Ken Roczen wins Supercross Round 1 at Anaheim, renews battle with Cooper Webb
Ken Roczen drew first blood for the fourth time in his career as the winner of Round 1 of the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross season at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
He beat last year’s champion Cooper Webb to the line by a little more than 7 seconds, after leading all 22 laps, but the race was anything but a runaway for Roczen, who hadn’t ridden much last month while recovering from an illness.
“My December has been horrendous,” a “completely surprised” Roczen told NBC Sports reporter Will Christien from the top of the podium. “Me and the team, we tried to do as much work as we can get to get better, of course. But I didn’t expect that at all coming here. But at the same time, once racing starts, I’m always more of a racer.”
Roczen has battled illness for the past couple of seasons and spent most of the final month of 2021 trying to get healthy enough to challenge for the championship.
Last year, he finished second to Webb in a hotly contested battle for the top spot.
Roczen held a large lead for most of Saturday night’s main event after Honda teammate Chase Sexton challenged hard for the lead in the first 5 minutes and then fell twice.
“We just really focused on our starts, and everything just went right, and I’m very thankful for that,” Roczen said. “The track was brutal. Towards the end I was just (trying) to keep it on two wheels. It’s kind of a weird position when you have that much of a gap and so many minutes to go. I really just tried to manage it and pushed as much as I had to and made it through.”
Roczen started the night by winning his heat over Justin Brayton.
Webb was shuffled back in the opening laps and had to charge through the field.
In the closing laps, he had the fastest bike, reducing a deficit that at one point was nearly 13 seconds. Still, Webb was not disappointed with his runner-up finish. After finishing ninth in last year’s opener at Houston, he was mindful that this was one of his best starts.
“It was a dogfight tonight,” Webb said from the second step of the podium. “Fun race. A really tough race. The track got really rough and a lot of us were out front just duking it out.”
Justin Barcia came into the race seeking a record fourth opening night win. He fell short, but still landed on the podium in third.
“That was an awesome race, I had a lot of fun,” said Barcia, who emerged unscathed from a late battle for a podium spot with Jason Anderson (who fell and finished 11th). “Some great battles out there. The whole day was steady, smooth, smart. I felt like a veteran today. It was awesome.”
Marvin Musquin and Sexton both had eventful races that saw them hit the dirt.
Musquin rebounded to finish fourth.
Sexton spent the first half of the race on the back fender of his teammate Roczen. He applied pressure while avoiding contact until the first of two crashes but still had the speed to rebound for fifth.
“That one was kind of tough; I kind of feel like an idiot for making those two mistakes,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Daniel Blair. “The first one caught me really far off guard, and the second was just me riding off emotion. But I didn’t give up.
“Man, that was frustrating. It’s not the first time I’ve been the fastest but don’t get the win. Go back to work on some more whoop practice and try not to make that little mistake again.”
At the time, the beneficiary of Sexton’s crash was Adam Cianciarulo, who has been battling with a shoulder injury sustained in a preseason practice crash. During the weekend, Cianciarulo complained about soreness and during practice for Round 1, he had difficulty making long runs.
Still, Cianciarulo managed to run among the top three for more than half of the Main after finishing seventh in his heat. As the shoulder weakened, he fell back into the clutches of one rider after another and ultimately finished 11th.
Tension was high in the season opener.
As the two battled for position, Musquin and Malcolm Stewart made contact. The discussion got heated as they left the track and headed for the tunnel. With Musquin in fourth and Stewart in seventh, both had a solid points’ day.
The opening round of the 250 West class went to Christian Craig for the second consecutive year. Craig, 30, knows that time is running out on his 250 career and wants to make the most of his opportunity in 2022.
“This is bucket list for me,” Craig told NBC Sports’ Daniel Blair after the race. “I grew up in those stands right there. I remember vividly watching Main events right there as a kid. and now I’m here on the stage.”
Craig got a good start, but it was Vince Friese who earned the holeshot and led the first three laps. His pace was not quite enough to hold the field at bay, and Friese held up Craig and Seth Hammaker for the first few trips around the track. Once the leaders got around him, they opened a gap, but by then a determined Hunter Lawrence was in pursuit.
“You think you’re ready (for the season), but until qualification you don’t really know,” Craig said in the post-race press conference.
Lawrence had one of the fastest bikes over the last several laps and closed on Garrett Marchbanks, who was running third on the white flag lap. Lawrence slipped past Marchbanks and almost nipped Hammaker in the final turn. The two riders crossed over the finish line inches apart.
“That was a wild race,” Hammaker said from the second step of the podium. “Probably one of the craziest I’ve ever been in.
“Those last couple of laps with Garrett (Marchbanks) behind me. And I saw Hunter Lawrence was coming too and I said I got to plan my passes around the lappers, hit the whoops and not let them get too close.
“Me and Hunter had a pretty gnarly moment before the finish line.”
Lawrence was a last-minute addition to the 250 West field. Originally designated to run in the East division, he was pressed into service when his brother, Jett Lawrence, sustained a minor injury during the offseason. In order to give Jett a few more weeks to heal, Hunter took over his ride.
“I was trying to get the spot, but wanted be a little bit civilized,” Hunter Lawrence said immediately following the race. This was his fifth career podium in his first attempt in Anaheim.
Marchbanks held on to fourth with Friese rounding out the top five.
The season got off to a brutal start for a couple of top-rated riders.
In Heat 1, last year’s 250 West champion Colt Nichols had the early lead until he endoed in the first of two extremely challenging whoop sections. Nichol’s bike landed on him hard and even though the Alpine Stars Medical team was immediately on the spot, Nichols was in too precarious position to place him on the cart. He laid just off the racing surface and watched the race finish the final three laps without him.
The news was worse for Jalek Swoll. He crashed hard in the first rhythm section early in Heat 2, bringing out a red flag and complete restart. Swoll was carted off course on a back board.
Both riders were done for the night.