After missing the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season, questions abound about just how competitive Ken Roczen will be. And most of those questions are centered in the Honda Racing rider’s brain.
“I’ve done as much as I can in the last couple of weeks,” Roczen said in a preseason press conference ahead of Saturday’s race at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif. Saturday, May 29 on Peacock and NBCSN. “I just want to build every single weekend. It’s really difficult to say for me where I’m going to be and how good I’m going to feel throughout the motos, but I’m willing to put my head down and focus and learn every weekend.
“I know it’s not the ideal situation to be in, but I’ve got to take it the way it is now.”
Last year after finishing third in a Supercross season that finished late because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roczen made the difficult decision to sit out Pro Motocross. He had been plagued by injuries and illness in recent years. He and his wife Courtney were expecting their first child, and the focus needed to be on healing.
“Taking this shortened outdoor season off was a very difficult decision, but I’m confident it’s what’s best for me and my team in the long run,” Roczen said at the time. “It will be good to regroup, let my body heal, enjoy this important experience with Courtney, and build back up for 2021.”
It was the second time in the last four years that he missed the outdoor season. Roczen was also forced to sit out 2017 with an injury to his arm.
“It’s been a minute since I’ve ridden outdoors,” Roczen said. “I’ve done this pretty much my whole life – it’s what I grew up on – but I kind of felt a disconnect to be honest. During the time last year when everybody was racing, I was forced to take it easy.
“I was going out and pounding motos, so I might as well would have raced, but I didn’t do that. And then we went straight back into Supercross, so I haven’t really ridden Motocross for quite some time. Just been feeling a bit of a disconnect with it. Trying to adjust to the speed and keep my momentum up.”
— Pro Motocross (@ProMotocross) May 26, 2021
His loss was felt by the sport. Since moving up to the 450 class, Roczen has been a perennial favorite to win the championship. He took the title in his rookie season of 2014, finished second in 2015 and then won again in 2016.
After missing 2017, Roczen finished third in 2018 and was second in 2019. That year and throughout 2020, he regularly complained of overheating toward the end of races, with what was later revealed to be a battle with shingles.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a hundred percent as in how good I’ve been in the past – how ready I have been,” Roczen said “The speed that it takes in Motocross – it used to come to me quickly because I used to race every outdoor season and then I would ride quite a bit between the rounds, but then being in the championship hunt in Supercross, I was just focusing on that.”
For Roczen to question his ability is not new. He is one of the most outwardly self-reflective riders in the field. And since he is comparing himself to himself – a rider with five top-three points’ finishes in five MX seasons – the bar has been set quite high.
“As far as expectations for this coming weekend, I don’t really have any right now to be honest,” Roczen said. “I want to see where I’m at and build each and every weekend from there on out.”
In the last four Pro Motocross races of 2019, Roczen won once at Unadilla MX in New Berlin, NY and he finished second twice. It’s likely that even a slightly slower Roczen will do just fine at Fox Raceway.