Ryan Villopoto crashed while running mid-pack on the first lap of Saturday night’s AMA Supercross main event at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, near his hometown of Poulsbo, Washington, and appeared to hurt his knee. At the time, no one knew the extent of the injury, but the damage was serious enough that the 23-year-old Monster Energy Kawasaki rider was unable to remount his factory KX450F and finish the race.
Villopoto had already claimed the series title two rounds earlier in Houston, Texas. So, even if he were to miss the final two races of the 2012 season in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Villopoto would still take home the crown and wear the number-one plate again next season. His next-closest competitor, Joe Gibbs Racing MX’s Davi Millsaps, is currently more than 100 points adrift.
Over the past year and a half, Villopoto has been one of the most-dominant racers on Earth, earning two AMA Supercross titles, the AMA Motocross Championship, top honors at the Motocross of Nations and a $1 million payout at the Monster Energy Cup. Question was, then, would Villopoto be ready to defend his motocross title when the outdoor series kicks off at Hangtown Raceway in Sacramento, California, on May 19?
After Saturday night’s race in Seattle, Kawasaki issued a statement: “Ryan didn’t get such a good start. He was charging through the pack, lost the front end and ended up getting a handlebar to the gut, which knocked the wind out of him. He got a stinger when the footpeg came down on him. He’s really bummed out and upset with himself with what happened. He really wanted to do well for the Seattle fans here. We’re going to have him checked out, but everything should be good to go.”
On Sunday, Villopoto posted the following Tweet: “I’m ok just tweaked my leg. So we will see how this week goes and keep all of you updated.”
Then, on Tuesday, Kawasaki posted the following release: “Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto will not defend his AMA Motocross title in 2012 after injuring his knee at the Seattle supercross on Saturday night. The two-time AMA Supercross and defending AMA Motocross champion will undergo surgery on his knee this week.”
Kawasaki also included a quote from Villopoto in the release. “I’m pretty disappointed right now. I have trained hard for this season and even though I won the supercross title, I really wanted to defend my outdoor championship. I’ve been through injury before, and I know how hard I have to work to get back.”
Unfortunately, Villopoto is just the latest supercross front runner to suffer injury this season. In fact, the Seattle race winner, Andrew Short, had only just returned from injury one week earlier in New Orleans. First of the potential title contenders to go was factory Honda rider Trey Canard, a two-time main-event winner in 2011. Two Two Motorsports’ Chad Reed broke his leg, among other injuries, in Dallas. Another former series champion, KTM’s Ryan Dungey, busted his collarbone practicing prior to the race in St. Louis and missed five rounds. In Houston, after leading both qualifying practices, fan-favorite Kevin Windham crashed in his heat race, dislocating his shoulder and tweaking his thumb and wrist. He’s out for the season, possibly the year.
And then there’s James Stewart. Much was expected this season from the new JGRMX recruit. And while Stewart has, at times, shown blazing speed, even winning two races, in Oakland and Daytona Beach, he has also crashed frequently. Most recently, he missed the New Orleans and Seattle rounds with a broken hand.
Why so many injuries? Pundits have pointed fingers at hay-bale covers, which have occasionally snagged on the sharp, serrated footpegs of some machines, possibly contributing to crashes. Others claim the level of competition is so high that the top riders are racing closer to the edge for longer periods, which has led to mistakes, more falls and, subsequently, injuries. Whatever the explanation may be, one thing is certain: This has been one of the worst supercross seasons in recent history for rider injuries.