This year is exceptionally exciting as more top riders changed teams or bikes than any other year in recent memory. As I continue my breakdown of riders in “The Pack” I will admit math was never my specialty, and it doesn't take a genius to see I have almost 20 riders featured as top 10 contenders. Bad math calculations or not, some heavy hitters will be on the outside looking in this season.
Blake Baggett, from what I hear, has been the fastest KTM during the offseason. Yes, faster than Dungey and Marvin! He seems to enjoy his new bike. I don't think this will translate to a title contender or even winning races, but I do think he will give other riders in 4th through 10th trouble. Also, don't be afraid to add him to your fantasy SX lineup at A1 as I imagine he will have a good handicap and might end up being a double pointer (using Motocross Fantasy). Baggett is my breakout pick for 2017, and yes he wears Fly Racing gear!
Davi Millsaps, another Fly rider, will be entering his second year with the Butler Brothers KTM Team. He will be fast, but with extended main events he will also need focus on his fitness. Davi lost a kidney in 2010 and while I am not a doctor it seems like he is sick more than other riders. If he has his health dialed in he could easily be a podium contender, so if you have a cold or the flu please avoid Davi!!
Next on my list is Malcom Stewart, while I have no idea what or who he will be riding for, I am sure he will not back down or give an inch. Malcom believes he is a top guy and will not be bullied by veterans like Barcia (Barcia slammed him hard in Geneva, but Malcom gave it right back). If I knew his program I would love to say he could contend for podiums. All I know is if he lines up, it will be exciting.
Dean Wilson has been plagued with injuries during his 450 career and has not produced the results expected from him. This left him searching for a team during the off season. Nothing has been officially announced, but it looks like he will be with Factory Yamaha. I expect him to be inside the top 10 and finish ahead of many riders who got the rides he was looking for. This is a career defining year for Deano, if he gets hurt or has poor results this could be the end of his shot at big time racing.
One of the most controversial riders on the list is Justin Barcia. While he is still with the JGR Team, they have switched to Suzuki’s. Rumor has it they took less money to ride the yellow bike due to lack of support from Factory Yamaha, along with Factory Yamaha stealing Cooper Webb. Barcia has looked less than spectacular during the offseason races at Geneva and Lille (Bercy). I heard he looked great at the JGR test track but his results were below average which I normally use as a gauge to determine how he will ride this year. During the WPS/Alpinestar launch he told me a story about literally having to break out of the hospital a couple years ago after he crashed and Tomac landed on his head. He laughed while telling the story but I got the feeling he never wants to see the inside of a hospital overseas again. This leads me to believe he rode smart and conservative (other than trying to kill Mookie with a block pass). Also Brayton is really fast on tight tracks, Marvin had a full Factory bike and Mookie had nothing to lose and everything to prove. Barcia will be a 5th to 10th place guy unless he has a breakout ride and gets confidence.
The other JGR 450 rider, who also happens to wear Fly Racing gear, is Westin and by default I am pulling for him. He will be top 5 and have a few shots at podiums. Last year his season was derailed after beating the hell out of Friese at A1. Neither Westin nor the team, admitted anything about a hand injury from punching Friese’s helmet but as an avid MMA fan I don't see how those punches didn’t cause a hand injury. I think he tried riding through the injury and never got back to the speed he showed in 2015. As a Fly Rider I would love to see him get up and fight (not literally) at the front and a podium spot. He is familiar with the Suzuki, as he rode one a few years ago and they haven't exactly changed much, so I don't expect any trouble adapting to the yellow bike.
Justin Bogle is debuting on the RCH Suzuki team that came dangerously close to folding. I don’t think much of Bogle as a 450 rider, so I don't expect anything from him. Maybe some hole shots and a few cool whips with leg swag but he will be lucky to finish inside the top ten. I don't understand why his services were so coveted during the offseason. He did overplay his hand and barely ended up having a ride at all. Cool whips as he wins a couple semi’s but that will be his biggest highlight.
This is it for the pack, all these riders have major team support except Stewart. I don't want to call this the most stacked field ever, because Feld says that every year, but if most of these riders stay healthy…Damn! Next up is outside the top ten, riders who hope to make Main events.
In case you missed it: