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SX: Ryan’s World

November 4, 2011

Ryan Villopoto emerged as the sport’s dominant force in 2011 and seems perfectly poised to further than claim heading into the 2012 season.

After his monster 2011 season, the motocross industry is Ryan’s world and we’re just living in it. And of course when I say ‘Ryan’ I am referring to Ryan Villopoto, the single most dominant athlete in the sport right now.

Villopoto completed what can only be considered as a dream season when he absolutely decimated the Monster Energy Cup field over the course of three 10-lap main events to take home the Monster Million—the biggest purse in the history of the discipline. Only days after getting married and squeezed into a forced hiatus of his honeymoon, RV2 demonstrated showed that no other rider on the planet can even come close to matching his pace right now.

He was fastest in practice, cruised to victory in his heat race, secured two of three holeshots in the main events, and led every lap on the evening. No rider could ask for a more perfect outing, and it served as a fitting conclusion to an illustrious ‘11 season.

Following his horrific end to 2010 Villopoto entered the season with a huge chip on his shoulder. He, along with many others in the industry, felt that 2010 really should have been his breakout year—and it was heading in that direction right up until the St. Louis Supercross. He had finally found a comfort level on the 450cc bike, and was quickly establishing himself as a consistent contender following an uncharacteristically slow year in 2009—at least by his standards.

With renowned trainer Aldon Baker in his corner, Villopoto improved his conditioning and came out guns blazing in Anaheim, taking the opening Supercross round with a vengeance. From there, he just kept the ball rolling, withstanding challenges, and taking home his first big bike title, which, despite the closeness of the final points tally, was never really in doubt.

As he headed into the summer, Villopoto found himself behind the 8-ball early, suffering from a debilitating illness that simply wouldn’t allow him to compete at his peak. Once he fought past the virus, he was back on top, relying on exceptional consistency to eventually vault him into the lead. When his control of the championship appeared to be wavering in the final quarter of the season, Kawasaki stepped up and provided a new 2012 bike that proved impeccable in its debut. With his confidence rejuvenated, Villopoto carried that momentum through to the finish to become the second rider to win the season titles back-to-back in as many years.

Selected to the Motocross of Nations team—albeit as a controversial MX3 selection with the MX1 honor going to rival Ryan Dungey despite Villopoto’s ‘11 SX and MX superiority—Villopoto once again made clear that this was his year. He again performed nearly flawlessly on the giant stage with the world watching on and walked away as the top rider in the competition while leading Team USA to its seventh straight triumph.

In four full seasons of outdoor motocross competition and four Motocross of Nations appearances, Villopoto stands undefeated. As a result, he has established himself as a juggernaut in the sport during a time when the competition might be deeper and fiercer than it’s ever been. The fact that he’s has managed to maintain this record (and made it look somewhat effortless along the way), speaks volumes to his exceptional talent. Sure, Ricky Carmichael will forever be considered to best motocross rider to ever live, effectively changing everything we know and now take for granted about the sport, but when all is said and done, Villopoto might not be far behind.

Just over a week back, Villopoto took advantage of those remarkable outdoor skills on a track that was designed to combine the characteristics of both Supercross and motocross for what was aimed to be the most unique and difficult track ever conceived. Instead, Villopoto turned the high-speed, high-flying layout into his own personal practice track. Outside of the opening lap of shuffling in each race, Villopoto never really had any challengers, and while it may have been considered anticlimactic by some, the opportunity to see Villopoto lay down the wood the way he did was special, and in essence, was a showing that further solidified his position as a developing all-time great.

Looking ahead to 2012, Villopoto’s closest rivals will all be experiencing some change. Chad Reed, who finished second to Villopoto in Supercross, and third in motocross, has not made any official announcements concerning his ‘12 plans. Reed was happy with Honda, but one can’t help but wonder if the new Jeremy McGrath/Larry Brooks team has any impact on his effort. Suzuki has also been rumored, and without a high-profile star currently signed—combined with their past success with Reed—they have to be viewed as a viable option.

Dungey, who finished third in Supercross and second outdoors, will be the new face of KTM. He made his debut for the team at Monster Energy Cup, and while he had nothing for Villopoto, he looked very competitive after only two weeks on the bike. However, historically KTM’s 450 success is limited, so Dungey will have a tall task ahead of him in changing the brand’s fortune.

As for James Stewart, the latest rumor has him staying on a Yamaha, but fielded out of the Joe Gibbs Racing truck. Suzuki has also played a prominent role in this rumor mill, but until something is officially announced, we won’t know anything for sure. What we do know, however, is that Stewart is going to be doing something new for the upcoming season, starting virtually from square one.

Considering all of the confirmed and likely changes in teams and machinery among his biggest threats, Villopoto instantly gains an added advantage heading into his title defense. He’s been riding his 2012 bike since August, and based on the subsequent results, the machine clearly suits Villopoto’s style. As the Kawasaki team dials in the bike for Supercross, Reed, Dungey, Stewart, and the rest of the field beware, because until someone stops Villopoto’s reign out front, it’s his world.


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