The Denver Monster Energy Supercross podium was filled with emotional stories and one of the most important of them was the return to the podium for Adam Cianciarulo for the first time since a Motocross race at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania in June, 2021.
Cianciarulo’s last Supercross podium came earlier that year in Race 3 of the Houston residency during the COVID-19 pandemic. But he would make only five more starts in the SX season before an injury sidelined him. He returned to race in the outdoor season, but was forced to the sideline again after six rounds to repair an ulnar nerve.
In Denver, Cianciarulo took the lead from Eli Tomac when that rider landed hard in a rhythm second and ruptured his Achilles tendon. He lost the top spot to Chase Sexton three laps later and held onto it until the final trip around the track when Ken Roczen pushed him back one more position. At the end of the race, Roczen joked that he was surprised Cianciarulo didn’t saw his front tire off to keep him at bay. Cianciarulo replied, “me too”.
“I know it’s the end of the season and there are a lot of guys hurt; I do not care.” Cianciarulo said during last week’s post-race news conference. “I want everybody to be healthy, but for me to be back here [on the podium] is a big testament to everyone around me. I’m stubborn.”
Standing on the podium following the race, Cianciarulo unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears. He was slightly more composed in the news conference, but still visibly emotional, partly because of the Tomac injury, but mostly because it finally validated the work he’s put in since climbing onto a 450 bike at the start of 2020.
“It’s been a wild, wild couple of years for me,” Cianciarulo said. “Battling a lot of health stuff and really, I just had to dig so deep. There were so many times I wanted to quit or thought I was done and I really, really mean that. I didn’t do a lot of riding in the offseason. It wasn’t looking good for me even in December, I was stressing.
“Obviously I haven’t been exactly where I wanted to be this year. I’m used to having at least pace and being up toward the front and I haven’t had pace. It’s been tough to swallow.”
During the offseason, Cianciarulo had an epiphany – one he thought would take pressure off his shoulders and allow him to once again begin his climb up the ladder.
“One day I looked around and it’s like, ‘my life’s still fine’,” Cianciarulo told NBC Sports at the time. “I’m still okay. I’ve still got people. When you just get older and you realize there’s a little bit more [in life], you just get a little perspective really.”
The 2023 season tested that resolve immediately.
Cianciarulo finished ninth in the season opener at Anaheim and that was okay because the primary goal that night was to stay out of trouble and find his rhythm once more. But then he finished eighth in San Diego, ninth in Anaheim 2, 10th in Houston, 12th in Tampa and 15th Oakland. He was heading in the wrong direction and the negative self-talk returned.
It didn’t matter that he was battling an ongoing wrist injury for most of those early races; the decision to sit out a couple of weeks to allow it to recover was difficult.
“Right around Indianapolis, I had a ‘come to Jesus’ with myself and said this is no way to live,” Cianciarulo said. “I was being so hard on myself. I wasn’t talking very nice to myself or having very much fun.”
The peptalk worked. Cianciarulo almost cracked the top five at Indianapolis. He finished sixth. In six races between then and Denver, he finished between sixth and eighth.
“It’s all about what you notice in life,” Cianciarulo said. “I started noticing the positive things and being grateful for what I had. It made my work during the week better and I was able to get some momentum going.”
Despite his modest start to the season and after missing three rounds to injury, Cianciarulo sits eighth in the points. Five of the riders above him in the standings will not compete this week because of their own injuries and it is uncertain when they will return during the Pro Motocross season. As Cianciarulo said, it does not matter. There are no asterisks in the official record books and podiums feel great no matter the circumstances.