Thunder Valley race preview: Musquin, Tomac elevate their title fight to the mountains

May 31, 2017

The battle between the top two title contenders in the 450 Class is heating up as Lucas Oil Pro Motocross hits Round 3.

Marvin Musquin has yet to finish outside the top three in a moto this year. (Photo: Chris Ortiz)

What a difference a week can make. After the first round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, it looked a like a pair of riders might threaten to run off with their respective titles. Now, as the series heads to the higher altitude of Thunder Valley for some Colorado racing, things look a bit different.

Below are a few of the top storylines to watch for when the gate drops on Saturday.

Battle for the red plate
In the 450 Class, Eli Tomac still appears to be the prohibitive title favorite, but last week's ride at Glen Helen was a reminder of his biggest weakness: his starts. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider got off to a lackluster start in both motos. He spent the entirety of Moto 1 working his way from 12th (after Lap 1) up to second and ran out of time to catch the leader, Marvin Musquin. Tomac's second moto was doomed by an early bike issue that put him a lap down and left him without a front brake for the rest of the race, though he deserves major credit for coming from dead last up to 19th and salvaging a few points.

As a result, Tomac ceded control of the red plate to Musquin and will enter Thunder Valley, which is located in Tomac's home state of Colorado, trailing by 15 points.

As for Musquin, he's proven that he's a legitimate title candidate and has the tools to make this an exciting championship battle all year long. So far, consistency has been key — he's finished on the podium in every moto this year. Part of the reason he's been able to do that: He's been getting excellent starts.

Eli Tomac only held the red plate for one week. (Photo: George Crosland)

The stark contrast between the two riders is the subject of "Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Stat of the Week #1":

In four motos this year, Musquin's average starting position (based on where he is after the first complete lap) is 2.8. Even when you remove Glen Helen Moto 2 (when Tomac's result was skewed by a mechanical issue), Tomac's average starting position is just 8.0.

One of the biggest questions for Round 3 is whether Tomac will be able to help his cause by getting good starts this time. And because this is Thunder Valley, starts are trickier than usual. Not only does the track feature higher altitude that robs bikes of power, the start section itself is uphill.

Who else steps up?
While Tomac and Musquin are the two riders who have thus far shown the consistency needed to contend for a title, podium finishes and even moto wins will be up for grabs this season.

Jason Anderson came through in Moto 2 last week to earn his first career 450MX moto victory. Behind him in that same moto, Blake Baggett matched a career high with a second-place finish. And though he had issues in that moto which led to a DNF, Josh Grant had previously recorded three straight third-place moto finishes before then.

Anderson, Baggett and Grant will clearly remain riders to watch going forward, but what about everyone else?

Was last week the beginning of something big from Jason Anderson? (Photo: George Crosland)

Since opening the season with a fifth-place moto finish, 450MX rookie Cooper Webb has gone 9-10-DNF in his next three motos (the cause of the DNF is still uncertain). Justin Barcia — who finished third in 450MX points in 2013, third in 2015 and fourth in 2016 — is currently outside the top ten of the 450 Class standings after 11-5-13-10 moto finishes to start the year. Both riders will be hoping for a turnaround this weekend.

One guy turning in solid rides has been Dean Wilson. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider has finished fourth overall in back-to-back weeks and seems to be in the midst of a career revival after enduring years of injuries and coming into 2017 as a privateer. To put his results in context, we turn to "Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Stat of the Week #2":

After the first four motos of the 2017 season, only three riders have finished in the top ten of every single 450MX moto: Marvin Musquin, Blake Baggett and Dean Wilson.

Parity still reigns supreme in the 250 Class
Most weeks, 4-2 moto finishes likely wouldn't be enough to give a rider an overall victory, but that's what happened to Zach Osborne last week. Coming off an impressive 1-1 sweep at Hangtown where he led 25 of 32 laps, Osborne didn't spend any time out front at Glen Helen, but he was consistent when it counted and now holds a 21-point lead after two rounds.

Despite back-to-back wins by Osborne, the 250 Class is still wide-open. Here's a few facts about the season so far:

  • The first four motos of the season have featured three different winners (Zach Osborne, Jeremy Martin, Dylan Ferrandis).
  • Seven different riders have finished on the podium in a moto (Zach Osborne, Jeremy Martin, Dylan Ferrandis, Adam Cianciarulo, Aaron Plessinger, Joey Savatgy, Austin Forkner).
  • No rider other than Zach Osborne has finished on the podium in more than two motos.
  • Alex Martin and Colt Nichols are third and fourth in 250MX points (and not far behind second-place Cianciarulo) despite not finishing in the top three of a single moto.

Had he not crashed on the opening lap of Moto 2 last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he could have been on his way to a 1-1 sweep. After that crash, he put on an impressive ride to work his way from dead last up to seventh. At the end of the day, J-Mart only lost one single point to Osborne thanks to all those passes — an important result as he tries to erase the early deficit that resulted from a Moto 1 DNF at Hangtown (Martin is now 31 points back of Osborne).

A week after his first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross moto win, what does Dylan Ferrandis have in store for an encore? (Photo: Joey Shigeo)

Then there's Dylan Ferrandis. He was fast in preseason testing, then fast in Hangtown qualifying, then he crashed out of the race and suffered a concussion. He returned at Glen Helen, was fast in qualifying again, finished ninth in Moto 1, then dominated Moto 2 to the tune of a 23-second win. The fact that he was shut out of points at Hangtown makes it unlikely that he'll be able to get into the championship discussion, but the first-year Lucas Oil Pro Motocross rider looks like he could be a major factor each week from here out.

One more rider to keep an eye on is Joey Savatgy. The Pro Circuit/Monster Energy Kawasaki rider was in contention for an overall podium last week until a mechanical issue in Moto 2 (something that plagued his teammates Austin Forkner and Justin Hill in Moto 1) knocked him out of the race. Savatgy won the 2016 installment of the Thunder Valley National with 2-1 moto results.

Watch the True Valley Thunder Valley National on Saturday, June 3. Qualifying, Moto 1s and Moto 2s will all be available live, on-demand and commercial-free with the NBC Sports Gold "Pro Motocross Pass." Click here for more info on how to watch.