Paul Quesnel’s latest column deals with how the two Ryan’s are set up to be long-time rivals.
Paul Quesnel’s latest column deals with how the two Ryan’s are set up to be long-time rivals.
The Ryan Supremacy
By Paul Quesnel
Photos by James Lissimore
In 2010, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey came into St. Louis just twelve points apart while going for their first 450 supercross championship. When it was over, Villopoto was on the injured list, Dungey was about to be named champion, and we all felt like we had just missed out on what could have been one of the greatest head-to-head title fights in recent history. But what we didn’t know at the time was that the battle between the two Ryan’s was only just beginning.
Two years ago, the supercross community was robbed of a great championship title chase between Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey. As it turns out though, the duel that ended prematurely between those two was just a warm-up for what was later to come. A precursor for what the future of the sport was going to look like. What we saw as the end of a battle over supercross supremacy turned out to be just the beginning of a battle to decide the next undisputed ruler of the class. The best part is, the battle isn’t over yet…
Coming into 2010, most of the headlines and speculation all revolved around James Stewart and Chad Reed. Was the new series going to be a continuation of their explosive season from the year before? Was Stewart going to decimate the field on his revolutionary new Yamaha? And was Chad Reed going to mesh as well with his Kawasaki as he did with the Suzuki? Unexpectedly, all these questions were soon put to rest by the end of the third round. In the history of supercross, rarely have we seen the two primary title contenders sidelined with injuries so early in the year. In fact, the only instance that comes to mind is in ’89 when Jeff Ward started off the season injured and Ricky Johnson broke his wrist after round five. Anyhow, with the two biggest names in the sport (Bubba/Reed) now on the injured list, the void they created at the top of the food chain was soon filled by Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto and Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey. But while both RV and RD were expected to contend for wins in 2010, they were still relative newcomers to the class and coming into the season only a few people believed that either of them had the ability to get in the middle of the Stewart/Reed warzone to win the title. So when all the dust settled and the Ryan’s realized that they each had a really good chance at winning their first premier class championship, they fought for it, tooth and nail.
Dungey was the one to jump out to an early lead in the title chase by winning two out of the first three rounds. Villopoto soon struck back with a vengeance though when he won the next three out of four. Now with the points all tied up between the two, everything was about to come to a head at Atlanta, a stop that would completely change the tone of the series. While chasing Dungey in the main event that night, Villopoto ended up clipping his rear wheel over a triple and going over the bars. That wasn’t the problem though. The big issue was the fact that his muffler was completely packed with Georgia red clay. Dungey would go on to take an easy victory that night while Villopoto earned only two points, forcing him to play catch up for the rest of the season. Heading into the next round at Daytona, RV was now almost a full race behind Dungey in points (23 at the time) and with the two of them going 1-2 every weekend, everyone knew it was going to be very hard for him to make up any substantial ground. Nevertheless, Villopoto was as motivated as ever. As someone who was at Daytona that day, you could just see the determinations on RV’s face. As a matter of fact, he was so focused that night that he ripped two main event holeshots as the race had to be restarted when Grant Langston KO’ed himself on the opening lap. Obviously, Villopoto went on to win that night as well as the next weekend in Toronto. Dungey would fight back with a win of his own at Dallas, only to lose more points to Villopoto at Jacksonville and Houston. Now with only four rounds remaining in the season, things were really starting to heat up. However, at this point in the championship, everyone was still waiting for the intense bar banger that had been absent in the series thus far. That was all about to change though as the tour headed into St. Louis with just twelve points separating the title contenders.
Villopoto’s going to have Ryan Dungey right there for the rest of his career.
In the main event that night it was Dungey jumping out to an early lead with Villopoto quickly in toe. When they started running into lapped traffic right around lap ten, Villopoto went for the pass. Now some people will call the attempt dirty and others will say it was clean. Either way, they both went down and pretty much every spectator in the Edward Jones dome jumped to their feet. It was the heart pounding moment of the series. It was the point where you say,” alright, this thing is being decided right here, and right now.” Villopoto was the first to get back on his steed and he quickly jumped into the lead with Dungey right on his tail. With nine laps left in the race, the fans were getting ready to witness the best action of the season. It was what we all had been waiting for the entire year. The gauntlet had officially been thrown down. Sadly though, much like a guy with erectile dysfunction, it all came to an end about two minutes later. When Villopoto bailed off his bike and went full pogo-stick into the St. Louis dirt, it marked the end of not only a great race, but the supercross championship as well. As fans of the sport, it was as if we had just been mugged on the street. We had a great main event and a great title chase in our pocket and it was like fate just whooped are ass and stole it from us. RV was carried out on a backboard that night and we all soon learned that he would be sidelined for the rest of the year, much to the disappointment of every outdoor fan in the country. And with that, 2010 effectively became the year of the Dunginator.
Dungey was handed the 2010 supercross title at the next round in Seattle (Villopoto’s backyard) and from there he went on to absolutely crush the competition outdoors. It was the perfect year for RD, and to cap it all off he went to the Moto Des Nations in Colorado and showed the world’s best that the new superstar in American motocross was for real. He became the only rookie in the history of the sport to win both the 450 SX and MX titles in their first season and he was the first person to win every major title in succession (’09-’10). Now I know some people might say that he got lucky in 2010 with his biggest competition being injured, but that’s all bull. In order to win championships, you have to be at every race and you can’t blame Dungey for everyone else’s mistakes. He won his titles fair and square and he deserves the same respect given to any other champion.
But while Dungey was being praised as the best thing to hit the sport since Tim Ferry, Villopoto was on the couch, thinking about the year that could have been. Coming through the 250 class, Villopoto was always compared to the great Ricky Carmichael and was always considered the next big fish to come into the premier class. So when he saw himself watching a rider who he used to beat on a pretty regular basis (Dungey) go on to have one of the most successful seasons in the history of the sport, it must of really fired of the Washington native. Furthermore, 2011 was going to be RV’s third season in the premier class and he had yet to even finish one of the four major series (missed four races ‘09sx). If ’11 turned out to be another bad year for RV, I think it’s safe to assume that Kawasaki would’ve probably started looking for another title contender. Instead though, Villopoto came back leaner, meaner, and ready to win his first 450 supercross championship. It was a terrific comeback story. But while Villopoto was soaking up the glory, Dungey was dealing with his own issues. While suffering from a mechanical issue at round five of the season really set Dungey back in points, the real story was the fact that he couldn’t quite match the leaders when it came to speed and aggressiveness. Even though many people will call the chase for the 2011 SX crown a three or four man battle, it really came down to Chad Reed and Ryan Villopoto. While Dungey ended up being a close third in points, he was really a distant third in our minds.
Ask Dungey who he’s got to worry about the most and he would most likely say RV.
From there it was onto the nationals where we were finally set to see the matchup we missed the year before between Villopoto and Dungey. It was slated as the battle for outdoor supremacy, and it would not soon disappoint. In what was one of the greatest duels in the history of American motocross, both riders left absolutely nothing on the table. They both gave it everything they had and in the end, the championship really could have gone either way (or Reed’s way). When it came down to it though, only one man could win the title and Villopoto prevailed by coming on strong as the season was coming to a close. But while RV walked away with the glory, both Ryan’s walked away as great champions in everyone’s mind. The dominate duo had firmly established themselves as the top dogs in American MX/SX and for the first time in their careers, they were about to take on the rest of the world….as a team.
Coming into the third and final moto of the 2011 Motocross Des Nations, the stage was set for the home team, France, to steal the victory away from arguably the most stacked U.S. team we’d seen the past couple years. It was not looking good for team USA as they sat in the St. Jean d’Angely country side, trailing by a total of nine points. With the crowd still ecstatic from Gautier Paulin’s moto two win just 15 minutes earlier, the atmosphere was that of a superbowl going into the 4th quarter with the home team leading by a hair. Heading into the final showdown of the day, no one quite knew what to expect out of the usual dominant force known as, “The Ryan’s”. Villopoto and Dungey hadn’t quite been lighting up the French circuit like they had the day before when each rider won their qualifying heat. With erratic rain showers combined with already foreign track conditions on Sunday, both of the U.S. riders settled for modest 3rd’s in their earlier moto’s with the MX2 class. But once the gate dropped for the final race of the event, you could tell that they weren’t about to let their country down. In dramatic fashion, they rose up to the occasion and finished 1-2 to secure the United States its seventh consecutive Chamberlin trophy while also serving notice to the rest of the world that the U.S. team was going to be a formidable force for many more years to come.
Two years ago, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey came into St. Louis just twelve points apart while going for their first 450 supercross championship. When Villopoto crashed out of that race and was forced to sit out for the rest of the season, we all felt like we had just missed out on what could have been one of the greatest head-to-head title fights in recent history. But what we didn’t know at the time was that the battle between the two Ryan’s was only just beginning. Coming into St. Louis this weekend, they are separated by a mere ten points, but now we are in a completely different situation. When approaching the 2010 series, neither of them were really expected to win the championship. Now, both Villopoto and Dungey are champions at the highest level, they’re in the prime of their career, and they have much more to lose if they don’t win. It’s as if the moto gods wanted to wait until the stakes had been raised and there was more on the line before this battle took place. And although the Ryan that wins this championship (Stew’s a longhsot) will undoubtedly gain a slight edge over the other, I don’t see this war for motocross/supercross supremacy between Villopoto and Dungey ending anytime soon.