It was hard year in the USA for Ken Roczen in 2012. Of course winning a 250f supercross race en -route to second in the series, getting on the podium at 17 on 350 in 450 class, winning an outdoor moto, and rarely being off the podium outdoors on his way to fourth in the series, by most people’s standards, is pretty good, but this is Ken Roczen, and I can’t help but think it was a slight disappointment for him.
American’s were quick to claim that it proved the US series was tougher and Roczen just didn’t have the pace, that his 2011 GP speed just wasn’t good enough in the USA, Ricky Carmichael even weighed in (no pun intended) stating Roczen wasn’t living up the hype he had heard about him and wasn’t fit enough, but allow me to state the case in defence of the 2011 World MX2 Champion and point out the extenuating circumstances.
Ken the year before had dominated the World Championship, only Herlings could stay with his speed, and he couldn’t do it every week (unless it was sand.) Ken even went straight from the GP in Valkenswaard to win the final round of the West Supercross series in Las Vegas, with only six days in between. That is an unbelievable feat that will probably never be repeated.
His confidence was sky high, he was literally on top of the world, and he very nearly won a moto on his 250f at the Motocross of Nations in France, getting second just behind Chad Reed and beating Ryan Dungey in the process.
The next stop was racing the USA full time in 2012.
Roczen, as previously mentioned had raced some West coast events in 2011, he was fast, very fast when it came to one off lap times in qualifying, but it took him a while to figure out how to race supercross, when he did he was on the podium and won a race at the end of the year, it seemed he had figured it out.
This time though Roczen had moved permanently to the US, and this time the Supercross series wasn’t for getting his feet wet, it was for winning. By all accounts Roczen was flying in testing, setting blistering lap times riding on the high of his 2011 season when he was the best 250f rider in the world… then it all went wrong.
Roczen went down hard and broke his wrist, it meant he couldn’t ride the West Coast series, he would have to ride East and this would prove a bigger problem than many anticipated or acknowledged for the rest of his season.
Roczen was based in California, he was close to all the West Coast races, and indeed had raced in most of the stadiums before, he was very well prepared for that Coast, and added to that you got an eight week break in the middle of the season. That time was going to be used to test his bike for outdoors and maybe even a quick trip back to Germany.
As it turned out, none of that could happen.
Ken was on the bike just a couple of times before the East Supercross series started, he had no preparation and his wrist was not 100%, but he didn’t really complain, he just got on with it.
Roczen would hover around the front all season but he didn’t have that raw speed he had the year before. Ken was also flying from the West Coast to the East coast every week, while his rivals, like Justin Barcia, were based on the East Coast making travelling much easier, and they also knew the stadiums having raced their the season before.
By the time the supercross season was over where Roczen still secured second overall, it was straight into outdoor and Roczen didn’t have the time to test he would have liked. He still almost won the first moto of the year, until Blake Baggett passed him with a couple of turns to go.
As the season progressed Roczen could have and should have won races, but time and again something would go wrong, be it a crash or getting passed in the final couple of laps. It started to wear on Roczen as did the suffocating heat and humidity. No matter what your riding ability is, and no matter how fit you are, your body has to be able to acclimatise to that heat. The US riders had it dialled as they had a couple of years to figure it out, Roczen hadn’t.
Ken also only had two fifteen minute practice sessions to learn the track, before they went straight into racing. That is a big difference from GPs where you have a whole day on the track to set up the bike and prepare for the races. The Americans had their bikes dialled from the start and already knew the tracks. Roczen would often state that he was going to test the bike more, or the settings they used had improved his feeling, it seemed that Roczen had not quite got the bike where he wanted it -you never heard that in the GPs the year before.
Roczen would eventually win a moto, at Unadilla, one of the more technical tracks where lines and thought were more important that all out aggression that is rewarded on most of the other tracks… and good lines have always been Roczen’s strength.
Prior to that Roczen hadn’t been getting on the podium anymore, Ken was homesick, tired and low on confidence, this was not the rider that we had watched in 2011, or was it? Where the US riders just quicker?
The answer came at the 2012 Motocross of Nations, and the answer was no. Roczen lapped Blake Baggett and beat Ryan Dungey for the second year in row. Ken showed that when he was comfortable and confident, on tracks he knew, that he was more than capable of running with and beating the Americans.
In fact, he said as much in the press conference, laying bare for the first time the truth and the frustration he had been hiding all season, “You can see when the Americans come here it is tough, it is the same when I go over there” explained Ken, before saying, with maybe a warning to the US riders he had been racing all year, ”this is how I can ride and this is how I was riding the last few years in GPs.”
Roczen had admitted then and there, that he hadn’t been riding in the US like he had in the GPs. It was almost like he was saying, to the US MX industry, –“you didn’t beat the real Ken Roczen in 2012, when I ride like I can, when I’m comfortable, I can beat you.” He also admitted later to the GP KTM press officer, that if he rides in the US like he did in the World Championship that he can win championships in America, but that he needs to make the US his home, like Germany was his home.
You can see that Ken still believes in himself, he has recognised the problems that held him back and he knows in his heart that if he can adapt to the US on a personal level, and bring his full potential to the race track that he can and will win over there.
Ken Roczen had a lot on his plate in 2012, he moved to a new country at 17, he had his first major injury of his pro career, he had to adapt to new tracks and a new sport, and face rivals who are comfortable living in their own country, comfortable in supercross and know the outdoor tracks like the back of their hand, all while dealing with the hype of being the MX2 World Champion, and being the next big thing to take America by storm.
Roczen faced it all with dignity and grace and came out of it by winning the Motocross of Nations and beating the American’s individually in the process. If he had any doubt, that day in Belgium cleared it up, and he knew it. Ken knows he has the ability to win in the USA, and it seems he has figured out through the difficulties in 2012, what he needs to do to do it.
The charismatic German had a further operation on his wrist after the Des Nations to remove a piece of bone that had been floating around and causing him pain all year… again he never complained during the season, he just bit his lip and did his best.
He has no more nagging injuries, his confidence is back and overcoming 2012 might have just been his greatest victory in his career. He ended the year on top and I think we might now see the 2011 Ken Roczen in the US in 2013, if we do, he can win.
It won’t easy, racing the Americans in their own country as a foreign rider never is, but if Ken believes he can win, and performs like he did in 2011, then he could well be the man to beat… if he can cope with the heat!
One thing is for sure, it will be exciting watching him try!
Words: Jonathan Mccready