If pro motocross is a war, it is a war of attrition. Each year the season starts out with a handful of blazing-fast riders, but only one or two ever make it to the end.
Some riders can capitalize on this, valuing consistency over raw speed. Recently retired champion Ryan Dungey was an absolute master at maintaining the balance between competitive speed and safe riding.
As the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross teams set up in Southwick, MA, this past weekend, the injured list had already collected some excellent riders. Marvin Musquin and Blake Baggett--the two title contenders closest to Eli Tomac--had injuries but would at least be able to ride.
But a lot of guys weren't quite as lucky. Benny Bloss was still out with a shoulder injury, and Trey Canard crashed in weekly practice after showing remarkable speed in his comeback races. Broc Tickle, who was putting in excellent rides most of the year, is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder.
Both Davi Millsaps and Phil Nicoletti were out with injuries from Supercross. Millsaps was dealing with a wrist surgery, and "Factory Phil" was out with lower leg injuries. And perhaps the most well-known and tragic case of them all: Ken Roczen is still recovering from the horrific broken arm he suffered while dominating in Supercross.
And that was just the 450 class!
The 250s are missing Matt Bisceglia, Cameron McAdoo, Michael Mosiman, Mitchell Oldenburg, and Jordon Smith. Surprisingly, most of the top 250 riders have stayed healthy this year, which has allowed for some excellent racing.
Motocross is of course a legitimate sport, but it is still absolutely an "extreme sport," as well. This means one has to be just a little bit nuts to participate. Usually, racers who are capable of putting aside self-preservation and push through pain and injury for many years will become very fast.
But adrenaline junkies who live by mantras including "no fear" and "when in doubt, gas it" don't necessarily have the best restraint. It is often the case that the fastest guys will push too hard when it's not necessary and end up getting hurt. They will sense the ability to win and try to win at all costs--even if those costs are valued at their championship hopes.
It is a little curious, really, the way that the motocross season works out. Amateur racers all work toward one or two amateur nationals, where their entire year's progress and results are determined in two motos. Racers have been trained since a young age to "leave everything on the track." After all, you don't get a second chance at Loretta's for at least another year.
So they enter the pros with this mindset. Granted, individual pro races are important, no question. But individually, they are not remotely as important to a professional as an amateur national is to an amateur. A professional racer can get poor results in one race and still maintain his standings in the championship.
However, breaking that mindset that was ingrained in these athletes from birth can be difficult or impossible. Certain racers seem to be totally incapable of going less than 100 percent when they're on the track. Trey Canard is one example of such a rider. He certainly has unbelievable speed and is capable of running at the front. But so often he goes too hard too early, when it would suit his championship results and his career better to just settle down and get into a nice, comfortable groove.
Now, that's not to say that every racer is at fault for their injuries. On some level they are, because they're riding the bike and making the mistakes (assuming it isn't caused by a mechanical issue or something truly out of their control). But accidents happen, especially when you are riding at the very limit of human capability.
During the race at Southwick, fans bore witness to a dominant performance by Eli Tomac. But Tomac wasn't handed the win, he had to come through the front to make it happen, passing some very fast racers.
One of whom was Marvin Musquin, whose status had been punctuated by a question mark in the last few rounds after a torn meniscus. He was in great form during his ride at Southwick, appearing to be almost at 100 percent.
Tomac caught him from way back, but Musquin put up an excellent fight, wanting to prove that he could stick with him. Musquin was eventually relegated to second, and seemed to be pretty comfortable there, but then disaster struck.
Musquin jumped just a little too far down into a dip, his suspension loaded up, and when he came up the other side it catapulted him clear off the track. It was a spectacular crash, and the Frenchman was clearly shaken up after the ordeal. He was unable to finish the race, and there has been no word yet on whether he aggravated the knee injury yet again.
It's this type of little slip-up that can totally derail a season. Sometimes even a career. Fortunately it appeared that Marvin was OK, as he was up and walking around. But it is a stark reminder that you can be battling for the lead one second and questioning your career choice the next.
Oftentimes, the fastest rider does not win the championship. Going into the season, Tomac was widely considered to be the fastest rider. He has not been terribly consistent, but neither has the competition.
Tomac was in a similar position just a few years ago, and one can only assume that memory is fresh in his mind. Will he continue to pour on the speed and win races, or will he back it down for the sake of safety and consistency?
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