Eli Tomac erases ‘scary’ deficit in bid to repeat as Supercross champion

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It would have been easy for Eli Tomac to panic after finishing 13th in the 2021 Supercross season opener, especially when he saw the first- and second-place riders fall early in Round 2, but patience and finesse carried the day and landed him on the top run of the podium.

Now the question shifts to whether it will carry the year.

Championships are contested over long seasons. In an evenly matched series with top-notch riders like Monster Energy Supercross, they are incredibly difficult to win once. Over the past several seasons, repeating has been impossible.

The past three Supercross titles have each been won by a first-time champion with Jason Anderson taking the honor in 2018, Cooper Webb in 2019 and Tomac last year.

Before then, the previous eight seasons had been claimed by only two riders. Ryan Dungey won the title in 2010 and then again from 2015 through 2017 in three consecutive seasons. Ryan Villopoto had four consecutive titles from 2011 through 2014 wedged in between Dungey’s successes.

If Tomac is able to back up his 2020 title with another in 2021, it would be a badge of honor and elevate him to the status of Dungey and Villopoto.

On Tuesday night, Tomac scored his 35th career Supercross win – notable in that it broke him out of a tie with Dungey for sixth on the all time winner’s list. The next rider in sight is Villopoto with 41.

Suffice it to say: Back-to-back championships are already on Tomac’s mind.

But his bid for that got off to a slow start at Houston – literally.

Being mired mid-pack at the close of Lap 1 of Round 1 was not unfamiliar ground for Tomac. He has struggled leaving the gate for the past couple of seasons, but is able to overcome that deficiency before the race is over. Proof? In the past two seasons, Tomac has finished outside the top five only once in 27 races. Notably, that came in the season opener last year when he finished seventh in Anaheim.

There is a huge difference between seventh and 13th in a 22-rider field, however.

“I was stressing out, to be honest,” Tomac said after winning Round 2 in Houston. “Sixteen points is horrible after Round 1. That’s a terrible hole to be in.

“I was pulling my hair out all day, even in practice. I was still a little bit behind. I practiced better at Round 1, but then obviously we had different results in the races.”

Eli Tomac lost the red backing on his No. 1 plate after finishing 13th in Round 1. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

In Round 1, Tomac fell twice during the race and never found his rhythm. Tomac did not get the hole shot in Round 2, but he had a much stronger start and was third at the end of Lap 1.

“Saturday was pretty scary for the points chase there, so tonight there was no choice but to rebound to stay in this fight,” Tomac said. “The start there was huge for us. I moved outside for the main and it paid off. I was able to sweep around the outside.

“The two guys in front of me, Chase (Sexton) and Adam (Cianciarulo) were laying down the laps – burner pace. I knew it would be a long race.”

This season, the Supercross schedule is made up of mini-pods. These two- or three-race groupings cut down on travel for the riders and teams, which makes it easier to create and enforce protocols to battle the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In order to maintain the variety of the season that normally come naturally with the change of venues, Feld Enterntainment’s Dirt Wurx team tears down and rebuilds the track between rounds to create unique layouts.

Round 2 featured a tricky sand section that encompassed a corner and acceleration lane for the next straight. Cianciarulo crashed out of second-place when his nose got buried in the soft segment that required a lot finesse. Two laps later, the leader Sexton went down exiting that same section.

“All I know is the opening laps were crazy fast,” Tomac said. “Chase was going really fast; Adam was going really fast. I’m just like, this is going to be insane for 29 laps. They both made mistakes. That pace was pretty wild early on.

“Then in the middle it was kind of like trying to manage (second-place) Zach (Osborne). He was creeping a couple tenths a lap on me and I couldn’t really figure out where I was losing the time. Then I got to four or five minutes (to go). … I’m like, all right, I have to go now, and I pushed a little bit harder.

“That’s what really got me through to the end.”

One reason defending a championship has become so difficult is that the competition has stiffened in the past few years. Of course, perspective can be difficult to manage because one rides against the rivals at hand. When they are win, it is easy to elevate their stature.

But the proof of how tight the competition is can be found on the clock.

“Everyone is getting a little bit faster and everyone’s getting a little bit closer to each other,” Tomac said. “If you just look at the times in practice, how close tenth is, everyone is on the same second. If you look down the list, it’s like 12 guys who are in the same second.

“In the past there were maybe two or three guys that really were at the next level. So as we saw tonight, a whole different podium. So that could easily be the case this season.”

And it was not just Tuesday night. Through two rounds of Supercross action, the podiums have revealed some interesting faces. Justin Barcia won Round 1 over Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin. Neither Roczen nor Musquin could be classified as a dark horse, but both of them missed one of the two major motorcycle seasons last year. Roczen skipped outdoors in the summer; Musquin spent the entire 2020 Supercross season healing from a knee injury.

Following Tomac across line in Round 2 were rookie Dylan Ferrandis and Justin Brayton. It was Ferrandis’ first podium in the 450 class and Brayton’s first in three years.

The only rider to earn top-fives in both opening rounds is Roczen who was penalized four points in Round 2 for jumping in an area that displayed a red cross flag.

The result of this parity is a very tight grouping among the top points contenders after two rounds. Before his penalty, Roczen had a one-point advantage over the field. After the penalty, the difference between first and second is still a single point, but Barcia stands ahead of Ferrandis. Fifth-place Roczen is three points behind.

And Tomac? His 13th-place finish in the opener hurt, but not nearly as much as it might have. He is sixth in the standings, but only four points out of first heading into Round 3, which will be the final race of the Houston pod that will be contested this Saturday, Jan. 23.

Sports imitates art with Tyler Bereman’s Red Bull Imagination course

Red Bull Imagination Bereman
Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Content Pool
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This past weekend riders took on the Red Bull Imagination, a one-of-a-kind event conceived by Tyler Bereman – an event that blended art, imagination, and sports.

In its third year, Red Bull Imagination opened to the public for the first-time, inviting fans to experience a more personal and creative side of the riders up close and personal.

As the event elevates its stature, the course gets tougher. The jumps get higher and the competition stouter. This year’s course took inspiration from a skatepark, honoring other adrenaline-laced pastimes and competitions.

“There’s a ton of inspiration from other action sports,” Bereman told Red Bull writer Eric Shirk as he geared up for the event.

MORE: Trystan Hart wins Red Bull Tennessee Knockout 

Bereman was the leading force in the creation of this event and the winner of its inaugural running. In 2022, Bereman had to settle for second with Axell Hodges claiming victory on the largest freeride course created uniquely for the Red Bull Imagination.

Unlike other courses, Bereman gave designer Jason Baker the liberty to create obstacles and jumps as he went. And this was one of the components that helped the course imitate art.

Baker’s background in track design comes from Supercross. In that sport, he had to follow strict guidelines and build the course to a specific length and distance. From the building of the course through the final event, Bereman’s philosophy was to give every person involved, from creators to riders, fans and beyond, the chance to express themselves.

He wanted the sport to bridge the valley between racing and art.

Tyler Bereman uses one of Red Bull Imagination’s unique jumps. Garth Milan / Red Bull Content Pool

Hodges scored a 98 on the course and edged Bereman by two points. Both riders used the vast variety of jumps to spend a maximum amount of time airborne. Hodges’s first run included nearly every available obstacle including a 180-foot jump before backflipping over the main road.

The riders were able to secure high point totals on their first runs. Then, the wind picked up ahead of Round 2. Christian Dresser and Guillem Navas were able to improve their scores on the second run by creating new lines on the course and displaying tricks that did not need the amount of hangtime as earlier runs. They were the only riders to improve from run one to run two.

With first and second secured with their early runs, Hodge and Bereman teamed up to use their time jointly to race parallel lines and create tandem hits. The two competitors met at the center of the course atop the Fasthouse feature and revved their engines in an embrace.

Julien Vanstippen rounded out the podium with a final score of 92; his run included a landing of a 130-foot super flip.