Top riders healthy for motocross opener
The starting gate for motocross' opening race this weekend will be stacked with the best riders in the sport, all healthy and ready to take on what should be one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory.
Of course, they all have to stay healthy for it to stay competitive, which, in a dangerous sport like this, is no guarantee.
"If it were my way, I'd love for every guy to be there," said defending champion Ryan Dungey. "It doesn't feel the same winning as it would winning when every guy is on that line. That's when all the hard work feels good. I think everyone would agree with that."
Dungey knows what it's like to win without everyone being there
The 23-year-old from Belle Plaine, Minn., became the first rookie to sweep the Supercross and outdoor titles in 2010 when many of the top riders went out with injuries.
He won his second outdoor title last year -- his first with new team KTM -- as former champions Ryan Villopoto, James Stewart and Chad Reed watched from the sideline.
As he heads into Saturday's Hangtown Classic outside of Sacramento, Calif., Dungey is looking to not only defend his title, but do it in a season when everyone stays healthy.
"It's kind of a bummer because guys get discredited for their accomplishments and it's not even in their control," said Dungey, who was third in the 2013 Supercross season.
This outdoor season, they'll all start off healthy.
Dungey is feeling good. Villopoto proved he's all the way back from a torn left ACL by winning his third straight Supercross title.
Stewart, with his win-or-crash-trying style, is ready to go after injuries plagued his 2012 outdoor season and this year's Supercross run. Reed finished fifth in Supercross after missing the 2012 outdoor season due to injury.
And the field is strong beyond those marquee names, maybe as deep as it's ever been.
Up-and-comer Justin Barcia finished fourth in the Supercross standings as a rookie this year. His Team Honda teammate Trey Canard is healthy after a horrific crash in 2012 left him with a broken back and numerous other injuries. And though he had an up-and-down Supercross season, Mike Alessi is always a threat to win motos and races.
About the only rider missing will be Davi Millsaps, who is taking the outdoor season off to recover from a variety of injuries after finishing second to Villopoto in Supercross.
"I think it's going to be a good, hard-fought season just with everybody there," Dungey said. "The racing's going to be intense and there's not just two or three guys. There's a group of guys that know how to win and are capable of winning, so it's going to be an important one to win. It's going to be rewarding."
The man to beat will be Villopoto.
The 24-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., wrapped up his second Supercross title faster than anyone in the sport's 39-year history in 2012, doing it with four races left. Three weeks later at his hometown race in Seattle, Villopoto hobbled off the course after a crash left him with a torn ACL and wiped out his outdoor season.
After a slow start to the 2013 Supercross season, he got on a roll, winning 10 races to join Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Bob Hannah as the only riders to win three straight Supercross titles.
"You know he's going to be there every single week, you can count on that, which makes him a tough competitor," Dungey said. "It's going to make it more important for us to be on the top of our games, get a good start, position ourselves right to be there at the end of the race."
Well, that and stay healthy.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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