Ryan Villopoto’s surprise retirement in 2015 left motocross without one of its biggest stars. Ryan Dungey’s equally surprising retirement earlier this year drained even more of the circuit’s star power.
But, as is the case in all sports, when a star athlete steps out of the spotlight, an opportunity arises for someone else to take their place.
As the motocross outdoor season reaches its midpoint this weekend in Michigan, no clear-cut favorite has emerged.
“It’s kind of like Game of Thrones; we’re looking for someone new to take over, but there’s only four or five guys who have a legitimate shot, I believe, to be that person,” said Davey Coombs, president of MX Sports, which operates Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships. “We’re waiting to see who that will be.
Coombs has been involved in motocross for pretty much all of his life, so we asked him to help break down who could end up being the sport’s next star.
Hometown: Cortez, Colorado
Team: Monster Energy Kawasaki
The lowdown: Tomac was expected to be the rider to move into the spotlight after finishing second to Dungey in a close Supercross battle earlier this year and winning at Hangtown to start the outdoor season. He didn’t build upon it, though, missing the podium in three straight races before winning at Tennessee last week. “They seemed have it dialed in during Supercross, but outdoors he has regressed a little,” Coombs said. “He’s not riding with the consistency or the aggressiveness that he had at the end of Supercross. Even so, he is maybe everyone’s favorite pick to be the next guy.”
Hometown: Apolda, Germany
Team: Honda HRC
The lowdown: Roczen made a name for himself quickly after moving from Germany, winning the outdoor title as a rookie in 2014 and another last year. But the German’s future is in doubt after horrific crash during the third Supercross race of 2017 that left him with a compound fracture, a dislocated wrist and dislocated elbow. Roczen has had more than 10 operations already and it’s unclear when or if he might be able to return. “He was the long-look favorite early in the season, but had that absolutely horrific crash and his whole future is more or less in the air,” Coombs said. “Hopefully he gets back.”
Hometown: Grand Terrace, California
Team: Team RMATVMC
The lowdown: Baggett appeared to be one of the rising stars after winning the 250cc outdoor title in 2012, but suffered through a string of injuries and had a rough transition to 450s, costing him a spot on a factory team. He made the turn, so to speak, at the third race of the season in Colorado, running down Tomac in his home state for his first victory. Baggett is the points leader heading into this weekend’s race, four ahead of Tomac. “They say once you find your way to the winner’s circle, it’s so much easier the second time,” Coombs said. “He’s proven that. That one win seemed to change everything for him and his team.”
Hometown: La Reole, France
Team: Red Bull KTM
The lowdown: The heir apparent to Dungey at KTM was expected to be biggest challenger to Tomac during the outdoor season. Musquin got the season off to a strong start, finishing second his first race and winning at Glen Helen after that. A torn meniscus has since slowed him, taking away some of his aggressiveness and leaving him fourth in the standings. “If he doesn’t get it turned around soon, he’s going to lose his chance to win his first motocross title in America,” Coombs said.
Hometown: Edgewood, New Mexico
Team: Rockstar Energy Husqvarna
The lowdown: Anderson nearly quit the sport before he reached the highest level, but has been on a steady climb since, getting better while building confidence with each season. The recent acquisition by KTM of Husqvarna has infused the team with more money and the bike has been set up specifically for Anderson. “He found the right team with Rockstar Husqvarna and is showing the potential when he turned pro back in 2011,” Coombs said. “He’s sort of the alpha dog of the team and the team is pushing him to be the next king.”
Hometown: Hamilton, Ohio
Team: Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha
The lowdown: A big rider at 6-foot-2, he mostly rode 450s as an amateur before joining the 250 class of professional racing. Plessinger is fourth in the 250 standings this season, but won his first race at Tennessee and should be set up well when he makes the jump to 450s next year. “Given his height and the way that he rides, I believe he will be an immediate contender on a 450,” Coombs said. “He’s not even winning the 250 championship right now, but he is the guy we look at as most likely to succeed on a 450.”