Looking at the results of the opening round of the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Championship Series, I’m reminded of what futurist Jamais Cascio said, “Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected.” To say the least, the Houston 1 results were unexpected. While it was a disaster for my RMFantasySX.com picks, it makes for an intriguing start to the 2021 Supercross season. As a reminder, the RMFantasySX league has you pick the top 5, plus a wild card position (it was P10 at H1).
Justin Barcia made it three season-opener wins in a row. You can call that expected or unexpected. Given that he was on a new bike—moving from Yamaha to the KTM-platformed GasGas—it seemed that it would be difficult for Barcia to do it again. Regardless, he did, and I have no doubt lots of RMFantasySX players happily banked 26 points. I wasn’t one of them, though I did put him in my Top 5. Regardless, it was fun to watch him grab a holeshot on the GasGas and lead the entire way, even after some serious pressure from Ken Roczen.
Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin were unknowns who made a statement. Roczen hadn’t raced since Salt Lake City last year, and he scored only three podiums in seven races. Due to health issues, Roczen’s endurance has been a question mark for a while. Knee surgery caused Musquin to completely miss racing in 2020. Despite the doubts, Roczen and Musquin made the podium. It was difficult to predict what they would do, and both exceeded expectations. I thought Roczen would start the series strong, so I had him for P3—almost nailed it. I wasn’t confident enough in Musquin to rate him as Top 5 at H1—my loss.
Always difficult to predict, Adam Cianciarulo started the season on a strong note. Cianciarulo was P2 at last year’s opener in his rookie season. Injuries kept Cianciarulo out of the second half of the 2020 supercross series, but he rebounded strongly in the AMA Motocross Nationals. Last year, Cianciarulo, though fast, was often an unreliable RMFantasySX pick—he was in the Top 5 just three times in the eight races he entered. He certainly could become a Top 5 regular in 2021.
Malcolm Stewart was a surprise Top 5—at least for me. In the first 12 Supercross rounds last year, Stewart never made the top 5. If you were looking for a P7 finisher, he was your man. However, Stewart finished in the Top 5 three times in the final five rounds of 2020. Stewart didn’t race motocross, and he moved from a support Honda ride in 2020 to a factory Yamaha ride this year. All of that adds up to a great unknown, and Stewart has started 2021 off on the right foot.
Four reliable performers failed to deliver at Houston 1—Eli Tomac, Zach Osborne, Cooper Webb, and Jason Anderson. Between those four riders, you have every Supercross and Motocross National Championship dating back to 2018. Yet, none of them were close to the Top 5. Still, two riders moved up during the night, while two moved backward.
Eli Tomac got a mediocre start and made it worse. The reigning Supercross champion was in P8 after the first lap—not great, but not a disaster. However, he unwisely decided to mix it up with Vince Friese. That was not a good move, as they both went down on lap 4, pushing Tomac back to P16. A few laps later, Tomac mixed it up again with Friese, slowing both down. At the end, all Tomac could manage was P13 with #1 on his number plate. It was an embarrassing performance, and Tomac will have to be smarter in 2021 if he wants to retain the title he worked so long to earn.
Zach Osborne was slow off the line and went down in the first turn. Starting the night in P22 made things tough for the 2020 AMA National 450MX champion. Osborne worked his way up to P10 by the time the checkered flag flew. The H1 track didn’t make it easy to make up lost time, and that cost Osborne. Although the result was not great, he rode quite well—that’s a positive to take away from Houston 1.
Cooper Webb recovered from a poor start, though not as much as you might expect. The 2019 Supercross champion, and runner-up in 2020, was P14 after the first lap. He eventually moved up to P9, though only improving five positions in 28 laps is not impressive. However, it does speak to the depth of the field.
Jason Anderson had a down-up-down night. He started in P13, which made his race difficult. Regardless, the 2018 Supercross champion hit P8 by lap 4—not bad. Anderson settled into P8, holding the position until lap 22. Then arm pump set in, and Anderson sunk like a rock. By the end of the race, he was back to P15. In 2020, Anderson was one of the most reliable P5 finishers. Houston 1 triggers a warning light for 2021.
Dylan Ferrandis led the way for the rookies. A P7 finish isn’t bad for your first time out in the 450SX class, even if you’re coming off two 250SX regional titles. Joey Savatgy was next in P11. 2020 was supposed to be Savatgy’s maiden 450SX year, but an off-season heel injury moved that timetable back a year. Chase Sexton had a poor start at Houston 1, and he only nosed into the Top 10 once, and that was on lap 2. Then, Sexton ended up a victim of Mártin Dávalos’ crash. If you had told Sexton he would finish H1 right behind Tomac, he would likely have been pumped. Sexton did that—unfortunately, that meant P14 for his 450SX debut.
With all that in mind, it’s time for 2021 Houston 2 Fantasy Supercross picks. This isn’t going to be easy, but it never is. Although H1 was a bonanza for fan picks over cold, hard analytics, that’s rarely a long-term winning strategy.
P1—Eli Tomac. It’s hard to keep Tomac down for two races in a row. Tomac typically bounces back strong from bad races, and H1 was a terrible race. Although it’s not quite a must-win at H2, Tomac doesn’t want to cede any more points in the standings to Roczen or anyone else.
P2—Ken Roczen. He looked great at Houston 1, and if he had been willing to take chances, he certainly could have won. If you want to pick him to win H2, I don’t have a strong argument against you.
P3—Marvin Musquin. Musquin answered the questions of the doubters—including me—at H1. He’s back. He doesn’t look quite like a winner, as he was 20 seconds behind Barcia at the finish.
P4—Zach Osborne. Given Osborne’s comeback performance at H1, it’s easy to see him as a Top 5 finisher at H2. If he gets a good start, he should be there.
P5—Justin Barcia. Yes, he won H1. Keep in mind that he won a couple of A1 races and then slipped right off the podium. Barcia’s motivation and confidence will be sky-high. That should be good enough for a Top 5 result, but we’ll have to see how far deep into that Top 5 it gets him. Those are four strong riders ahead of Barcia.
I can’t believe that Anderson and Webb aren’t in my Top 5. Neither impressed at Houston 1, so now they’re going to have to prove it to me. There’s a good chance I’ll regret leaving them off the Top 5 list. Cianciarulo might also cost me points.
This week’s RMFantasySX Wild Card is P15, and the lower you go, the harder it is to predict. When you look at the results, it is an insanely deep field. Looking at who did worse than expected at H1, I’m going to go with Vince Friese in P15 (he was P16 at H1). Other reasonable choices include Dean Wilson, Broc Tickle, and Joey Savatgy. Good luck with this one.
Normally, I’m bragging about being in the top five percent or better in RMFantasySX. Last year, I was in the top one percent in the final standings. Well, right now, I’m in the top 60 percent—don’t listen to me, yet. I’ll see you on Wednesday!
Photography by Align Media, Feld Entertainment, and Ryne Swanberg2021 Monster Energy Supercross Championship Series Standings (after 1 of 17 rounds)
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!