Rolling Unpredictably Into Round 2


1/9/2020

Any opening round of any AMA Supercross Championship season has a sense of unpredictably, and this year's Anaheim 1 was no exception. For the first time in recent memory, the off-season hype didn't include a long list of riders who wouldn't be there due to injury. The depth of talent in the field was certainly one of the best ever.

With multiple champions lining up--including Chad Reed in his final AMA Supercross season--it would've been easy to choose one of them as the most likely 450SX class winner for the opener. Yet, it was a former 250SX regional champ and former A1 winner Justin Barcia who came away with the W. This following an exciting back and forth battle with 450 class rookie and 2019 Monster Energy Cup overall winner Adam Cianciarulo, who surprised just about everyone with his prowess on the premier-class bike. 

This leads to an interesting run-in to Round 2 this weekend in St. Louis, which in itself is an interesting development in how this season may turnout. Historically the winner of the Anaheim opening round does not go on to win the 450SX class season title, but this is based on the following several rounds all being in open stadiums on the west coast. With the season going all the way to the Mississippi river for the second round, this may be the curve ball in bike setup and general attitude for the riders and teams that really switches things up this time around.

Barcia's 2019 season pretty well fell apart after he won the opening round mudder in Anaheim. He failed to make another podium and finished DNF or didn't start several other rounds with a tender wrist, which put him way back in the final points tally. This year (as is often the case), Barcia and his Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing team claim he's rounded the corner on developing the YZ450F and has a better, more enlightened attitude heading into 2020. His off-season overall win at the prestigious Paris Supercross over a fairly talented field would seem to coincide with this claim. So, Barcia came into Anaheim with a full head of steam. After a so-so qualifying session (he ended up in seventh place) at more than 1.5 seconds per lap behind Cianciarulo, Barcia came out and won his heat race by more than three seconds over the rookie as the two put down nearly identical fast lap times. The stage was set.

Arguably, Cianciarulo had Barcia covered all day and night. The fastest qualifier by a long shot, Cianciarulo was riding a huge wave of confidence after his MEC win in October. He felt great, and it showed. Once he got into second place in the main event, Cianciarulo was able to get close enough to Barcia to capitalize on Barcia's small mistake, placing him into the lead. But it was a similar mistake that cost Cianciarulo the win, as Barcia was able to get around and pull away to the checkers. The truly interesting bit about this battle at the front is that at no point did anyone else get anywhere near close enough to either of them to make a move for the win. Heading to St. Louis, Barcia and Cianciarulo are the cream of the crop, there seems to be no doubt about it. Barcia has had some great finishes in the Dome at America's Center, so we'll give him the nod for Round 2.

What of the other favorites? The defending champ, Cooper Webb, came into the weekend with flu-like symptoms that were evident as early as the press conference on Friday. By Saturday's qualifying sessions it became clear that Webb was in salvage mode as he mustered only a 15th position at roughly two seconds slower than Cianciarulo. Things came around a bit in the heat race where he ended up third behind Barcia and Cianciarulo, but in the main event it was a different story. Webb moved methodically and carefully through the pack from a mediocre start--past riders such as Roczen, Tomac, Brayton and Baggett--to move within nine seconds of Cianciarulo at the finish. Most remarkably, the top five riders were turning fast laps within one tenth of a second with the exception of Cianciarulo, who was 0.2 seconds faster on this best lap. Webb's in great position heading to St. Louis. He's shown he has not only the speed but the stamina to outpace (or at least keep pace and out-maneuver) some of the best in the sport, even when he's under the weather and qualifies poorly. This finish definitely will not hurt his chances for defending the 450SX No. 1 plate, and he and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team must be quite pleased heading to Round 2 this weekend,

Beyond the top three, the rest of the field was...mediocre. Superstar favorites such as Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, 2018 champ Jason Anderson, Zach Osborne and others simply weren't on pace. Chalk it up to first race jitters or simply bad nights, but as title favorites, these riders are already behind the 8-ball to three riders who had great opening rounds and are extremely hungry for wins. To be eight or more points down after just one round does not bode well for building title runs in a class so full of talent and experience,

One standout of "the rest" behind the top three was Blake Baggett, who looks to be starting the season 100 percent healthy and prepared unlike many of his previous seasons. Never much of a Supercross specialist (despite some wins here or there including one last year in Glendale), Baggett was very much on pace and raced the 20 minutes plus a lap main event with an aggression that we haven't seen from him in quite a while.

The 250SX West region also kicked off it's season. While not quite as remarkable as the 450SX results, there is plenty to mention here as well. Heading to St. Louis, Justin Cooper must feel pretty good about his convincing win over his defending champ teammate Dylan Ferrandis. It wasn't just these two who stood out though, as last year's 250 East near champ Austin Forkner was also very good all day long.

Unfortunately, Forkner made a mistake that resulted in him cutting a portion of the track where he gained an advantage, ending up with him being docked two finishing positions. Ending up fifth after battling for a podium was no doubt painful for one of the top riders in the paddock. Look out though, as this weekend's round is in Forkner's home state of Missouri and he always has a huge contingent of family and fans on hand to add support for a rider who, frankly, probably doesn't need any. To say he'll be motivated to make up some points on his very worthy opposition would be a massive understatement.

With that, we'll leave it to the riders to show us just how they bounce back from great, mediocre, or terrible performances in the Anaheim opener. With first race butterflies long gone, everyone has an idea now where they stand and the real racing for the title will begin. Be sure to follow the action on our Instagram (@ama_supercross) and Facebook (AMA Supercross) pages throughout the day and night this Saturday for Round 2.


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