Arlington has come and gone! Eli Tomac extended his points lead and Ken Roczen had a solid weekend, while many others had a brutally tough weekend. Adam Cianciarulo ended his title chances with a collarbone injury and Cooper Webb took a setback of his own too. Luckily, Webb will rebound for Atlanta but it was still a tough blow to his 2020 season. Amongst all of that drama, I noticed an interesting racing approach from Ken Roczen that I think has developed in recent years. On tracks as treacherous as Arlington, that approach may end up being the difference in this championship.
Going back to Roczen’s huge injury at A2 in 2017, he has made motorcycle set-up decisions to prevent that from happening again. His ultra-stiff set up at A1 this year was directly attributed to soft dirt that could recreate a big endo like that 2017 crash. He was willing to sacrifice raw speed and ultimately a better result in order to ensure predictability in his bike’s handling. Staying upright and healthy was the priority versus an all-out A1 blitz. It’s certainly understandable after his string of injuries. Those incidents are now a part of his psyche, for better or worse. I think it both helps and hurts him depending on the situation, but the presence of caution in certain conditions is undeniable for me.
When the track is in great condition, Roczen is arguably the fastest supercross rider in the world. His Glendale performance, as well as the first main event this past weekend in Arlington, was impeccable. He was simply better than everyone when the track was pristine. As the track breaks down though, he seems to struggle a bit more. Whether that is a conscious decision to exercise caution or an involuntary reaction to his past injuries, I can’t be sure. It hasn’t been a terrible approach either. This is the most consistent he has been through eight rounds, sitting only seven points out of the lead.
I do wonder how that dynamic progresses as we move into some of these east-coast rounds notorious for ruts and deteriorating conditions though. Can he find a way to offset any of the hesitation he may be feeling? There will certainly be opportunities for him to win in the second half of the season. Capitalizing on those nights while also minimizing the damage on nights like San Diego or Anaheim 1 will be critical. Most of that battle will be internal for Roczen. That’s going to be for him and only him to sort out. This has been a great bounce back season for the #94 but as we continue to analyze each of these championship contenders, diagnosing their strengths as well as their weaknesses can be the difference in winning and losing.
The time has finally arrived! MXGP is back and better than ever. There are talking points and storylines throughout both classes. From Max Vohland joining EMX125 and a new champion on the horizon in MX2 to the deepest MXGP field ever. Every class has reason to be excited! For the MXGP boys, the battle at the front will be fierce. I believe that several of these riders are looking this championship as theirs for the taking. Tim Gajser is the defending champ, but naysayers will point to the rash of injuries to his competition in 2019. Both Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings exited the season early, leaving Gajser to battle the likes of Romain Febvre, Gautier Paulin, Jeremy Seewer, Arnaud Tonus and Glenn Coldenhoff. The field will be back to full strength as we enter Matterley Basin, so how will Gajser repeat the feat?
Gajser was able to sprint away from the field in the mid-part of the last season, racking up eight wins in a row. That domination gave him a comfortable lead down the stretch, and more importantly allowed him to avoid the temptation of Jeffrey Herlings’ return and Glenn Coldenhoff’s improvement. He was able to battle when he felt great but also take a step back when things weren’t perfect. In 2020, that same dynamic is unlikely. Gajser will be forced to take the sharp end of the field head on. I am expecting a mental war between Gajser flexing his 2019 championship, Herlings believing himself to be the fastest rider on earth, Cairoli coming back fully rested, Coldenhoff finally believing in his ability and Febvre resetting his program at Monster Energy KRT.
Those are the title contenders in my mind and each of them have reason to believe they will win. The MXGP season is a marathon, spanning seven months. Out of the above group, who can maintain a calm through good weekends and bad? We have seen injury play such a role in this series, it’s almost a war of attrition versus an outright speed test. Winning early in the season is fantastic but ask Cairoli how that worked out for him in 2019. Finding form late in the season is also a strong way to finish but ask Coldenhoff how that plays out in the championship.
Finding a balance over time is the key. Win when wins are on the table but more importantly maximize whatever points are available. If the best finish up for grabs is a third on that particular day, take the podium and move on. Don’t refuse to take the third, send it to the moon attempting to win and end up laying in a heap alongside the track. More important than winning every week, being in the fight at EVERY round is paramount.
As for rest of the field, the question is in who can step up and become a contender. Jeremy Seewer had a breakout season in 2019 but he will face stiffer competition this season. Jorge Prado is still recovering from a broken femur in December but will certainly want to make his mark at some point in this 2020 season. He is the future for DeCarli KTM and, while 2020 might be tough at times, they will certainly be eyeing 2021 as a title opportunity. I am curious as to how Pauls Jonass arrives to Matterley, as he was much better than I expected in 2019. If he can take another step, he might find himself fighting for wins on a given weekend.
I also wonder what we will see from Gautier Paulin. He is getting a bit long in the tooth and his competition has never been stronger. He will probably find himself around that top-five position when we arrive to September but when I look down the starting grid, I begin to wonder how he can pull it off. Besides the powerhouse list I have already mentioned riders like Clement Desalle, Arminas Jasikonas, Jeremy Van Horebeek, Calvin Vlaanderen, Mitch Evans, Shaun Simpson, Henry Jacobi, Julien Lieber, Thomas Covington, Alessandro Lupino, Ivo Monticelli, Brian Bogers and Evgeny Bobryshev will all be wanting to validate themselves. Some of those are more capable than others, of course, but it more speaks to the depth of this field. The veterans are healthy, the rookies are fired up and the gate is about to drop.
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Honda Racing