2021 AMA Pro Motocross 450 Class Previewby Jack Gaffney May 19, 2021 1 comment
Last year it was Zach Osborne whose first 450 class championship broke up Eli Tomac’s bid for a Motocross four-peat. Osborne held the points lead the entire campaign. He faced minimal opposition from his peers, save a late-season push by then-rookie Adam Cianciarulo, who remained alive in the title fight until the final moto of the year.
In 2021, Osborne now has at least a half dozen riders ready to chase him down in a 12-round prizefight. We break down the hopes for the United States’ top riders as they prepare for the great outdoors. This season boasts one of the deepest premier class fields in history.
Former Des Nations hero for Great Britain Max Anstie is set to run in his second full-time U.S. Nationals tilt since leaving MXGP. The H.E.P/Twisted Tea Suzuki rider had a relatively good 2020, and his international pedigree cannot be ignored. Christian Craig once again will run on the big bike for Motocross, this year with Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha. He finished sixth in points last year (albeit in a depleted field), but can hold his own on a 450.
Joey Savatgy looks to turn in a good outdoor season after a very respectable outing in supercross with Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-KTM-WPS. His 2020 with the now-defunct JGR Suzuki was decent, considering the heel injury he had in late 2019.
In a field as deep as the 450 class is in 2021, a rider the caliber of Justin Barcia had to miss the cut for this list. After a fourth-place outing in 2018, he finished seventh the next two seasons. Barcia, as always, should be considered a threat if inclement weather comes into play. His last national overall came in the mud at Ironman MX in 2018. With Barcia’s switch to GasGas from Yamaha giving him second wind, it will be interesting to see how his first outdoor season goes with the team.
Following are the top-10 riders, with their Supercross stats.
10) No. 94 Ken Roczen – Honda HRC
(2011 MX2 World Champion, Two-Time 450 AMA National Champion, 2012 Motocross Des Nations winner with Germany)
Starts: 17, Podiums: 9
Main Event Wins: 4
Points: 353 (2nd)
There are a few reasons as to why Roczen finds himself this low on the list. First and foremost would be his downright horrendous run in the second half of Supercross, all things considered. Secondly, he has not run in a National since late 2019 as he took last season off with the birth of his son. Lastly, during the 2019 season, Roczen seemed to fall off a cliff in the second half of the season conditioning-wise. This can be chalked up to Epstein-Barr Virus, which several riders have suffered from in recent years.
If Roczen can put the end of Supercross behind him, he should be a title-contending rider in 2021. He started off that 2019 season in excellent fashion, winning two of the first four rounds and podiuming in all four. How he physically holds up in the second half of the season should be something to monitor. Hopefully, all is well with the two-time champion as Pala approaches in short order.
9) No. 21 Jason Anderson – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna
Starts: 16, Podiums: 2,
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 238 (8th)
The major reason Anderson sits in a better spot than Roczen here is purely gut feeling and momentum. While he is a better Supercross rider than Motocross Rider, Anderson is still exceptionally talented outdoors. This was highlighted with his exceptional Des Nations performance in 2019 for The United States. With a boatload of momentum off a strong final stretch run in Supercross, expect Anderson to run better than expected. Despite having zero career overall wins in the 450 class, Anderson has the talent to put it all together.
8) No. 7 Aaron Plessinger – Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha
(2018 250 AMA National Champion)
Starts: 17, Podiums: 1
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 264 (5th)
2021 has seen a career renaissance for Plessinger so far, with hopes to leave Yamaha on a high note before he likely moves to Red Bull KTM in 2022. His 450 Motocross career to this point has disappointing, however. Plessinger missed all last season with a preseason wrist injury and scored just one top-10 overall finish in 2019.
With his dramatic improvement in Supercross, there is fair reason for optimism with Plessinger. In 2018, he won six out of 12 overalls and had nine podiums on his way to a 250 championship. It is unlikely that season is replicated, especially in this field, but he will be a player in 2021.
7) No. 2 Cooper Webb – Red Bull KTM
(2016 250 National Champion)
Starts: 17, Podiums: 13
Main Event Wins: 8
Points: 388 (Supercross Champion)
Although his Supercross prowess is undeniable at this juncture, Webb’s 450 Motocross career has left a lot to be desired. In 29 career Nationals dating back to 2017, Webb has just one podium. And for context’s sake, 18 of those were before he moved to Red Bull KTM. Although that lone podium was a win (Millville 2019), that is concerning for a multi-time 250 champion. He would be ranked higher here if that stat line were better, but there is reason to believe Webb will improve. He is far too talented to have a podium rate of 3.3 percent.
6) No. 25 Marvin Musquin – Red Bull KTM
(Two-time MX2 World Champion, 2015 Motocross Des Nations winner with France)
Starts: 15, Podiums: 5
Main Event Wins: 1
Points: 231 (9th)
Musquin has run on a 450 since 2016. Since then, he has motocross point finishes of third, second, second, third, and fourth. With his career beginning to wind down, however, this may be Musquin’s final shot at a 450 Championship of any kind. Musquin has proven year after year that he can compete for championships; last year coming off multiple injuries before supercross in 2020. The youth movement that is in front of him may have him beat on talent, but do not count out Musquin for this championship.
5) No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis – Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha
(Reigning 250 AMA National Champion, 2018 Motocross Des Nations winner with France)
Starts: 17, Podiums: 1
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 237 (7th)
After winning the 250 outdoor title, Ferrandis looks to let the big bike rip this season. His final two years on the little bike were nothing short of fantastic. Ferrandis had points finishes of second and first and notched wins in seven out of a possible 21 Nationals. He also podiumed in all but six of those Nationals, to boot. After an up-and-down Supercross campaign, the Frenchman feels poised for a huge summer.
4) No. 23 Chase Sexton – Honda HRC
Starts: 11, Podiums: 3
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 162 (12th)
Sexton’s rookie 450 Motocross performance ended up being quite a surprise. Although he finished around the top five in most of his 250 seasons, he never had a single 250 National win to his name. Right away in 2020 he showed top-end speed. Even with some growing pains, he showed that he belonged. Sexton even picked up his first career Nationals win at the season finale in Pala, CA. Now on a new training program and with some more 450 experience, Sexton looks to breakout further in 2021. He should be a win contender for all 12 rounds.
3) No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo – Monster Energy Kawasaki
(2019 250 AMA National Champion)
Starts: 8, Podiums: 1
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 120 (15th)
Injury at Orlando 2 Supercross cost him the season
For the second year in a row Cianciarulo is entering the motocross tilt coming off a Supercross injury. Once again, the Kawasaki rider figures to be a key player in the great outdoors. He picked up two wins in his maiden 450 motocross season at RedBud and Millville. Outside of that, he found a podium spot in six of the last eight Nationals. He has already shown the ability to be a champion at this level in short order. There should be no doubt Cianciarulo can pull it off this year against the likes of Ferrandis, Sexton, and the next two gentlemen.
2) No. 3 Eli Tomac – Monster Energy Kawasaki
(Three-time 450 AMA National Champion)
Starts: 17, Podiums: 5
Main Event Wins: 3
Points: 326 (3rd)
As good as Tomac’s Supercross stats and performances have been, he may in fact be considerably better outdoors. He sits currently tied for second in 450 championships with three and sits fourth on the wins list with 27. After his three-peat, Tomac did not show his 2017-19 speed and finished third in the title hunt in 2020. The fear with Tomac this year is whether he decides to pack it in if he feels like he is out of the title hunt. This is only being brought up because these are officially his final 12 events with Monster Energy Kawasaki. However, there is something worth noting there in a historical context.
An early injury in 2015 cost him a legitimate bid for a perfect season with GEICO Honda. He started that year 5-0 in the opening five motos before suffering a season-ending injury in the sixth. Tomac suffered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and dislocated his right shoulder. This was a triple-whammy, as this was his home National at Thunder Valley in Colorado. With a perfect motocross season being one of a few things left for Tomac to achieve, it should be watched for. Worth noting that James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael both went 24-0 on the way out from teams. Carmichael in 2004 with Factory Honda, and Stewart in 2008 with Monster Energy Kawasaki. Just something to keep in mind.
1) No. 1 Zach Osborne – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna
(Reigning 450 AMA National Champion, 2017 250 AMA National Champion)
Starts: 1, Podiums: 0
Main Event Wins: 0
Points: 2 (38th in 250 West)
Injury during Orlando 2 Main Event cost him rest of season
After his February injury, Osborne missed only about a month and a half of bike time and is ready to go for his 450 title defense. He held the points lead the entire season and picked up four wins along the way in 2020. And when Cianciarulo brought the points gap down to a reasonable margin late, Osborne immediately slammed the door in his face. That was even more impressive taking his lackluster 2019 Des Nations performance into account. He hopes to duplicate that in an even deeper 450 field in 2021.
Having the extra time to get ready to go for 24 Motos should hopefully pay dividends for the Virginia native. The only other 450 rider who had extended prep is Cianciarulo. Outside of Tomac, Osborne might just be the best pure motocross rider in the class. He may have to dig deep and bulldog his way to a championship, but if anyone can do that, it is him. A true competitor if there ever was one.
Despite Osborne being ranked first on this list, he is not our championship pick for 2021. The gut feeling is that one of the younger 450 guys is going to bring home the championship this year. This is exactly why the 450 AMA Motocross Championship pick here is Cianciarulo. His transition from the 250 to the 450 went about as well as it could have, as it relates to Motocross.
The expectation is that he should improve further, and hopefully keep the bike upright the whole season this year. If so, this championship is as good as his. Ferrandis, Sexton, and Osborne will be top competition, of course. If Tomac decides to turn into ’08 Stewart for a few weekends, do not be surprised. Regardless, fans are in for a good season, which starts in just over a week from now.
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