Would you believe that 19 out of 20 “experts” predicted Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath would sit in first and second place (not necessarily in that order — some journalists picked Jeremy to finish first) after the 2002 AMA Supercross series? Would you also believe that, after the completion of the first two rounds, neither Ricky nor Jeremy is in the top ten in the points standings? Both statements are true (although the first one is an approximation).
After attending the first two rounds, we would have to say that the three fastest riders so far this year are David Vuillemin (winner of both rounds), Travis Pastrana and Mike LaRocco. Each of these riders has teammates who were expected to do better than they were (McGrath, Kevin Windham and Carmichael).
Moreover, a virtual unknown here in the States, 19-year-old Chad Reed of Australia is 3rd in the points after two rounds (behind Vuillemin and LaRocco). What’s going on here?
There are possible explanations. First of all, every champion gets older, and reaches a point where his competitiveness drops off. As hard as it may be to admit, McGrath may be at this point. Secondly, Ricky Carmichael is getting used to a new bike with significantly different handling traits (the aluminum-framed Honda), and this always takes time. Finally, based on our personal observations, Pastrana, Vuillemin and LaRocco (although, he is even older than McGrath) have stepped it up this year, and are just plain faster than they were last year.
At this point, Vuillemin and LaRocco are starting to look like the series favorites. There are plenty of races left, but McGrath and Carmichael each have a very big points deficit to make up, and McGrath is not riding well. It will be interesting.