While rain ultimately made for some extremely challenging conditions, it resulted in an afternoon of redemption for its two winners and, in the case of Germany’s Ken Roczen, perhaps the greatest comeback in all of sports history, returning to the top echelon after two major crashes, 14 surgeries and thousands of hours of rehabilitation and training to put it all right again.
After years of long and painful recovery from serious injuries, Roczen made his long-awaited return to the top step of the podium in the premier 450 class on Saturday.
Forget the recently-noted sporting comeback of golfer Tiger Woods, Roczen’s comeback was of truly epic proportions.
US orthopedic surgeon Randy Viola was the man who tended to Roczen after his horrifying crash at the Anaheim Supercross in January 2017 and a year later at the San Diego Supercross in February 2018, when his arm was ripped up between the swing-arm and wheel of Cooper Webb’s bike.
To convey the severity of Roczen’s injuries, Viola recalls some of the carnage he saw while training as a young doctor at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“I used to deal with people who’d been in industrial fishing and logging accidents,” he says. “I’m talking about arms that had been mangled in machinery. Most pro athlete injuries aren’t like that. They’re more straightforward. But Ken’s was as bad as it gets.”
Viola said Roczen’s compartment syndrome was so severe, he was six hours shy of amputation. Looking at the x-rays, Viola’s anesthesiologist turned to him and remarked: “You’re not fixing this so he can ride. You’re fixing this so he can eat dinner.”
Roczen recalled that his concern going into surgery at that time was having a functional arm, rather than no arm at all. Racing, or even riding, was not a priority.
“I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear anything about dirt bikes.’ ” But Viola’s recollection underscores Roczen’s unyielding need to ride, and do it better than everyone else in the world. As the doc tells it: “Ken said to me, ‘This thing doesn’t have to be perfect. Just give me an elbow. Give me a wrist. If I can hold a handlebar, I can win.’ ”
And win he did, at Hangtown on Saturday.
In the 250 class, Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo was also rebounding from injury, his heartbreaking end to the recent AMA Supercross season with a hard-fought win.
Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at what unfolded at Hangtown at the weekend.
New Zealand’s Cody Cooper (Alpinestars Honda CRF450) finished 15th in his the first 450cc class race, but did not line up for race two and he sits 18th overall after this series opener.
The first 450 class moto of the afternoon began with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Cooper Webb capturing the holeshot over Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Justin Barcia. As they duked it out for the top spot it allowed Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Jason Anderson and Roczen to jump into the fray.
Webb established control of the lead, with Anderson slotting into second and Roczen third. An aggressive Roczen then found his way around Anderson for second and set his sights on Webb for the lead. The German continued to push and successfully took over control of the race before the conclusion of the opening lap.
Once he had a clear track Roczen quickly put multiple seconds between he and Webb, while Anderson settled into third. Reigning 450 class champion Eli Tomac had his work cut out for himself after starting seventh, but the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider successfully worked his way forward and was soon in the top five, right behind Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rookie Zach Osborne.
With Roczen checking out on the field and Webb running a strong second, the focus shifted to Tomac’s determined charge on Anderson. The Husqvarna rider was impressively consistent and it took an extended amount of time for Tomac to close in enough to mount a challenge for the position.
With about 10 minutes left in the moto Tomac made his move. He made the pass on Anderson, but a counter attack put Anderson right back in third. Tomac appeared to have no answer, and then the rain began to fall. As the skies opened up, Anderson’s pace increased, while Tomac’s dropped. That carried the two riders into different directions. Anderson started to close his deficit to Webb for second, while Tomac lost a spot to Osborne and fell to fifth.
As the clock approached 30 minutes Webb and Anderson found themselves in a captivating battle for the runner-up spot. Webb was able to fend off the pressure for a while, but Anderson’s persistence paid off as they came to take the two-lap board. As this unfolded Osborne fell, which allowed Tomac to reclaim fourth.
Despite the rain, Roczen continued his flawless ride all the way to the finish. He took the opening moto win by 15 seconds over Anderson. Webb was third, while Tomac salvaged fourth.
Much more difficult track conditions awaited the riders for the second moto and as the field stormed out the gate it was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Marvin Musquin who emerged with the MotoSport.com Holeshot over Webb and Tomac. Musquin was able to maintain his hold on the top spot, but it was short lived as Tomac was determined to get to the front, and did so. Behind them, Roczen moved his way into third and surged past Musquin to take second right behind Tomac.
The lead duo were able to pull away from the rest of the field almost immediately, and Roczen’s impressive early pace literally allowed him to jump over Tomac into the lead. Behind them, Anderson was making a charge of his own and passed Musquin for third.
The battle up front saw Tomac keep Roczen within reach, with both riders patiently working their way through the rough and muddy conditions. Tomac kept Roczen honest, and as they approached lapped riders just before the halfway point it worked to the benefit of the champ. As Roczen slowed briefly, Tomac seized the moment to dive to the inside the reclaim the lead. From that point on, he left Roczen and the rest of the field behind.
Tomac’s path to the second moto win wasn’t without its moments, but he took the chequered flag by 43 seconds over Roczen, who ultimately chose to protect the win and ride all by himself in second. A resilient Musquin never backed down in his pursuit of Anderson for third, and successfully got back around, but in the closing laps a hard charge from Osborne ultimately put the rookie onto the moto podium.
Roczen’s 1-2 outing provided him with his first win since the final round of his championship-winning 2016 season. Since then he has endured through a pair of career-threatening injuries to each of his arms, in which he was forced to fight his way back from more than 10 total surgeries. It’s been a long and difficult road, but Roczen was able to prevail for the 16th win of his career.
“It’s been a very, very long time [since I won a race]. Overall the whole day was good,” said Roczen. “It’s difficult at the first race to know what to expect [from yourself] and to know where everyone else is. I just did my best every time I was on the track and it got us a win. It was really sloppy out there and [when conditions are like that] it can easily go in either direction [bad or good], so it feels good that we ended up on the positive side of it.”
For the past six seasons at Hangtown the 450 Class win has gone to either Roczen or Tomac, with Saturday’s victory being the third for the German at the iconic venue.
Tomac’s second-moto win vaulted him to second overall (4-1), while Anderson rounded out the overall podium in third (2-5).
Roczen holds a slim four-point lead over Tomac in the 450 Class standings heading into the second round. Anderson sits nine points back in third.
Australian riders Dean Ferris and Todd Waters finished the day ninth and 12th overall respectively.
The opening 250 Class moto saw Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha Racing’s Justin Cooper narrowly grab the MotoSport.com Holeshot over GEICO Honda’s Chase Sexton and Cianciarulo. Cooper successfully held on to that advantage and established himself as the early leader, with Cianciarulo slotting into second and Sexton into third.
Cooper rode a consistent pace to maintain a lead over Cianciarulo, and the two gradually began to distance themselves from Sexton. As the field settled into the 30-minutes-plus-two-laps moto, Cooper was well in control, with Cianciarulo holding on to an assertive second place.
As the moto counted down to under 10 minutes to go, Cianciarulo began to pick up the pace and chip away at the deficit. With about eight minutes left the Kawasaki rider was all over Cooper’s rear fender, but the Yamaha rider withstood the charge and used lapped riders to his advantage to extend the lead once more. When time ran out on the clock and the two-lap board was shown Cianciarulo wicked up the pace again, but Cooper responded to stop the threat before it even began.
Cooper went wire-to-wire on to take the second moto win of his career by 1.8 seconds over Cianciarulo, who rode to an uneventful second-place finish. The battle for third came down to the final corner, where a moto-long charge by Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis, who started sixth, culminated with a stellar last lap in which he stole third from Sexton as they came to the line.
With rain falling, the deciding moto got underway with Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha Racing’s Colt Nichols easily racing to the holeshot.
Cianciarulo followed into second, but seized the moment to take the lead, getting much-needed clear track in the wet conditions. Nichols settled into second, with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Michael Mosiman in third. Behind the lead pack, Cooper and Ferrandis were at the tail end of the top 10.
A chaotic early portion of the race saw several different riders occupy third, as Mosiman gave way to Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Martin Davalos, who then lost the spot to Sexton. As he looked to assert himself Sexton went down, which handed third to JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing’s Alex Martin. This jostling of position also benefitted the Yamaha duo of Ferrandis and Cooper, who were able to close in on the top five.
Cianciarulo easily opened up a considerable margin over the rest of the field, which allowed him to manage his way through the ever-changing conditions. As the moto wore on, Ferrandis began to inch closer and closer to Martin to challenge him for third.
The Frenchman got alongside his veteran counterpart, but Martin resisted and pulled away. This battle helped bring the duo closer to Nichols in second, and when a downed rider caused Nichols to come to a stop on the track, both Martin and Ferrandis got around him to take over second and third, respectively.
Ferrandis’ pursuit of Martin never ceased, but it soon resulted in misfortune that caused him to give up a spot to Nichols and fall into the clutches of Cooper, who was running fifth. Cooper would get the better of Ferrandis in the late stages of the moto to drop the Frenchman to fifth.
Although he had to ride without goggles for the final few laps, Cianciarulo rode as perfect a race as one could in such difficult conditions to take the moto win and the overall victory by 16.3 seconds over Martin. Nichols followed in third, with Cooper and Ferrandis rounding out the top five.
Cianciarulo’s 2-1 effort gave him the second overall win of his career in his first start since the 2017 season, following knee surgery last summer. He becomes the 32nd different rider to earn a 250 Class victory at Hangtown.
“It means a lot [to get this win],” said Cianciarulo, who just two weeks prior suffered a heartbreaking loss in his bid to win a first pro title in AMA Supercross. “For all the kids out there that watch us, we go through such peaks and valleys. [This win] is a testament to understanding that the most important shot is your next one. You’ve got to keep fighting.
“It feels great to get a win at the opening round of the [Pro Motocross] season and start this summer off on a high note.”
Cooper’s resilient second moto landed him in the runner-up spot (1-4) for the second time in his career. Nichols (5-3) and Ferrandis (3-5) ended up in a tie for third, but by virtue of his better result in the final moto Nichols earned the tiebreaker.
Cianciarulo establishes a four-point lead over Cooper in the 250 Class standings entering the second round, while Nichols and Ferrandis sit 11 points back.
The 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship continues next Saturday, May 25, with American motocross’ anticipated return to Fox Raceway in Pala, California, for the first time since the 2011 season.
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450 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)
Ken Roczen, Germany, Honda (1-2)
Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki (4-1)
Jason Anderson, Edgewood, N.M., Husqvarna (2-5)
Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna (5-3)
Cooper Webb, Newport, N.C., KTM (3-6)
Marvin Musquin, France, KTM (7-4)
Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha (8-7)
Blake Baggett, Grand Terrace, Calif., KTM (6-10)
Dean Ferris, Australia, Yamaha (11-8)
Justin Bogle, Cushing, Okla., KTM (10-9)
250 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)
Adam Cianciarulo, Port Orange, Fla., Kawasaki (2-1)
Justin Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., Yamaha (1-4)
Colt Nichols, Muskogee, Okla., Yamaha (5-3)
Dylan Ferrandis, France, Yamaha (3-5)
Chase Sexton, La Moille, Ill., Honda (4-6)
RJ Hampshire, Hudson, Fla., Honda (6-7)
Michael Mosiman, Sebastopol, Calif., Husqvarna (7-11)
Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Suzuki (23-2)
Shane McElrath, Canton, N.C., KTM (14-8)
Christian Craig, El Cajon, Calif., Honda (13-10)