Here we are once again on the Eve of the opening round of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series. As they have been for over 20 years, all eyes will be on Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA this Saturday for Round 1, or A1 as it’s affectionately known these days. As with any “Opening Day,” the anticipation is high as every rider will begin practice on Saturday with a clean slate and sky-high expectations. Each year as the opening round approaches, the Social Media brain trust at Feld Entertainment comes up with multiple hashtags for the public to use when talking about the series. Cool slogans like #dropthegate and #whosnext have been a few from recent years. For 2018, I think an appropriate one would be #unpredictable, as I don’t thnk any one rider is the favourite coming into this year’s series. For the first time in two decades there is no Jeremy McGrath, no Ricky Carmichael, no Ryan Villopoto, or no Ryan Dungey lining up as the proven championship favourite. Instead, we have a group of fast riders who are all capable of winning the 2018 title but in past years have shown they have trouble putting an entire series together. It will be interesting to see how these top guns perform week in and week out without someone like Ryan Dungey to measure themselves off of each Saturday.
This is also the first time in a few years where there has been a significant format change with regards to the series. For 2018, the Semi final races are history, the points for each round are slightly different, and, as soon as Round 3 in Anaheim, the riders will be forced to navigate their way to the first of three Triple Crown events. The three Triple Crown events are where the riders will have no heat races during the evening, only three main events to decide the overall winner. However, for Anaheim 1 there will only be one main event in each class, and the only noticeable change will be the new metal starting platforms behind the gates. Personally, I’m on the fence about these new metal grates that the riders will start on. The purest in me absolutely hates them. Proper gate preparation is a skill, and some riders are simply better at it than others. Also, not every gate is in the same condition by the time the main events roll around, so not only do the top qualifiers get an advantage of which gate to pick in relationship to the first corner, but they also are able to choose a gate based on the condition of the rut. A main event gate pick is earned through qualifying and that is the way it always has been. I suppose that aspect of it hasn’t changed, but now these metal grates certainly level the playing field. I’m sure as the series gets underway and the riders complete the first few rounds, no one will even notice these grates and they will simply become part of SX. Not to sound to old school, but if it were up to me I’d vote to keep things the way they were and get rid of the metal grates. Anyway, let’s now take a look at a few of the championship contenders and how they might finish this weekend and throughout the rest of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series.
Eli Tomac: Monster Energy Kawasaki
Heading into 2018, Eli Tomac has to be the favourite to win both the SX title as well as the MX title later this summer. Tomac came so close in 2017 to winning his first Supercross Championship, only to lose it to Ryan Dungey in the final two rounds of the series. During this off-season, Tomac has been very low key, opting to compete in no overseas events and appear in very few publicity videos. Will this off-the-radar approach serve him well in 2018? I believe it will as this is simply how Tomac likes to do things. In many ways, Tomac is a throwback to the era of no Social Media, and to a time when all riders did was lay low and ride. After his misfortune at the tail end of last season, Tomac must be focused on just one thing as he heads into Anaheim this weekend, and that is to win this Championship. He knows how to win, he knows his bike, and he knows his competition. In my opinion, all he has to do is keep a level head then this title is his.
Marvin Musquin: Red Bull KTM
If Eli Tomac is the 2018 title favourite, then Marvin Musquin has to be a close second. Over the past 365 days Musquin has done nothing but build confidence and improve his race craft. With Ryan Dungey now retired, Musquin takes over the role as the Captain on the Red Bull KTM Team and the person that everything revolves around. If Musquin wants something done a certain way, he now gets it done, wherein years past it was Dungey’s call to make. Musquin is now in the position that every rider dreams to be in when they’re growing up, and he has earned it the hard way. The only negative that I can see is that for the first time in his career, Musquin will also have the pressure of an entire brand on his shoulders. This immense pressure cooker is something that Dungey seemed to thrive on and he never appeared to let it bother him. Will Musquin be the same alphamale type rider, or will he let this newfound pressure dictate how he rides each weekend? One thing is for sure, Musquin will have his mental strength tested in 2018 like it never has been before. I think we will find out really quickly in this series how Musquin is dealing with the pressure; he needs a quick start to announce his presence with some early authority. I believe that Musquin will win a bunch of races in 2018, but I think he’ll lose the title to Tomac.
Ken Roczen: Honda Factory Racing
The fact that Ken Roczen is even going to be on the gate this weekend is a truly amazing story. I for one was convinced that his racing days were finished after his crash and subsequent horrific injuries. However, after eleven surgeries, months of rehab, as well as an endless amount of determination, Roczen is back and by all accounts he looks as good as ever. Roczen’s story has captured the attention of everyone, including the mainstream media who will no doubt be at the first few rounds of the series keeping a close eye on our German hero. In a sport like supercross, which can be so brutal yet so graceful all at the same time, to see Roczen come back after his ordeal is just…well, it’s hard to put into words. Of course, with all of the Hollywood feel-good story put aside, Roczen is back because he wants to win and because he feels that he can win. After what he has been through in his short career, if Ken Roczen feels that he can win, I think we’d all be fools not to believe him. Will he win this weekend or this season? A betting man would probably say no, as the odds are most certainly against him. I’m sure that the first few rounds will be very difficult for Roczen while he relearns how to race with these top riders, but once he gets comfortable, look out! If he can remain healthy and run up front early in the series, then the second half might just belong to the Honda rider. If Roczen can win again and complete this dream comeback story, then I’m sure the entire motocross community will stand up and applaud.
Jason Anderson: Rockstar Energy Husqvarna
Heading into 2018, Jason Anderson appears ready to win main events and perhaps this championship. Along with Blake Baggett, I think Anderson has to be considered a title contender for 2018. In years past, Anderson has always come out of the gate very strong and has done well in the early rounds. If he wants to win this title he will have to maintain his fast pace well into March and April. Without a Dungey-type rider in the series, who was always stronger in the second half, the door is wide open for riders like Anderson. Coming into Anaheim, Anderson is fit, confident and ready to win. In talking with him last month in California, I really got a sense that he believes that he can beat all of these guys. With his Aldon Baker trained body, his all-new Rockstar Edition Husqvarna FC450, and more aggression than anyone else in the field, Anderson is my dark horse championship pick for 2018. I also think that Anderson will find himself on top of the podium this weekend in Anaheim.
Chad Reed: Husqvarna 22 Racing
I’m sure that I am not the only person out there who would love to see Chad Reed win some races in 2018. At 35 years of age, Reed is certainly the rider in the field who carries the most experience. During his long career, he has battled against legends like McGrath, RC, Stewart, Villopoto, and most recently Ryan Dungey. Even with Father Time against him, I believe that Reed will win a race in 2018, but not until the second half of this series. Reed will enter 2018 as unprepared as he’s ever been. With a new Husqvarna that he’s only ridden a few times, and a foot injury that continues to heal, the cards are once again stacked against the Australian hero. I think Reed will no doubt need a few months to get back up to speed on his new bike, and then if he’s still healthy, he may have a chance to win some races. I know we have all counted him out in the past, but he’s proved us wrong time and time again. I hope he does this again in 2018, but as I said at the beginning, he’s never been this far behind the eight ball. And, he’s never entered this ruthless series as a 35-year-old rider. I hope he can get through the hectic first few rounds healthy, and then we can all sit back and watch the Reed we love build confidence throughout the second half of the series. One thing he does have in his favour right now is that he’s fresh as a daisy mentally as he hasn’t raced since May. With Roczen coming back to SX, as well as the ageless wonder Chad Reed on the starting line, 2018 is shaping up to be the year of countless, unpredictable headlines. Okay, enough talking, let’s #dropthegate on the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series.