlings and, in yet another story book ending, won the world title in Gaildorf, Germany in front of an enormous home crowd all there to see him be crowned world champion. The young Roczen was reduced to tears of joy and disbelief after the enormity of the accomplishment and a lifetime dream became reality.
But quickly his goals switched. Roczen wanted to conquer America and, after showing instant speed and even winning a race in an initial foray earlier that year in supercross, Roczen went full time to the states for 2012.
Unfortunately it didn’t go well at all – at least relative to what Roczen was used too! A broken wrist destroyed his supercross preparation and then hampered his results as he finished second behind Justin Barcia. Outdoors again was a struggle as Roczen battled bike set-up, home sickness and heat in the US nationals. It was the first time in his career that Roczen didn’t look happy but all that would change at the Motocross of Nations.
It was there in Lommel, Belgium that Roczen won another world title after lifting the World team trophy alongside teammates Max Nagl and Marcus Schiffer in what was an unlikely victory in the deep sand. It was Germany’s first ever victory and Roczen dominated his class to win MX2 for the third year in a row beating Ryan Dungey and US National champion Blake Baggett in the process. He had put to bed his disappointment of his first US season by showing his real form in Belgium and ending the year on a high. Oh, and just for fun, he got a podium the week before in the MX1 class on a 450 at Teutschenthal l!
In 2013 Roczen was more comfortable in the USA. He engaged in a titanic battle with Eli Tomac and emerged victorious to win his maiden supercross crown at just 18 – not a bad achievement when you come from Germany! He then battled hard in the outdoors until a crash took the wind out of his sails at Millville while he was the point’s leader. Eli Tomac would then get his revenge and win the 250 US National title.
Then it was back to his homeland, this time for the MXDN at Teutschenthal, Germany. And yet again Roczen won his class beating rival Tomac in an epic duel in front of an adoring public that saw the German superstar win the combined second moto outright on his KTM 250f. It meant Roczen won the MX2 class for the fourth year in a row at the Nations – something no-one has ever done before.
For 2014 Roczen made another smart decision as he graduated to the 450. Following criticism about his work eithic in America, Roczen decided to hire the best trainer in the business – Aldon Baker. Not only that but Roczen is training with defending champion Ryan Villopoto every week and is getting an education in what it takes to be the best in America.
Despite an arm injury that kept him off the bike for a week and temporarily in a cast, Roczen said in the pre -A1 press conference that he wanted to challenge for the title and while many doubted that statement, Roczen believed in himself and came to A1 full of confidence.
Roczen had of course raced five 450 supercross events before (on a 350). His first being when he was just 16 at Daytona and he had never finished lower than eighth and even had his first 450 class podium in 2012 in Seattle. He had every right to be confident but this was the real deal, with everyone fit and motivated.
At Anaheim Roczen had good practice times but didn’t qualify straight out of the heat. However he did dominate his semi with some of the fastest lap times of the night.
Then came the main event.
Roczen nailed the start despite not a great gate pick and came out behind his practice partner Ryan Villopoto in second. This probably felt like a practice day down in Florida for the duo and kept Roczen relaxed but then RV went don’t and Roczen took the lead.
This was the pressure moment and, despite late race pressure from James Stewart, Roczen held his nerve while it was Stewart who went down leaving Ken to take the win on his first ever full season on a 450 at just 19 years old.
Roczen showed right then and there that he has the mental strength to run with the best there is in supercross but more importantly Roczen just achieved a lifetime goal at the first round of the season and the most hyped supercross of the year! That has to be good for your confidence.
Despite still being a teenager, Ken Roczen has achieved an unbelievable amount in a short space of time on both sides of the Atlantic.
The kid can ride anything, anywhere, anytime – as he proved on Saturday night. Indeed, he might just be the most well rounded rider in the world right now.
Words: Jonathan McCready
Image: James Lissimore [www.lissimorephoto.com]