Anaheim 1 is just days away! Heading into the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season, there are a few big headlines to note of. Tomac VS Musquin in the title fight, Roczen’s comeback, Cooper Webb resurgence? Here is my full 450 pre-season rankings heading into Anaheim 1.
Tomac is coming off a very successful year both in the Supercross season and the motocross nationals. Heading into 2018 I think you have to peg Tomac as the favourite to win the title. He won an astonishing 9 SX races in 2017 and if it weren’t for a very slow start he would have won the championship. At times he was simply unbeatable. I definitely think Tomac will win many races again this year, but I think his pure speed will be matched a lot more often then we saw in 2017. A 2018 SX championship is definitely within reach for Eli Tomac this year. However, I do have some concerns that lay in my mind. Tomac has a tendency to make little mistakes here or there and at times it can be really bad. Just last year in both SX and MX, we saw Tomac annihilate the entire field and then come out a week later and ride around outside the top 5. If Tomac becomes more consistent this year there is no doubt in my mind that he will win the championship.
With the reigning champion and former Red Bull KTM rider Ryan Dungey not returning for 2018, all focus is now on the Frenchman Marvin Musquin. In his second year in the 450 SX class, Musquin broke free and won multiple races and one could argue was the second fastest rider all year behind Tomac. One thing Musquin has going for him is consistently great starts, and with such a deep talented field and the new shorter Triple Crown races, this could bode very well for him. One thing Musquin doesn’t have going for him is whoops. There is no denying that he struggles on blitzing big whoops and this can be a mega downfall on some tracks. Most nights it seems he can get by with jumping through them quickly, but on the nights he can’t jump through them as quick, it will cost him big time. To me, Tomac and Musquin are the only clear title contenders that we can for sure count on winning multiple races and being in the title hunt late.
El Hombre is back for another year with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna and I’m thinking this will be the best year yet for him. Anderson has been a solid contender for wins the past two years, however he can’t seem to put it all together week after week to be a real threat. Yes, he has won three races, but let us remember all of those races seem to have been wacky exceptions rather than a true showing of what he is capable of. In 2016, he won Anaheim 1, which has a tendency to be a little crazy. Then he won a race by Dungey getting docked positions and then this year he won the chaotic mayhem of Vegas. Despite me seemingly saying that he had a lot of help in those wins, I still predict Anderson to break free and finally show that he can be a contender. Why? I don’t really know to be honest; it just seems like it’s his time. I’m not saying he wins the championship, but multiple race wins is a very real possibility.
The comeback hype is very strong with this one folks. I don’t need to go over the horrific injuries again because we have heard it many, many times, but man is this going to be exciting come Saturday. Some are saying Kenny will come out and win right away, others say he will struggle. I say I have no idea… He had to change his complete riding style because of the lack of mobility in his arm, but then again I’m pretty sure he is part machine now or something so he should have that going for him. I predict the terminator will do better than many think, a solid top 5 to start and then gradually work his way up to eventually winning sometime this season. Is he a title contender though? Of course he could win this whole thing, but injury or not, let us not forget that Roczen has a major history of throwing it away. One or two big mistakes combined with the injury setback coming into the year means no championship for Kenny this year. However, making it through the year healthy with a few wins should be seen as a major victory for him.
The rookie sensation from last year was more rookie than sensation. Some glimmers of his 250 raw speed were seen, but ultimately he looked somewhat uncomfortable and sluggish on the 450. Well, he has a brand new YZ450 for this SX season and early reports are saying that he is way more Cooper Webb than he was last year. You have to take these reports with a grain of salt, because everyone is absolutely flying during the off-season. However, last year there were some grumbles of a struggling Webb and that turned out to be true. I really do hope that we see his true potential this year, but it could honestly go either way. My hot take is he comes out flying and gets his first 450 SX win in the first quarter of the season, but ultimately fails to be consistent enough to be a title contender.
Roczen’s story will get all the media attention, but Wilson a year ago was pitting out of a sprinter van with his dad as the mechanic. He proved that he could stay healthy and got better as the year went on. He quickly was picked up by Rockstar Husqvarna and performed well enough to secure a 2018 ride with them. What a difference a year can make. Wilson has always been super fast and has the ability to get top qualifying times and win heat races. He lost some of that speed last year, but I think all year his goal was simply to stay on the bike and with a full year under his belt, don’t be surprised if we see the old Deano back in 2018. I think we will see Deano get consistently from 4-7th place with some podiums sprinkled in there and maybe just maybe, if everything goes right he could be at the top step of the podium one weekend.
The last few years I have strongly been on the Seely bandwagon, stating that he has the potential to win a championship. Since his great rookie season, it has been two lackluster seasons (in my opinion). I guess I have lost a little bit of my Seely Fever, but if he comes out at A1 and wins, I’ll be the first to board the Soul Cole train. For now, I predict similar results as the last two years, consistent top 10s, and a few podiums.
Baggett was straight fire last year outdoors, but only a wee spark in SX. That shouldn’t come as a surprise really considering he has always been known more for his MX skills. Baggett most likely believes he can be a top guy in SX as well, but we haven’t seen anything too amazing to really showcase this. At first thought you might think Baggett could be a top 5 guy every week, but look at the riders above him… In my mind, he isn’t really expected to beat any of those riders in SX except maybe Deano. If you want to break off the riders into tiers, Baggett would slot into tier 2 with Webb, Wilson, and Seely. Even though he is 8th on my rankings don’t be surprised if he can get some podiums and maybe even a win in some of the shorter motos for the Triple Crown.
Ranking 9th overall heading into the season is Broc Tickle on his new fancy Red Bull KTM ride. Last year Broc Tickle did his best Broc Tickle impression yet. Lots of top 10s and then some very quietly impressive rides like the podium in Toronto. Most likely we will see the same Broc Tickle that we do every year, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Getting these consistent results deserves the factory KTM ride as he is a great second rider for the title contender Musquin. However, there is one major change in his program that could drastically alter things: it is not the new 450 KTM, rather it is Aldon Baker. Yes, the man that has helped so many great riders achieve the highest success is now working with Tickle. If the new trainer does improve Tickle’s result at all, I think we will just see more consistent top 5s. The last note I will say of Tickle is that last year he was the worst starter in the class pretty much and with the field being so stacked you just cannot afford those poor starts.
Concluding my top 10 pre-season rankings is the privateer turned factory Weston Pieck, who is once again back with JGR Suzuki. I was trying to figure out whom to give this last spot on my rankings to (Bogle, Barcia, Brayton?). Then all of a sudden it clicked to me; it had to be Weston Pieck. I think a lot of us, including me for a bit, forgot that Pieck had a solid 5th place finish the week before sidelining himself with an injury. He was looking really good and there is no reason to think he won’t look just as good this season. I no longer will overlook Weston Pieck!
Photo from Supercross LIVE