It seems like Ryan Villopoto mentally destroyed his rivals in 2013 leaving them to frantically search for ways to get their self-belief back in the off season.
In the recently released Supercross preview show in CBS, Villopoto’s competitors, perhaps unintentionally, showed just how much of a hold Villopoto had on them last season. An ever honest Trey Canard probably summed it up best when he said: “This sport is so mental, you can have everything you need but if you don’t believe it it’s not going to happen. And one thing Ryan Villopoto has is that belief that he is the guy. For me and all the other guys racing it is going to take that inner belief.”
James Stewart, once hailed as the fastest man on the planet, was the most open and admitted that he lost his confidence and belief that he could win. But he believes that he has found it again this off season. James stated: “We’re riding at his pace that he is comfortable at. I think as riders we know the game plan we just got to execute. For me personally to beat him I got to be James Stewart, I think – I know, I am good enough to do it.”
James initially saying “I think” and changing to “I know” shows exactly where RV had him this season. Even now Stewart is still trying to 100% believe that is going to win. Deep down it appears he still thinks with a hint of doubt, but he is trying to eradicate that doubt because he knows it is his weakness. “What I have to realise,” continues Stewart, “and I think I have figured it out, I have to realise I am James Stewart, that I am a champion, that I have beaten all these guys. When I look around I have more race wins than anybody I race against so I why should I look around and see myself as a normal guy. It’s not being disrespectful or cocky it’s just I have to believe that I am as good as I think I am. I think having these knee injuries and having these different things happen you stop believing.”
The first few races of the season could be crucial in deciding if James Stewart thinks or knows he will win. If he wins a couple of races out of the first five, he might finally get his self belief back to 100% and be able to challenge for the title.
Even Honda’s Justin Barcia appears to be at a loss as how to beat Villopoto in terms of tactics. “To beat a guy like that you need to do everything perfect. I don’t really know what to say about that subject because he is killing it,” offered Barcia. Before adding, “But it’s not my rookie season anymore and it’s time to make it happen. Hopefully he has his hands full.” It seems Barcia isn’t quite sure how he is going to beat Villopoto but he is hoping his will to win and sheer desire will be enough to get the job done.
Ryan Dungey has taken the attitude of ignoring Villopoto altogether: “I think how I beat him is just focusing on myself, doing my own deal and letting the rest play out. There is only so much I can control.” Dungey has a lot of pressure on his shoulders this year and maybe this is his way of dealing with it.
However in an interesting contrast to the riders that have been beaten by Villopoto, rookies Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac are coming in hungry, are already full of confidence and firmly believe that they can win.
Tomac’s excitement is palpable and even issues a threat to the current riders about his and Ken’s speed. Tomac warns: “I’m looking forward to battling with the new competition and battling the best guys in the world. The 450 is the premier class, that’s where all the big dogs are and I’m ready to fight. I think me and Ken can bring new life to the 450 class and maybe new speed.”
Roczen meanwhile is already talking about winning races and going after titles, believing he will be even better on the 450. “I really like the bigger bike, I think it is going to suit me well,” says Roczen confidently. “I don’t just want to be up there and win races here and there I want to be consistently up there to be in the best position for the overall. I’m going to put all my work into the next few years and hopefully come out on top.”
It is that self confidence of the rookies that the rest are trying to regain and they will need it to take on the supremely confident Villopoto.
There is one exception though and that is the always self-assured Chad Reed who is sure he can win again: “I feel I can win races and contend for the title,” he states simply. That mental strength is precisely why the Australian is still racing at 31 and is the reason why he never ever gives up even after a terrible season.
With only a couple of weeks to go until the season starts it will be interesting to see who has managed to reboot their confidence enough to come out and challenge Villopoto for the title. Or perhaps it will be the already confident rookies who will be able to sustain their self-belief through the season.
It’s going to be quite a year for AMA Supercross in 2014!
Article by Jonathan McCready
Image courtesy of Kawasaki Racing