Let's not kid ourselves here, 2012 was a disappointing year for professional American motocross racing. Granted the 250/Lites classes offered up some good action, and their Nationals were absolutely excellent each and every week. But the 250s are not the premier class, and while there is some serious talent in their ranks, the 450s are meant to be the pinnacle of US motocross and Supercross.
Both the indoor and outdoor series started with a bang, with fantastic racing in the respective opening rounds. But as injuries piled up, the championships were basically decided through attrition rather than skill; whichever of the top riders were able to remain healthy for the longest period of time eventually took the title. In SX it was Ryan Villopoto (who probably broke two records: winning the championship four rounds early; still claiming the championship despite not racing the final three rounds due to injury), and Ryan Dungey in MX.
Once James Stewart got hurt at the Indianapolis Supercross, it was basically a forgone conclusion that Villopoto would take the title (since Trey Canard, Chad Reed, and Ryan Dungey were all on the sidelines already). And when Stewart once again knocked himself out of the hunt at the third round of the Outdoor Nationals (although that was partially due to a dumb move by a dumb photographer crossing the track in a dumb way in a dumb spot at the Thunder Valley National) the 450 Class was pretty much one big yawner for the rest of the series. Not to take anything away from Mike Alessi's efforts and Moto 1 win at Washougal, but Dungey's 10 overall wins in a row didn't exactly keep the crowd on its feet (although it did put Ryan pretty high up on the "All Time Wins" list).
Then came the final blow: Team USA lost the Motocross of Nations (gasp!). Having taken home the coveted Chamberlain Trophy for seven years in a row and with 22 victories since 1981, Team USA, no matter who is chosen for the team, is almost always the favorite for the overall win. But it didn't happen in 2012. Germany took home the trophy for the first time ever, while Italy's Antonio Cairoli grabbed the MX1 overall, Germany's Ken Roczen took MX2, and the Netherlands' sand guru, Jeffrey Herlings dominated MX3.
Good Things on the Horizon
So, 2012 hasn't exactly been the best for building the self-esteem of top level American motocross, but there is light at the end of the tunnel: the Monster Energy Cup. Yup, it's back and again with another million bones on the line to the rider who can win all three 15 lap main events. It's in Vegas too. What could be more 'Merican than the glitz and glam of Sin City, dirt bikes, and a whole lotta' cash money? Take that Team Deutschland!
The Man from the Village of Poto
Last years winner, Ryan Villopoto, will be making his return to racing since busting his ACL back in April. To be honest, I thought his taking home the big prize in 2011 in the MEC's inaugural run may have spelled the death of the event, but apparently Monster Energy doesn't mind giving an extra $1mil to one of it's top athletes. RV2 has been back at it for a couple of months now, so expect him to be at or near top form for this one off event.
Did Ryan Dungey have a dominating season like he did in his rookie 450 year back in 2010? No. But he did help to bring KTM its first-ever premier class SX victories, the 450 Class outdoor title, and a whole host of new fans. Not too shabby. Ryan held his own at the MEC last year on what was basically a prototype machine and came away with second overall. He also won the AMA Supercross finale in the same venue back in May. Considering that he's coming off of several months of winning races and good health, the Dunge could be Villopoto's biggest threat to the crown.
Chad Reed is healthy once again and has been back on the bike for a little while now. Regardless of his time off, Reed is crazy talented on a dirt scooter and does not take very long to get back into the flow. Being the elder and wiser amongst these top three, expect Reed to play his cards carefully and shoot for the overall win and 100 G's rather than risking life and limb for the grand prize. Then again, considering the old adage that earning your first million dollars is always the hardest, since Reed already has a few in the bank, maybe the MEC will be a walk in the park.
My wild card pick for this weekend's debauchery in Vegas is MX's current wild child himself, Justin Barcia. Actually, Justin is a fairly normal guy off the track, but as soon as he has a set of handlebars in his grasp, he becomes a man possessed, kind of like when Bruce Banner turns big, mean, and green. That's why they call him Bam Bam. With the MEC being Barcia's U.S. 450 Supercross debut (he raced a 450 a few times in Europe last year in the off-season), Justin will be wanting to strut his stuff on his new blingin' factory Honda Muscle Milk machine. And while he didn't take home the 250 outdoor title, Barcia did bring home a couple overall wins, a bunch of moto victories, and the East SX Lites championship. 2012 was, far and away, the best in Barcia's pro career so far. I'm not saying he'll take the overall, but the kid is a holeshot machine, and could very well take one of the main events.
Of course, the big news this week was that James Stewart will not be participating in the MEC. The new Yoshimura/Suzuki star is all healed up, and has even been testing out here in California, but is focusing his efforts on the big "A."
Riders who will be attending include the likes of Kevin Windham, Wil Hahn, Marvin Musquin, Tyla Rattray, Blake Baggett, Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Jake Weimer, Justin Brayton, and many more. Many of these riders, such as Baggett and Tomac, are still full time 250 riders, but with MEC rules, it's essentially run-what-you-brung. This means just about everybody will be on 450s, and since it's not an AMA sanctioned event, there are no noise limits, so expect the bikes to be loud and fast.
The race will receive an unprecedented five hours of streaming online coverage, beginning with practice all the way through the main events. If you're a superfan, just visit Speed2.com and enjoy the show. For the evening show, you can enjoy the action on the SPEED channel, beginning at 7pm PST.
For more information, visit www.monsterenergycup.com.
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