The Post-Ryan Era: Time Will Tell
Maybe I’m dating myself but going into the 2018 Supercross season I was wondering how it would be without four of its biggest stars: Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart and Chad Reed. Well, the last of those four did suit-up but with Reed back on his own with a privateer effort, pushing 36 years of age and just off the mend from an ankle injury, no one was expecting the only current Supercross rider with a title to his name (two to be precise) to set the world on fire at A1.
So who was going to get things lit at the 2018 season opener? And more importantly, who looks to be the first non-‘Ryan’ in eight seasons moniker to win a Supercross championship? After much anticipation, those answers are still not clear cut after Anaheim I and it’s interesting that further questions hover over two of the sport’s biggest stars: Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen.
Aside from Reed, Tomac has the most career wins of any current rider (boasting 13 to Reed’s 44) he won nine of that tally in 2017 and just came shy of the title by three points, but many question his consistency. He brought that topic to the fore once again at A1, crashing out of the lead and despite a valiant effort was unable to finish the race. Starting a championship run with zero points; not ideal, but you can’t really write off a racer with his talent at an early date either. Has Tomac lost the season at Anaheim I? Time will tell but he will know the price of a point having lost the 2017 crown to Dungey by just four.
Tension was high at the Angel Stadium. It was a new year with unknown quantities in front of a sold-out crowd. All eyes were on Roczen. And it wasn’t just eyes, there was a lot of support there too. It was Valentino-Rossi-like support, before the race and after; even with a fourth-place finish. He’s next in line with the most wins (11), but he came into 2018 with the biggest doubt of all and arguably his career in the balance, nevermind thoughts of this year’s title.
Most thought he was done after that vicious crash at A2 almost twelve months ago and an injury that could not have only cost his livelihood and passion but his arm as well. Roczen went into the new year with a realistic objective after being a spectator for so long and coming back from that arm-snap. Anything: first, third, fifth… making the Main as a last resort, was acceptable. Mission accomplished, and rightfully so despite one or two scary moments in the Main and glimpses of former genius as he plotted a course through the mid-top ten.
Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin took the flag, Yamaha’s Justin Barcia eroded three years of pain, criticism and his own demons by again leading a supercross field, Weston Peick turned heads while Rockstar Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson also started-off effectively but perhaps the sport’s poster-boy was always going to be the lead narrative. Roczen’s fourth-place finish against the best riders after 11 months away from racing was exactly the sort of ‘balanced’ return he could have wished for: a win or podium would have laid immense pressure on the 23 year old’s shoulders while a ranking further down the leaderboard might have kept the fingers pointed at his capabilities. Now he has to confront the long-run and another sixteen events in seventeen weeks.
With all the focus elsewhere, Musquin quietly went about winning. It’s very reminiscent of Dungey’s early days in that the retired reigning champion’s former teammate is not too flash, but very focused. And while the Frenchman has only two-career 450 Supercross wins before his convincing triumph at the Angel Stadium he’s perhaps Dungey’s best heir apparent. He has the experience and nuance of the team, the motorcycle and – crucially perhaps – ploughed through a confidence-boosting off-season of varying tracks and (million dollar) challenges. Marvin won in front of 45,000 people at A1 but there were signs before and during the weekend that he recognizes the versatility of results and race approach needed to extend the Austrians’ grip on this series. He also has trained alongside Dungey, with Aldon Baker, a specialist that has been a part of 13 Supercross premier championships in 17 seasons. Could 2018 be number 14 and the beginning of Musquin’s own dynasty? Time will tell.
KTM Photos by KTM images/Cudby. Monster Energy photos by Ryan Swanberg/Garth Milan