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RJ Says: Defending a Supercross Championship and season review

Published January 27th, 2011

After watching the first three supercross races of the 2011 season, I’ll share with you what I see at this point.

Two riders that have really impressed me so far are Ryan Villopoto and Trey Canard. Looking at their fitness, their riding technique, their ability to get thru traffic on the race track, both are far beyond what I thought they would be.

I knew Ryan would be fast. But when a rider has been away from racing for a while, as he has, sometimes it takes a while to knock off the rust. Ryan has looked great after his heat races – obviously the training with Aldon Baker has helped him a lot. I can see his fitness, how much he is sweating, and his ability to retain his breath and breathing after both his heats and main events. It’s visible that Ryan has leaned down together with Aldon, and he’s in awesome condition.

I thought it would take Trey Canard at least half a season in the premiere Supercross class to where he was really comfortable. As I watch Trey in these first three races, there are certain section of the different tracks where he is faster than either Villopoto or James Stewart. Once Trey puts together the whole track, and an entire 20 laps like that – look for him to win some races this year.

Defending Champion Ryan Dungey: Maybe he’s feeling a little bit of the ‘weight’ of carrying that number 1 plate, and I can tell you first hand it’s a heavy burden. There are a lot of responsibilities, and a lot of pressures as the defending Supercross Champion.

I said something to Ryan at the 2009 Motocross des Nations in Italy. His first real test on the 450 Suzuki. Going over to Italy for the MX des Nations, Ryan had just come off winning his 250 Motocross title, and the 250 Regional Supercross title. I told him “Enjoy your time doing this, because no one expects anything. Enjoy it.”

And his result at the 2009 MX des Nations set the bar for what was to come for him in 2010.

It’s so much easier to win when no one expects you to, and when there is less pressure.

I talked to Ryan in Los Angeles. He said what I told him then, he sometimes thinks about now. I think Ryan is fine in the role of “Supercross Champion”.

He’s doing what I expected – he learns every time out on the bike. It could be starts, it could be bike set-up, or how he’s racing with other guys on the track. I think Ryan will get faster and better as the season progresses. He’s very smart, and learns something from every race.

Another guy doing as I expected is James Stewart. James is unbelievably fast. He has bursts of speed that are hard to match. The only one I see at his level right now for bursts of speed is Ryan Villopoto.

Even those two guys, Stewart and Villopoto, their ‘level’ is not one second, or two seconds a lap faster than the other top guys. It’s just tenths of a second. If Dungey, Chad Reed, Canard, Brayton, or a few others can figure out how to get those bursts of speed, and knock a few tenths of a second off of each lap, they could be in the mix as well.

I think Chad Reed is racing into 100% shape. He looks more comfortable each week. Remember, he has had a long time off, and, he’s also taken the time to put together his own team. I think owning his own team is good for him. Chad likes to be involved in all aspects, especially bike set up, and he’s surrounded himself with good people. He’s one of those guys I think can balance all the other stuff, along with being a racer.

Watching Chad fall on the opening lap in Los Angeles, and then fighting all the way back to seventh shows that he cares about this championship. He also cares about his team, and he isn’t going to roll over. Awesome to see a past Supercross champion fight like that.

For me, winning my first Supercross championship, the next year as champion I felt a sense of ‘right of passage’. A sense of “I’m the champion, I should get a certain amount of respect on the race track.”

But what you find is the exact opposite. You don’t get a ‘right of passage’. You don’t get respect. What you do get is a big target on your back. It certainly motivates other riders to beat you. And not only that from other competitors, but stuff from fans as well. They have an opportunity to mock you when you do bad.

Once you had a supercross championship, lost it, and then can carry that number 1 plate again – it’s just a number on your bike to you now. As a repeat champion, you now don’t want to give anyone a chance at that glory. You don’t want something taken away from you that is yours. You don’t care about the number 1 on your bike – it’s just part of being the champion.

This year is new for Ryan Dungey. It’s his first time wearing the number 1 as defending champion on the premiere Supercross class. Ryan has won championships in other classes, both Regional Supercross and outdoors. But this is the first time riding with the number 1 in the most prestigious off-road motorcycle championship in the world.

If I was in Ryan’s position, I would focus on the basics – my training, my riding, getting plenty of rest – do all that I can to be the best that I can on the bike. Don’t worry about anything else.

Different racers have different ways of getting into their ‘groove’. In my time, you had a guy like Johnny O’ Mara, who would race the Daytona Supercross, get on an airplane, flight all night to get back home and compete in the L. A. Marathon. Or Broc Glover, who hung out with and adopted training regimens from tri-athletes in San Diego. You had David Bailey who would do much of the same things like Johnny – such as compete in tri-athalons. All three of those guys were fanatical about their training. Always pushing to be better.

And there were guys like Ronnie Lechien, who sometimes rode their best after taking a break away from training, such as spending the week before a race water skiing or jet skiing and getting away from bikes.

With that said – you have a guy that is doing great in the 250 Supercross West class – Josh Hansen. I feel that Josh racing in late fall/early winter in Australia, and winning that championship really helped Josh, and he has raced himself into shape.

What I mean by that is you can be in not 100% race condition, but each week you keep pushing and pushing and raise that conditioning level up a bit each week.

Josh’s performance in L. A., after going down on the first lap, and working his way thru the field, showed that he has the stamina, the riding ability, and obviously on a good team with Pro Circuit.

I’d also like to congratulate Troy Lee, and Cole Seely. You can only have one ‘first’. They actually had three firsts in Los Angeles. The Troy Lee team and Cole Seely are the first to win the Lites class at Dodger Stadium. It’s Troy Lee’s first win as a team owner. And it was Cole Seely’s first win in Supercross.

RJ

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