PRO TAPER PRESENTS MXA’S MID-WEEK REPORT BY JOHN BASHER

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PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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Last week the MXA gang gladly took ownership of the 2016 Yamaha YZ450F. To clarify, we’re borrowing the bike for the year and returning it once the 2017 YZ450F comes into the fold. But I digress. During the morning of the introduction I thought it would be cool to shoot the blue bomber from a unique vantage point. That’s when I looked up at noticed the top of the Yamaha semi. With the kind help of the Yamaha staff we wheeled the MXA YZ450F on a lift, and then used a loading ramp to push the bike up the rest of the way. It was sketchy. Fortunately no one–or bike–was injured in the making of this photo. Given that I’m a sucker for shooting bikes backlit and using portable flash equipment, I wanted to capture the sun rays from a warm summer day in sun-drenched SoCal. This is the result. For action photos of the 2016 Yamaha YZ450F be sure to scroll down the page and catch Johnny Jelderda twisting the grip.

MXA VIDEO: FIRST RIDE ON THE 2016 YAMAHA YZ450F

THE RYAN VILLOPOTO I KNOW

A look back on a storied career of a quiet Champion

11.05.131A young lion, Ryan Villopoto, at Ponca City in 2005.

The Ryan Villopoto I know now, in 2015, is pretty much the same person that he was when I met him at the Ponca City NMA Amateur National back in the summer of 2005. Sure, his look has changed. In those days Kawasaki’s prodigal son was a shy, introspective red-head with a mop top. A puka shell necklace stretched around his neck, while a Alpinestars tank top showed off his young, sinewy arms. Imagine the Ryan Villopoto of today, with his stubble and mountain-man appearance, wearing a puka shell necklace? I laugh at the idea.

11.05.122Villopoto in action at Ponca City in 2005. He won three titles in Oklahoma that year.

Villopoto, the youngster, was reserved and quiet despite cleaning house by capturing three titles at Ponca City. It seemed that he was not cocky or self-absorbed once he warmed up to my brother, Michael, and I. The Basher brothers were on location to cover the future stars of motocross. Villopoto was our number one choice. Once we tracked him down outside his modest motorhome it was my job to convince Ryan to walk beyond the Ponca City pits, hop a barbwire fence and stand in the scorching sun to shoot a few photos for the interview. RV wasn’t exactly excited about the idea, but he faked it well in the photos by cracking a sheepish smile.

IMG_1400.tif.treatmentFor most of his amateur career Ryan Villopoto (51) was overshadowed by Mike Alessi (800), but that all changed once RV turned Pro. Here, he slices past Alessi on the way to a Millville win in 2006.

In the years that followed I interviewed Villopoto numerous times. He was usually accessible, although the window quickly closed once RV moved to the 450 class. By then he had hit the big time. There was little need for an introvert, mostly guarded as an amateur and overshadowed by Mike Alessi, to take time out of his busy schedule to make nice with the media. After all, he was winning. I should point out that Ryan’s approach to publicity throughout the entirety of his professional career stems back to what he said when I interviewed him as an amateur: “My parents and I have never talked ourselves up. We just go and race and then are done with it. I’ll let my actions speak for themselves on the track. Whatever happens, happens.”

He followed those words to the bitter end, much to the dislike of the media and fans. It doesn’t help that the media landscape has changed so drastically in the past decade. Thanks to widespread popularity of social media, people thirst for any tidbits of information they can find on their favorite rider. For many Supercross fans, Ryan Villopoto was their guy. Yet he didn’t use his popularity to turn his Instagram page into an empire like Adam Cianciarulo has (did you know that Cianciarulo has more Instagram followers than the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team?) or reveal the most personal details of his life. That was Villopoto’s downfall…or was he smarter than the rest of us?

Villopoto:MXoNTo this day there is no performance in my mind more impressive than Ryan Villopoto (2) hammering at the 2007 MXDN at Budds Creek. It was a phenomenal effort.

Villopoto hinted at retirement back in 2013 after he won the Utah National and wrapped up his second 450 National title. His remarks fell on deaf ears, because RV the great and mighty was on a hot streak. He was winning races, collecting checks, and looked unstoppable. There was no reason for him to quit. The 2014 Supercross series wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, but still Villopoto won seven mains and took the title by 62 points over Ryan Dungey. Then something strange–at least from an outsider’s perspective–happened. RV didn’t line up to the gate for the AMA Nationals, citing a bum knee as the culprit. That’s when rumors circulated that Villopoto was burned out and contemplating retirement. Of course everyone shrugged off that notion, because who wouldn’t want to make history as the first ever five-time consecutive winner in 450 Supercross? It turns out that Ryan Villopoto was that person.

One thing we have all learned about Ryan Villopoto throughout his ten years on the professional circuit is that titles meant very little to him. He was paid to win, so that’s what he did. The record books would speak for themselves. Ryan was not the type to daydream about knocking off greats like Hannah, Johnson, McGrath and Carmichael. Nope. As long as the checks cleared and he had time to go hunting, (an activity he spoke less and less about in recent years, probably due to how touchy people are about the Second Amendment) it didn’t matter where he stood on the all-time win list.

MXGP_2_THAI_2015_Mix_1928Villopoto made new fans as part of the 450 field in MXGP this year. Here, he signs autographs for fans in Thailand. However, his decision to race abroad wasn’t well liked by the Supercross crowd. Photo by Massimo Zanzani.

Villopoto’s decision to opt out of the final year of his contract in the U.S. and race the Grand Prix series was not popular among many of his fans. That’s because Ryan made a name in Supercross, and that’s where people cheered loudest for him. Knee injuries held him back from dominating the outdoors over a long stretch. It’s too bad his accomplishments in the Nationals are overlooked by those who stop paying attention to the racing after Las Vegas. To me, Ryan was always most impressive while racing under the summer sun in some field, far away from the concrete jungles of Supercross.

It’s hard not to think about what might have been had Ryan remained healthy in Europe. Instead he got hurt only four rounds into the MXGP series, and his last moment as a professional racer will forever live on as a fluke loop-out crash that left him with a broken tailbone and bum back. However, that’s merely an unfortunate moment in a long series of wonderful memories created by the #2. Remember his dominating performance on a 250F at the 2007 Motocross des Nations? To this day I still haven’t seen anyone ride a 250 four-stroke as fast as he did in Budds Creek that weekend. How about his Monster Energy Cup trifecta, where he secured a cool $1 million bonus? Of course I can’t forget his victory this year at the Thailand GP. It seemed like he would rule the world…only no one knew it would be his last win.

VilloMoto_2005This is still one of my favorite photos I have ever taken of Ryan Villopoto, and it was during the early years of his time on Pro Circuit Kawasaki.

Personally, there’s one Ryan Villopoto story that stands out most to me. Way back in 2005, shortly after I had met Ryan for the first time, he was putting in motos at Glen Helen on an open practice day. The 250 Nationals had just ended, and RV was working on adapting to the Pro ranks (remember when he finished second at the Glen Helen finale?). I wasn’t at the track to shoot Ryan, but instead was focused on a bike test photo shoot for MXA. Stationed in a bowl turn at the far corner of the track (which, by the way, is no longer there), I watched in awe as Villopoto hit the corner wide open and shot up a wave of roost. The next time around he did the exact same thing. I was lucky enough to capture his perfect style in the photo shown above. It’s still one of my favorite photos that I have ever taken.

As race fans we cling to the hope that our favorite riders will have one last glory race that will forever be etched in memory. I’m sure there are those among us who would pay to see Roger DeCoster race Livermore again, or Ricky Johnson stick it to everyone at Carlsbad. Sadly, sports don’t work that way. It’s impossible to know when a racer’s last race will be, which is why we should enjoy every moment we get to watch a guy like Ryan Villopoto twist the throttle. I don’t care that Ryan wasn’t very outgoing or overly friendly, because that’s not who he is. Instead I’ll revel in the fact that I saw Villopoto do something extraordinarily well that 99.99 percent of the rest of us cannot do. In the end, Ryan Villopoto’s action on the track spoke loud and clear.

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MINI-VIEW: ALEX MARTIN

_BAS0715Alex (left) and his brother, Jeremy, wait patiently for practice to start.

By Jim Kimball

How can anyone not be a fan of Alex Martin? Short in stature but big in heart, Alex has toiled around as a Pro since 2008. For the past couple seasons Alex has been a member of the privateer Cycle Trader.com/Rock River Yamaha team. Through the years he has made steady strides upwards in the point standings, but 2015 has been a big step forward for the older Martin boy. Maybe it’s the increased support that Yamaha has given his team or the added time he has spent living with his brother, but Alex has become one of the success stories of 2015. We caught up with Alex after Red Bud, where he finished fifth overall.

MXA: Alex, you had a decent Supercross season, but you’ve had even greater success in the outdoor series. Alex: Thank you. It has been a great year so far, starting in Supercross with getting that podium in Oakland, and then getting another one in Santa Clara. Indoors went well, and I had really wanted to carry that momentum into the outdoor series. Hangtown started out pretty well with a fourth, and then I took that second at Glen Helen. Traditionally I have started out pretty slow in a series, so I was pretty happy with how the first couple races went. I attribute much of my success to the Cycle Trader team, Yamaha, and Enzo suspension. I have also really been putting in the work this year during the week, with riding and training with my brother. We spend about every day together, and it has been paying off.

There has been more to your success than just training with your brother, right? It’s easy to point to training with my brother as a huge part of my success, but I’m sure there is more to it. I’ve changed up a lot of things prior to this year, such as living and training in California, plus the Yamaha motors are awesome this year. There are really just a lot of little things that have contributed to my results this year.

_BAS1523Good starts have helped Alex (31) finish on the box in the 250 Nationals.

I imagine that you and Jeremy pound laps on a motocross track all day. We definitely put in some hours during the week on the track before tapering off for the weekends so that we are fresh on race day. However, it’s not like every time we are on the track we are going wide open. We know when to go hard and when to back off.

How has it been working with Johnny O’Mara? It has been great working with someone as talented as Johnny. It really started with my brother working with Johnny, and I would tag along. They would do their thing and I would just try to absorb as much as I could. Johnny is full of knowledge. It’s been cool to work with someone who has all the experience that he has. It’s especially helped in that I have learned when to man up and work harder, and when to taper off. I am really thankful that I can hang out with my brother and Johnny.

Has O’Mara helped you much with riding technique and mental toughness, or has it really been only training? We haven’t worked so much on the technique side of riding. I mean, he is my brother’s trainer. I’m really just tagging along. Anything that I can learn is a bonus for me. I’m just happy to be hanging around the guy. I have not known Johnny that long, but would like to consider him a friend. I do try to pick his brain whenever possible.

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Congratulations on signing a deal with the Star Racing team for 2016. Can you explain how that team differs from the Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha team that you are currently on? That’s kind of a tricky question to answer. There are some obvious big differences with the two teams. The Star Racing budget is much bigger and allows the team to do much more with the bikes. They have their own motor guy and suspension guy, and also a race shop in California where they can make your practice bike perform exactly like your race bike. You never have to learn two bikes at the same time. Also the salaries and bonuses are better, which comes along with having a bigger budget.

The Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha team saved you a couple years ago when you were on a privateer team that folded. I bet that the move is still a bit bittersweet. Oh definitely, I wouldn’t even be in this position if it had not been for the support of the Cycle Trader team. Them stepping up this year and getting more Yamaha support on the engines helped propel me towards success. They really helped me to get to this next level to where I could get signed by a factory team. They did awesome with the budget that they have and I cannot thank them enough.

How excited are you to be racing on the track in your backyard in Millville? In my head I am hoping for a holeshot and to lead laps, with a Martin brother 1-2 finish!

HAVE YOU SEEN IT? MX NATION, EPISODE #2

Here’s an in-depth look at Ryan Dungey vs. Ken Roczen for the 2015 AMA National title, filmed by master videographer, Troy Adamitis

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WHAT IN THE WORLD?

Here’s the breaking news for this week…or at least news of interest.

JG33 TO FACTORY KAWI

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Josh Grant.

In a move that should surprise no one, Josh Grant has joined the Monster Energy Kawasaki factory racing program for the remainder of the 450 Nationals. Grant, who lost his ride after Chad Reed closed shop at TwoTwo Motorsports, publicly stated that retirement didn’t seem so far off for the likable SoCal native. However, a ride on factory Kawasaki might be the spark Grant needs to rejuvenate a career that started off with such promise, only for him to fall victim to a series of injuries. With the Davi Millsaps debacle and Wil Hahn suffering a serious injury last week–which Kawasaki failed to provide any details of Hahn’s condition–Josh Grant seems like the logical choice. Why? He had been racing a Kawasaki all season (or at least until he rung his bell before Hangtown). There’s also Grant’s potential to place well. Time will tell how the pairing work out. Look for Josh on the line this weekend in Millville.

GIUSEPPE HATES LONG HAIR (SARCASM ALERT)

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Thomas Covington (above) had to get his hair cut or risk punishment from the FIM.

American export, Thomas Covington, has been enjoying his time overseas and racing for the Monster Energy Kawasaki program on the 250 Grand Prix circuit. Covington has shown flashes of brilliance in Europe. He has also spent a long time growing out his hair. How long? The last time Covington visited a barber was in January 2014. While Thomas enjoyed the spoils of rocking locks like Fabio (minus the blond dye job), Youthstream president, Giuseppe Luongo, did not. To be fair, it is possible for a rider with long locks to fall and have his or her hair get sucked up in a rear sprocket. As such, there’s an FIM rule stating that long hair must be tied back or cut shorter to prevent such an accident.

Here’s what Covington had to say about the whole ordeal:

“The last few weeks the FIM has given me a hard time about it hanging out the back of my helmet, and I didn’t want to tie it up. Finally they put enough pressure on me that I had to cut it. I was pretty bummed about it, actually, but it’ll grow back. Hopefully this will be a new start for me. Cut off the hair and get better results here in Europe.”

Did the haircut help boost his results? Not really. Covington went 14-9 for 10th overall in Latvia.

MXA PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: RIDE ENGINEERING KTM BAR MOUNTS

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Press release: Ride Engineering, the industry leader in high quality racing accessories, introduces Replacement Bar Mounts for the Factory Edition, and all 2016, KTM models. This OEM replacement Bar Mount has a one-piece top with 8 pinch bolts to better resist bending making it superior to the stock bar mount. Precision machined from aircraft quality aluminum, it features 3mm of adjustability forward or back. The Replacement Bar Mount is in Stock Now and available at dealerships nationwide, or online at www.ride-engineering.com for $94.95.  For more products, applications, colors, and pricing give us a call at (800) 805-1516.

2016 YAMAHA YZ450F OUT-TAKES

Take a look at MXA’s Johnny Jelderda getting the most out of the 57-horsepower YZ450F

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VIDEO: RED BULL X-FIGHTERS MADRID

THIS WEEK’S LACR SCHEDULE

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Wednesday July 8th

Practice on the Main Track & Mini Track
2pm-7pm
$25 per rider
$10 50cc Pee Wee’s

Saturday July 11th

Practice on the Main, Vet, & Mini track
8am-1pm
$25 per rider
$10 50cc Pee Wee’s

Sunday July 12th

Practice on the Main, Vet, & Mini track
8am-1pm
$25 per rider
$10 50cc Pee Wee’s

NITRO CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN!

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