Last year Justin Barcia faced a heavy, muddy track in the Monster Energy Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. He powered through that gloomy night to win and take the early points lead. On Saturday night, Barcia battled a nearly perfect track but the result was the same. With an advantage of 5.6 seconds, he won back-to-back openers.
“That was an incredible race,” Justin Barcia told NBCSN after the race. “I didn’t want to win this race. My goal was just to get out of here safe and healthy. I just want to be on the podium a lot this year and be in a fight for the championship because I haven’t been able to do that.”
But the resolution to ride a safe race was put to the test when he bobbled halfway through the event and handed the lead over to a rookie rider. With a comfortable two-second lead, Barcia jumped right and landed on the tough blocks. That was all Adam Cianciarulo needed to pounce and lead his first 450 race in the Supercross season opener.
As riders move up in class, it is supposed to become increasingly difficult to win. Someone forgot to tell Cianciarulo. After winning last fall’s Monster Cup in Las Vegas, he had his sight set on the top spot of the podium. Fate has a way of leveling things, however, and with a two-second lead of his own, Cianciarulo landed hard and almost crashed.
“Justin made a mistake,” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after the race. “Went off and then Justin squared off under me. I thought we were both going to die off that next rhythm section. Man, it was just so much fun racing him.
“And then I spun out on the triple there. Thank God He blessed me with some long legs. I was able to save that. Knocked the wind out of myself for a good 20-30 seconds. Got back going again, tried to get closer, but he really put a good last couple of laps.”
The iron man performance belonged to last year’s champion.
Battling the flu, Cooper Webb could hardly speak when the night began. He got off to slow starts in both his Heat and in the Main, but as the race progressed he was able to regain his form. Webb climbed to third at the end of the race. It was not his first iron man performance. Webb won last year in New Jersey while he was also battling illness.
Blake Baggett and Jason Anderson rounded out the top five.
Two of the riders who challenged Webb throughout the 2019 season got off to slow starts.
After finishing second in his heat, Ken Roczen failed to launch in the Main. He finished sixth.
Eli Tomac is known for getting off to slow starts in races. He is usually able to make up for that and charge to the lead or at least the podium, but after riding outside the top 10 in the opening minutes, he recovered to finish only seventh at Anaheim 1.
Anaheim is becoming a venue filled with surprises. In the 250 class there were two. The most pleasant one at Anaheim 1 was Justin Cooper winning his first major race. A less pleasing surprise was how he took the lead.
Cooper had the lead at the gate drop, but it didn’t take very long for Austin Forkner to get around him. Normally at that stage, Forkner would ride away from the competition if his record in the 250 East class last year was any gauge, but Cooper kept him in sight and closed the gap. With five minutes remaining in the race, that was enough to cause Forkner into an unforced error.
“I saw [Forkner] jump right and I started to check up,” Cooper told NBCSN after the race. “But in the air, there is nothing you can do there. He got in the tough blocks.
“The track was tough. We were all making mistakes, but I was trying to pressure him into that mistake right there. I ended up being patient and it worked out.”
Last year’s champion got off to a slow start in the Main. Dylan Ferrandis was mired outside the top five in the first few minutes. He rode back into the top three and was also able to take advantage of Forkner’s mistake to climb onto the second rung of the podium.
Forkner felt he had something to prove in the opening round of the 250 West series. He was denied the opportunity to win the East championship last year because of an injury and nothing was more difficult than missing those final races. He rehabbed, but nothing replaces race experience.
“Just first race jitters,” Forkner said after the race. “I haven’t raced since I tore my ACL last year, so it’s been a while. That’s the longest I’ve gone without racing. Everyone is nervous at A1, but for me I felt I was a little bit more.
“I had that one. Obviously, you guys saw what happened, I just kind of landed, just kind of got a little deep and shot off to the right just a little bit, and we were already landing pretty close to the edge and the Tough Blocks, and it was just – end of story. That was my fault, you know, I’ll just own up to that one. I felt like I had that one in the bag and that was leading to a pretty solid race. I think I would’ve held off and got the win.”
Forkner finished the race in third, but he was penalized two positions for cutting the track and credited with fifth.
That elevated Christian Craig to the third for his first podium since Anaheim 2 last year.
Michael Mosiman finished fourth. In his third year of competition, Mosiman entered the season with big expectations that this will be a magical year.
Heat 1: Honda swept the podium in Heat 1. Justin Brayton made his return to the manufacturer a successful one with his win over teammate Ken Roczen. “I just don’t think I’ve reached my full potential to be honest,” Brayton told NBCSN after winning Heat 1. “I just keep getting better and better. I keep learning more technique.” He was 1.7 seconds ahead of his teammate Roczen. Vince Friese took the final spot on the podium with Eli Tomac fourth. Tomac got off to a slow start and was running eighth early after getting pushed offline by Friese while they were battling for second. Charging back through the field Tomac knocked Malcolm Stewart’s bike out from under him. Stewart literally had to chase his bike down like a rodeo rider chasing a horse. Once he corralled the errant bike, he climbed back on and finished seventh to transfer to the Main. Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer spot in ninth. Tyler Bowers was the first rider on the outside looking in. Click here for Heat 1 results.
Heat 2: Justin Barcia picked up where he left off in 2019 in the opening round of the Supercross season. He won the Heat by 3.4 seconds over Adam Cianciarulo. The rookie rider had an adventurous race. Two minutes into his 450 career, he was pushed off line by Justin Hill and fell back to fifth. He overcame that bobble quickly to get back into the second position. Battling the flu, last year’s champion Cooper Webb put in a brave performance to take the final spot on the podium. Webb grabbed that spot on the final lap – passing Hill – while Jason Anderson lurked and waited for them to make a mistake. Anderson finished fifth. Zach Osborne crashed while riding second midway through the heat. Click here for Heat 2 results.
LCQ: Zach Osborne won handily over Chad Reed with a margin of 2.8 seconds. Neither rider needed to take very many risks. The story was different for Tyler Bowers and Aaron Plessinger, however. They were embroiled in a three-rider battle for the final transfer. Plessinger seemed to have the position handily until he bobbled on the whoops and took the final spot in a photo finish with Bowers and Kyle Cunningham, who ended up as the first man out. Click here for LCQ results.
Heat 1: Alex Martin got the early jump on the field, but he left some drama in his wake. Austin Forkner and Justin Cooper were battling for second when Forkner got pushed offline in Turn 1. Falling back to fourth, Forkner had to put the incident behind him and charge back toward the lead. While Forkner was climbing out of his hole Cooper passed Martin on the next lap and then cruised to an easy win. Forkner climbed back to third. Click here for Heat 1 results.
Heat 2: Dylan Ferrandis grabbed the hole show and led the first lap. He managed a steady pace and ended with a five-second margin over Christian Craig. Cameron McAdoo took the last spot on the podium. Carson Brown took the final transfer position. The highlight reel was headed by Martin Castello when he crashed with Mitchell Oldenburg early in the heat. Oldenburg bounced back to finish eighth and transfer. Castello was racing hard with Brown for the final spot, but slipped slightly on the final lap. Click here for Heat 2 results.
LCQ: Michael Mosiman won the Last Chance Qualifier over Mitchell Falk to add his Husqvarna to the Main. Logan Karnow finished third. Meanwhile, the battle for the final transfer spot crew in intensity. Chris Howell caught up to the rear wheel of Taiki Koga in the final laps, but was unable to get by him until the final corner. Heading to the checkered flag, Howell bonsaied his way inside of Koga, pushed his rival to the tough blocks (but not beyond) and stole the final transfer position when he stalled Koga’s momentum. Click here for LCQ results.
Next race: January 11, Dome at America’s Center, St. Louis, Mo.
Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.