Cooper Webb. Rutherford/Las Vegas: 1-3. Eli Tomac’s end of season form might have crushed a lesser rival, but Webb in 2019 has been magisterial, and taking the win at the penultimate round – Rutherford – just when you might have thought he’d ride for a place, showed just how in control he has been this season. Even in Vegas, where he’d be excused for rolling in downfield to pick up the paltry one point he needed, instead he did as he has all season, riding at the front. He didn’t fight for the win, but he was comfortably on the podium. Seven wins are the headlines, but what sealed the deal was the fact he only (just) slipped off the podium four times in 17 races. You’d think that would be hard work, but instead he made it look like hard work for everyone else. “It’s been an incredible journey. This KTM team believed in me, they took me in and transformed me back to where I always knew I could be. This year was not expected at all and I can’t thank them enough for giving me this opportunity to get back into this level and to do it this way is unreal. It’s a dream come true, I’ve had it since I was a little kid. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Eli Tomac: 3-1. Forget 3-1, it’s 6-7 that put Tomac as runner-up (again!) in the championship. That’s six wins, but seven off-podium finishes. In a championship with a point structure as even as this, those seven are punishing. Tomac finished the season strong, three wins from four races, but by then the damage had been done and Webb was able to follow along comfortably in Tomac’s slipstream to maintain his championship lead. And even when strong Tomac didn’t look his old self, at Rutherford and at Vegas he lost his balance in the whoop sections, at Rutherford it cost him the win, at Vegas it didn’t matter, but it was indicative that this wasn’t Tomac the way we’ve known him. But to be this good, year after year and not come away with a championship – that’s gotta hurt.
Marvin Musquin: 5-2. A solid year from Marv, was 2019. Solid, in as much as he finished every round with big points, standing on the podium 11 times out of 17 – that’s potentially championship winning stuff in some years. Not this year, not with a teammate as strong as Webb. Significantly, for all his speed – and boy is Musquin fast when he wants to be – Musquin failed to convert speed into wins. Only the one main win all year. Week after week we’d see Musquin come off second best in his battles. And some weeks when he wasn’t challenged he’d crash off the track anyway. You’ll never see ‘flow’ or ‘breathe’ written on his pit board because Musquin rides like an angel, but he needs to channel a little bit of devil if he’s going to prevail in this championship. Second in Vegas, yeah that kind of sums it up.
Ken Roczen: 5-4. Roczen doesn’t want for support. He has a massive fan base and Honda – having recently given him a three-year extension to his contract –are clearly believers. But 2019 SX was not his season. After two seasons and two horrendous injuries, to make it injury-free through 2019 and to have been in the mix, even holding down the red plate early in the season, is a triumph in itself. But this is Roczen, Alpha Dog, we expect more, we expect rocket man performances. Instead 2019 was the year of Gentle Ken, where he picked up points where he could, where he stayed safe. And waited, or at least we waited, for an opportunity that really never came. A couple of times it looked like he could steal one, but the run went against him. Talk of illness took over the second half of his campaign as even podiums slipped from his grasp.
Blake Baggett: 4-6. A win at round two (Glendale) and a surprising three second placings, plus one more podium, are a pretty good haul for Baggett given his past seasons. In fact his, and teammate Justin Bogle’s, performances must have given KTM a lot of satisfaction, regularly putting four orange bikes in the top ten before you add in a Husky or two – and this will probably give the Rocky Mountain team a little more leverage for when it comes to securing more support from the factory for the 2020 season. Only thing, given the top four were the top four (in whatever order) everyone predicted at the season beginning, fifth puts Baggett as ‘the best of the rest’. Now can the 27 year old lift his game to break the top four’s stranglehold?
Got to hand it to Zach Osborne, after sitting out half the season he found his rhythm at season end. His first rides back were steady, but from Daytona onwards he was on it. Leading at Rutherford everyone wondered whether he could stand the pressure. He did, but not enough, Webb pressured him into a mistake – as he everyone in 2019 – but second place, plus his other finishes should see Osborne retained by Husky for 2020. Likewise his team-mate Dean Wilson – drafted into the team after 2019 champ Jason Anderson injured – put in a great, exciting season, up until his injury. Sixth place for the year is a fair reflection of his competitiveness. And after those two, we are in the world of ‘what ifs’. Joey Savatgy rattle everyone’s cage this year but over a full race distance just couldn’t maintain his intensity – maybe in 2020? Justin Barcia’s Bam Bams were mostly self-inflicted. Chad Reed shone in the Triple Crown races before crashing out. Justin Hill is coming up, but missed out on making a quantum leap this year. Aaron Plessinger matched teammate Barcia for speed at times, but like Savatgy wasn’t a whole race man, nor a whole season man as it turned out.