The return of Fox Raceway at Pala added a welcome challenge to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross schedule in 2019, but this weekend, it’s back to one of the sport’s most familiar tracks at Thunder Valley Motocross Park in Lakewood, Colorado. A mainstay of the calendar, Thunder Valley is the home track of defending 450 champion Eli Tomac, who looks to back up last year’s 1-1 result for Monster Energy Kawasaki against an always deep field in the sport’s premier class.
Saturday’s event promises to be the most exciting yet in the young 2019 season, as most of motocross’ top riders are healthy and ready to go. Here’s what we’ll be watching for:
Guess who’s back on top? Eli Tomac swept weekend after weekend to start the 2018 season on the way to yet another outdoor 450 crown, but he had to split moto victories and actually lost the overall to Ken Roczen in the season opener from Hangtown. Not so in Pala, where Tomac pulled off the 1-1 sweep to reclaim the red plate and points lead to go along with his #1 from last season.
Having the momentum back on his side is perfect going into Thunder Valley, where one of Tomac’s numerous 1-1s from 2018 occurred with victories over Roczen in both races. In fact, the top four was the same in both races, with Blake Baggett completing the podium and Marvin Musquin finishing fourth.
That said, Thunder Valley lacked so many top riders last year that this weekend’s results may be recognizable. Riders that missed last year’s event included Cooper Webb and Jason Anderson, the last two Supercross champions; Cole Seely, who missed the entire 2018 season; and Justin Bogle, who didn’t return to action until Southwick last year.
Add in full-time 450 rookies Zach Osborne and Justin Hill, and you’ve got an intriguing mix of riders who will likely affect any return podium bids for the front-runners. Hill didn’t make the move up to a 450 until the fourth round of the 2018 season at High Point, while Osborne’s final 250 outdoor season came to an end right here in Colorado last June.
Compared to last season’s Thunder Valley results, the 250 class is almost unrecognizable in 2019. Defending winner Jeremy Martin has missed the entire season, both indoor and outdoor, with injuries, and fourth place finisher Austin Forkner didn’t make it out of the Supercross season. Zach Osborne, Justin Hill, Aaron Plessinger, and Joey Savatgy all moved up in the offseason. Meanwhile, Jordon Smith’s first two races coming off of injury haven’t been stellar, with a 17th place at Hangtown and 21st place last weekend in Pala.
That leaves Adam Cianciarulo, last weekend’s overall winner and the incoming points leader, as the favorite. Cianciarulo hasn’t run Thunder Valley since 2017, when he finished fifth and 37th in the two motos to combine for a so-so 14th place overall finish, his worst of the season. That said, with finishes of third, first, second, and first so far in 2019, it’s safe to say those results are in the distant past.
As for returning riders, 2018 podium finishers Alex Martin and Justin Cooper are the returning favorites. But Martin posted a subpar 10-6 in Pala, despite being one of very few riders to race the track in the class in its most recent schedule appearance in 2011. Cooper, however, has posted 1-4 results in both events so far in 2019 and has a shot at taking his first overall win of his Pro Motocross career with just a little more consistency.