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Rain shakes up Motocross, Supercross kickoffs

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When rain began to fall on the Hangtown Classic to kick off the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season, there was a strong sense of déjà vu.

Rain soaked January’s Monster Energy Supercross season opener in Anaheim as well, and provided a lineup that at the time seemed to have some surprise contenders.

Justin Barcia won that race, denying second-place Ken Roczen an opportunity to snap his long winless streak.

Barcia earned only one more top-5 during the season. Roczen would earn three more runner-up finishes, but was forced to a winless season.

A privateer at the time, Dean Wilson finished fourth at Anaheim I, but scored only three more top-5s before getting sidelined to injury following the Denver race.

No one expected what they would eventually see from fifth-place finisher Cooper Webb, who went on to dominate the Supercross season on his way to the championship. Surprise finish aside, three of the top-5 in that race finished the season within the top-5 in points.

While Roczen finishing up front at Hangtown is not entirely surprising – he did, after all, begin the Supercross season with nine consecutive top-fives – he had come close to winning without success on so many occasions since returning from a pair of injuries, that many questioned when he would actually break back into Victory Lane.

After Roczen announced he was dealing with an unknown health issue that drained his energy and caused him to finish outside the top five in six of the last eight Supercross rounds, a heavy track is not where most expected him to excel.

One of the biggest shake ups last week may have come in what didn’t happen instead of what did. Eli Tomac was a heavy favorite entering the race, having won the last two Hangtown Classics on his way to dominating the 2017 and 2018 Motocross seasons. A bad start mired Tomac deep in the pack, but with 30 minutes on the clock, he should have been able to ride back to the front. Instead, he finished fourth and barely grabbed that position from Zach Osborne with time off the clock.

Tomac needed the mud to give him the advantage. Moto 1 began on a dry track that was only starting to get heavy. The track was sloppy for Moto 2 with ruts that could swamp a bike, and that was when Tomac’s conditioning took over.

The rain shook up the lineup throughout the field. While the top five from Moto 1 all finished sixth or better in Moto 2, Roczen was the only rider who stood on the podium twice.

What remains to be seen is just how prophetic the remainder of the top-5 will be. Jason Anderson’s third overall marked his return to racing after getting sidelined before Supercross Round 3 in Oakland.

Fourth-place Osborne missed the first six rounds of Supercross and did not score a top-5 finish until Nashville with three races remaining. He ended the year with three top-5s in the last four rounds.

Meanwhile, who was lurking in fifth in the Hangtown Classic? Webb – in exactly the same spot he started the Supercross season.

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Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

ProMotocross.com
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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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