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2019 Thunder Valley Motocross | Race Preview



This weekend’s 2019 Thunder Valley Motocross is set to bring an end to the exciting opening stint of the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. A handful of riders stepped up at the two California rounds and showed that they have the speed to be in the mix for race wins, but at the checkered flag, the victory has gone to just two riders in each class. Kawasaki riders control both championships as we come to round three, with Eli Tomac on top in the 450 class and Adam Cianciarulo in the 250 class, and neither has shown a sign of weakness or vulnerability. Will the green streak continue in Colorado?

The Thunder Valley round is a personal favorite of our staff, thanks to the track’s history of incredible races and the Denver locale. We’ve pulled out of the parking lot on Saturday night with a long list of race-defining moments on our mind and incredible images that are aided by the scenery. We highly recommend hitting this round if it’s possible.

Much is made about the track’s location at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and trust us, it’s justified. The high altitude takes a toll on a rider’s body and bike, as the oxygen density keeps both from reaching peak performance. To cope with the bike’s power loss, teams tune their engine packages with mapping, gearing, intake and fuel combinations, and even some internal changes. This is the only stop of the summer that takes place thousands of feet above sea level, but the extra effort is worthwhile if they can regain some of the lost power. On the other hand, there’s not much that riders can do to fight off the personal effects because it takes more than a few days for the body to adjust to the elevation and few are able to/willing to break away from their routine for a few extra days of training in the mountains. Guys with a solid fitness base will be okay and those that are lacking will be easy to spot.

One of the defining elements of the Thunder Valley track is the steep uphill start. To accommodate for the altitude, an ascent right out of the gate, and deep dirt, 250 class riders will start in first gear (Jordon Smith confirmed that in Tuesday’s Kickstart podcast). A rider with a strong engine is certainly at an advantage in Colorado, maybe more than any other round. The lanes of track that are carved up and down the hillside are a constant challenge; the climbs up require a rider to hit their marks and keep the engine in the heart of the power, while the descents are all-out bomb runs over bumpy and treacherous terrain. These are not areas a rider wants to make a mistake in, because it could mean a loss in position at the least or a season-ending crash at the worst.

There are a few big jumps in the Colorado course and riders are able to stretch out and through style on the big tabletop that sits behind the mechanic signal area. This is one of the few areas that a rider can relax, because for most of the track they are hanging over a bike that is pitched at some sort of angle, be it from the hills or the angled and off-chamber corners.

Despite the track’s place in the mountains, the dirt is very clean (light on rocks, especially for what it could be) but the roost is still big and brutal. There are a few different soil types around the course, from dark dirt with mulch to red clay to some mixed-in sand; it all holds moisture well and allows multiple lines to develop. The Deven area has been hit by rain in the past week, so the top layer and base should be soft during the weekend. If so, expect an even more challenging and technical track.

The current forecast calls for a 50-percent chance of storms on Saturday, and we really hope that doesn’t happen, aside from the obvious reason of a mud moto. This region is known for sudden and violent storms (cold fronts from the mountains and the warm air around town are the cause). A storm of this type hit in 2012 and the lightning caused the race to be delayed and the area was evacuated.

Aside from the chance of rain, the forecast looks incredible and temperatures will again be in the low 70s. This will be a big relief to riders and motorcycles because heat and altitude are taxing on their own but together can be a big problem.

All attention will be on Eli Tomac this weekend. As the incoming championship leader and Colorado native, this is his home race (never mind the fact Cortez is hours away and on the other side of the state) and almost every fan in attendance will be pulling for the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider. Even by Tomac standards, his performance at Fox Raceway last weekend was incredible. At the halfway point in both motos, Tomac maintained a quick pace and put in some of his best laps in the final minutes, while the others racers tapered off in the closing stages. His line choices and passes for position showed that he is comfortable putting the KX450 anywhere he wants and that he has the patience to let the race come to him. With all that said, he’s the incoming favorite for the 450 class, but it’s important to remember that not every Tomac-Thunder Valley weekend has been a success. He had that vicious crash in 2016 that led to double shoulder surgery and had some comfort issues in 2017 that led to him “riding tight.” What Tomac will it be Saturday?

If Tomac doesn’t take both motos, then expect the wins to go to Marvin Musquin, Ken Roczen, or Zach Osborne. Yeah, we know it’s easy to cover the spread with three guys but we have our reasons. Musquin is trending up right now and the laps led by Red Bull KTM rider at Fox Raceway showed that he’s at full health. If the track is rutted and rough, then Musquin’s ability to float over chop and find smooth lines will be a big asset. Roczen is the only other rider in the 450 class to win a Moto so far this season, so that makes him an easy pick. Mild weather and a well-tuned Team Honda HRC bike will be a big help to Roczen, especially because his energy levels are still a question mark. As for Osborne, the 450 rookie has already shown he has the speed to run with the aforementioned names and he’s eager to make a mark before the series takes a short break. It’s worth noting that the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider has spent some time at altitude because he trained with Tomac during part of his 250 career. Not saying that time in the mountains years ago is still making him stronger, but he knows what to expect of the day.

Jason Anderson is a big question mark for the weekend. He has a history of altitude sickness and it’s plagued him at this race in the past. It’s common for him to take on the last flight in on Friday, stay inside the team truck until it’s time to race Saturday, and then bolt to the airport after as a way to ward off the physical issues. We haven’t heard as much about it being a concern this year, but that could be interpreted a number of ways.

As for the 250 class, Adam Cianciarulo has the momentum thanks to two overall wins to start the season. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider has been quick and in control through the opening rounds, and he’s up six points on Justin Cooper. One thing to note is if Cianciarulo’s size and the small-bore bike put him at a disadvantage on the track; he’ll have to work hard and hit his marks to keep the bike in the power all the way around the track.

With that said, we (and many others) have a feeling the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha riders could have a big weekend. It’s no secret the current generation YZ250F has a bit more power than the other OEMs and the race-build bikes will have a leg up on everyone else. Justin Cooper has taken two moto wins thus far and won 250 Moto One in Colorado last year, so he knows how to get around the Thunder Valley track. Dylan Ferrandis has experienced some issues that were out of his control in recent weeks (a clutch problem at Hangtown, a crash in 250 Moto One at Fox Raceway) and he’s eager to get back into the championship chase. Ferrandis’ technique could be a big help on a technical track. Same goes for Colt Nichols, because the Supercross breakout rider has been in the mix for the last few weeks.

GEICO Honda’s entire team has worked to improve the CRF250R in recent weeks and the work helped RJ Hampshire and Hunter Lawrence have podium moto finishes at Fox Raceway. Hampshire has experience, Lawrence has determination, and either could shake up the podium in Colorado.


12. Shane McElrath | | The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider is still dealing with lingering issues in his lower back from the Supercross season.
23. Chase Sexton
26. Alex Martin
28. Jordon Smith | The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider is still dealing with lingering issues in his wrist from a crash in the Supercross season.
31. RJ Hampshire
32. Justin Cooper
34. Dylan Ferrandis
36. Michael Mosiman
38. Christian Craig
39. Colt Nichols
45. Brandon Hartranft
52. Jordan Bailey
55. Kyle Peters
59. Nick Gaines
61. Garrett Marchbanks
72. Martin Castelo
73. Martin Davalos
77. Challen Tennant
83. Killian Auberson
91. Zack Williams
92. Adam Cianciarulo | With overall wins at Hangtown and Fox Raceway, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider leads the championship standings.
110. Yusuke Watanabe | A hard crash in 250 Moto One left the CycleTrader/Rock River Yamaha rider with a concussion; although he is on the entry list, we’re not certain if he will race Thunder Valley.
112. Thomas Covington
122. Chris Howell
127. Jacob Bork
136. Josh Philbrick
139. Nathan LaPorte
154. Chase Felong
156. Jacob Hayes
162. Maxwell Sanford
167. Cody Williams
168. Cale Kuchnicki
173. Grant Wall
186. Tyler Monks
194. Jerry Robin
196. Hunter Lawrence
212. Tyler McCoy
232. Dylan Bolinger
233. Derek Drake
240. Andrew Barros
259. Corbin Hayes
268. Mitchel Suire
269. Dalton Dyer
286. Brandon Sussman
291. Zane Merrett
310. Kai Aiello
340. Blake Taylor
345. Joshua Prior
407. Benjamin Nelko
410. Tyler Lowe
464. Branden Brill
510. Travis Prier
520. Dennis Ponton
529. Taylor Strauss
546. Tylor Skodras
554. Wade Brommel
583. Corey Ridel
622. Zac Maley
657. Justin Wolf
747. Cody Gray
753. Derik Brewster
898. Jack Fowler
916. Jorge Rubalcava
931. Stephen Vuckson
936. Ty Masterpool
964. Mitchell Goheen


6. Jeremy Martin | GEICO Honda rider is still recovering from the vertebra burst fractures he suffered in the 2018 season; he is expected to return to competition in 2020.
24. Austin Forkner | Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider will miss the entire summer with torn ligaments in his knee.
40. Sean Cantrell | Lingering wrist injuries will keep the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider from the opening rounds of the season.
44. Cameron McAdoo | With his Supercross fill-in deal at GEICO Honda complete and no confirmed spot on another team, McAdoo will miss the opening rounds. He is still riding a bike from GEICO Honda as a way to stay sharp should the team need him later in the summer.
64. Jimmy Decotis | Due to a recent restructure at the JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing team, Decotis will not be a part of the two-rider 250 team this summer.
66. Mitchell Oldenburg | Third-degree burns from a crash at the 2019 Las Vegas Supercross will keep the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider from the opening round of the season.
67. Enzo Lopes | Due to a recent restructure at the JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing team, Lopes will not be a part of the two-rider 250 team this summer.
123. Mitchell Falk | A crash during practice at Hangtown left the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider with a broken collarbone that required surgery; he is out for an undetermined amount of time.


1. Eli Tomac | With his overall win at Fox Raceway, the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider leads the championship standings.
2. Cooper Webb
4. Blake Baggett | A rough day at Fox Raceway left Baggett with a sore wrist; the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider will be on the track at Thunder Valley.
14. Cole Seely
16. Zach Osborne
17. Joey Savatgy | After injury caused him to miss the first two races of the season, the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider will make his 450 MX debut at Thunder Valley.
19. Justin Bogle
21. Jason Anderson
25. Marvin Musquin
41. Ben LaMay
43. Tyler Bowers
46. Justin Hill
48. Cody Cooper
49. Henry Miller
51. Justin Barcia | | The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider is still dealing with lingering issues in his wrist from a crash in the Supercross season.
54. Dylan Merriam
56. Lorenzo Locurcio
68. Brandan Leith
69. Jake Masterpool
85. Dare DeMartile
94. Ken Roczen
101. Fredrik Noren
103. Dean Ferris
120. Todd Bannister
124. Robert Fitch
140. Austin Kouba
152. Ryder Hanninen
182. Mason Olson
214. Vann Martin
218. Erki Kahro
221. Mathias Jargensen
227. Derek Kelley
229. Francisco Martini
246. Chance Blackburn
292. Kolton Dean
311. Mitchell Gifford
314. Tyler Stepek
321. Bradley Lionnet
322. Trey Moore
332. Dustin Winter
341. Derek Anderson
383. Casey Brennan
402. Samuel Greenawalt
447. Deven Raper
456. Ryan Grantom
477. Todd Waters
499. Dawson Chesnut
514. Anthony Roth
526. Colton Aeck
553. Brent Rouse
565. Dominic DeSimone
591. Tanner Myers
623. Joshua Hernandez
647. Matthew Hubert
661. Noah Chambers
694. Nicholas Inman
700. Justin Weeks
718. Toshiki Tomita
721. Zachary Harris
768. Cole Shondeck
788. Josh Heintz
794. Bryce Backaus
841. Jeff Walker
875. Johnny Hopper
876. Chris Alldredge
917. Drew Thomas
929. Taiki Koga
959. Josef DeBower
981. Curren Thurman


7. Aaron Plessinger | A broken heel will sideline the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider through the opening part of the summer.
15. Dean Wilson | A shoulder injury from a crash at the Nashville Supercross will keep the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider sidelined through the opening part of the summer.
29. Benny Bloss | A torn ACL in December kept Bloss from racing any of the Supercross season; although he is back on the bike, he is not yet ready to race. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider is expected to return at High Point.
33. Josh Grant | A practice crash and injured leg at the end of the Supercross season has sidelined Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s original fill-in rider; there is no timetable for Grant’s return to action.

Michael Antonovich

Michael Antonovich has a wealth of experience with over 10 years of moto-journalism under his belt. A lifelong racing enthusiast and rider, Anton is the Editor of Swapmoto Live and lives to be at the race track.

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  1. Travis June 1, 2019

    Tomac for the WIN

  2. Ivan Espeleta June 1, 2019

    Great stuff!! keep going!!!

  3. Chris Russell June 1, 2019

    I’d like to see some more privateer coverage. Getting the less popular guys some more exposure!

  4. Sam Melton June 12, 2019

    Great preview! Go kenny!