What is Anaheim 1? Although it is no more important than any other round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series in terms of points, the opening round of the 17-round championship holds a certain prestige unlike any other. Pressure looms to prove all of the off-season hype and over the years countless riders have begun and ended their seasons during practice for this season kickoff. Anaheim 1 (the first of two rounds held at Anaheim Angel Stadium) is a chance to show off new gear and equipment, for new partnership announcements, and of course, for riders to prove their mettle on the track.
Coming into A1, there were three big questions: 1) Who would win the opening round?; 2) Is Eli Tomac ready to take the reins as a true title contender?; 3) Could Ken Roczen return to his former speed after his horrific crash (which resulted in a compound fracture of his left arm requiring 10 surgeries to properly fix) from the third round of 2017 nearly one year ago?
The answers came last Saturday night. Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin rode away to a not so surprising win after battling past Justin Barcia. Considering Musquin’s late 2017 Supercross push along with his runner-up finish in AMA Outdoor Motocross and his stellar off-season races (which included taking a $1 million payday for the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas), capturing Anaheim 1 did not come as much of a shock. Nevertheless, he was not the rider who everyone had their eyes on coming into the evening or this year. That honor belonged to Eli Tomac; the heir apparent to the Supercross crown and let’s just say that his night could have been better…much, much better.
The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider began the day with some very solid qualifying times, mere fractions of a second off of Roczen’s top time. He then backed that up with a second in his qualifying heat and a holeshot in the main event. For seven laps it looked like Tomac was finally going to kick that monkey off of his back…and he did, when the monkey climbed off his shoulders, down his arms and onto the front of his motorcycle in midair, causing the front wheel to drop unexpectedly resulting in a small but significant crash while leading.
Adding insult to injury (the crash resulted in a severely bruised a bicep), the monkey was ruthless enough to unbuckle Tomac’s pants, forcing the rider to stop mid-race just to refasten them. FS1 did an excellent job of zooming in on Eli’s crotch while the excitement unfurled, which only makes matters worse. Tomac was undoubtedly and understandably attempting to avoid bare-assed embarrassment (which has happened on occasion to other riders), by securing his pants closure. Instead, all of the attention of the nearly 300,000 fans watching at home went directly towards Tomac’s nether regions. Far worse, however, was his eventual premature departure from the evening’s competition, netting zero points for the so-called championship contender. Only one race into the championship and the Kawasaki star is already 26 points behind the leader…not a great start.
Now for the looming question…What about Roczen? Simply put, not only did Roczen post the fastest qualifying time of the day, he backed that up with a very respectable fourth place finish in the premier class main event. Crisis averted…the wunderkind is still the wunderkind, and so far he has proven that he has conquered or avoided what many thought would be a mental block on getting back up to his former speed. Fourth place was as good as a win considering the severity of his injury last year. To further highlight the point, Fox Racing made a very apt set of gear for Kenny which was neck-to-toe white except for a multi-colored accent on his left forearm.
As for the rest of the field… Jason Anderson was the man on the move during the main event, stalking his training partner, Musquin, throughout the race and slowly but surely making up time on the leader. Anderson’s weak points of late have been his starts. If he can fix that issue the wins are sure to come. Apparently Husqvarna believes the same thing as a couple days later they announced Anderson’s contract had been extended through 2022.
Justin Barcia was another standout. After two years with the Joe Gibbs Racing squad that saw minimal success (compared to what Barcia was once accustomed to), the New York native was left without a ride coming into 2018. A one-off privateer effort on Hondas at the Monster Energy Cup was enough to get the attention of the factory Yamaha team when one of it’s riders, Davi Millsaps, was forced to the sidelines with an injury. Barcia is technically signed to a six race contract but after his third place finish in the main event (his first since 2014), he made a point of saying in the post-race press conference that Yamaha definitely has the resources to field a full three rider team for the entire season. If Justin can keep up his performances, it is doubtful that Yamaha would kick him out of the factory semi anytime soon.
So what’s next? Houston will host the second round of 2018 this coming Saturday, January 13, and the drama will continue to unfold. Unfortunately for Tomac, he cannot afford anything but top finishes from here on out if he wants any decent shot at the title. As the adage goes, you can’t win the championship in the first race, but you can certainly lose it. At the moment, we do not know the extent of Tomac’s, injury but that information will be forced into the light in the next couple of days.
Musquin and the rest of the field really only need to settle into their paces. Yes, it does make a difference if a rider wins (especially with the new points system that awards 26 points for a win versus the 25 points of yore) but more important is simply staying within the championship title fight. With another 16 rounds remaining, there will be plenty of challenges along the way. Consistency is king…just ask retired-but-current SX champ, Ryan Dungey who netted three titles in a row mainly by not finishing outside of the top four for more than three seasons in a row. Come to think of it, he may want to have a chat with Eli Tomac.
Be sure to watch the Houston Supercross LIVE this Saturday, January 13, on FS1 at 8pm EST.