Adam Cianciarulo | Big Winner
The kid is all grown up. For years the motocross world has watched and waited for Adam Cianciarulo to claim the checkered flag in a 450 Class Moto, one of many defining moments that a racer pursues over the course of their career. Years of injuries and missed opportunities by AC didn’t deter fans from following the kid from Florida. If anything, it made the anticipation for his first big bike win even greater, and he was expected to be a winner almost immediately after this year’s move to the premier division with the support of the Monster Energy Kawasaki crew. Everything came together at the 2020 RedBud Two Motocross when Cianciarulo got the win in Moto One, put himself on the podium in Moto Two, and got the overall win.
This win had been a while in the making. Cianciarulo used the 2019 Monster Energy Cup as an opportunity to ease into the 450 Class and went into the race with modest expectation, but when he was crowned winner at the end of that night in Las Vegas, expectations for the next race season instantly went up. Not that it mattered to him. “Not to discredit myself too much, but I don’t think it’s fair to call me a championship contender right off the bat because I won the Monster Cup,” he told us in December. “It helped my confidence a little bit, knowing that I can get it done and with Eli right there on me, giving me pressure, and really pushing the pace. But beyond that, I don’t think it plays too much into it, to be honest. I think that everyone was really encouraged by the results and it was really good to get my 450 career started off on a positive foot.”
Cianciarulo’s progression continued at the Anaheim One Supercross, where he was the fastest rider through all three of the afternoon’s practice sessions, finished second in his Heat Race, and then led laps and diced with Justin Barcia in the Main Event before a mistake dropped him back to the runner up spot. The rest of the Supercross season was a mix of success (two second-place results, seven top-10 finishes total) and setbacks (a broken collarbone at Arlington, fractured vertebra at Salt Lake City One, two injuries that caused him to miss multiple rounds), all things that Cianciarulo knew he would inevitably endure and that would help him become a better rider along the way. “I’m tired of hitting the ground. I was just a little bit too eager, being in such a good position so early, not having raced in a while… But it’s the same for everybody and I have to take accountability for that. I have to be better,” he said after the Utah injury. “It’s something I’ve always had to reign in a bit. I get excited and I really want it. We’ll fix that. First one is out of the way and it’s only up from here.”
It’s obvious that Cianciarulo has followed through with that plan. After watching him through the opening rounds of the summer series, we could tell he’d dialed down the energy down in his riding style, that his KX450 wasn’t on the rev limiter as much as it once was, and that he’d better planned out every move on the track. He confirmed that during our post-race talk at the RedBud One Motocross last Friday and said, “Everything I have done since I hurt my knee in 2018 Supercross and took that summer off, from 2019 to now, has been a conscious effort to be better. I kind of woke up one day and realized I’m going to be right here (in the middle) and am not going to get any better than that if I don’t change the way I ride. Even during the week for me, it’s a non-stop process of trying to work on things. If I can build off of how I’m riding the bike now, my ceiling is so much higher than it was before.”
Riding the bike is one thing, but racing against the top competition is another. That’s a challenge that Cianciarulo had to learn for himself and a look at his results will show how he’s progressed each time the gate has dropped. “It’s just a matter of getting that first win, getting the ball rolling, and gaining more confidence. I rode good today, probably the best two motos that I have done this year. I’m a bummed at myself for tipping over, I just got too close to Zach Osborne in that corner before The Leap, where it was super sandy and I couldn’t see anything,” he explained after Friday’s 5-3 finishes and fifth overall, results that were marred by a tip-over in the opening laps of one moto. “The battle with Justin in the second moto, the pace was high and my fitness felt great. Overall, with my rookie season I can’t complain. We’re right up in it and I want to put a couple together so I can squeak out a win here soon. I haven’t won in a while and it’s starting to get to me.”
About 72 hours later Cianciarulo found himself at the front of the field in 450 Moto One with point leader Zach Osborne and three-time champion Eli Tomac on his tail, but he logged consistent laps and kept both riders at bay all the way to the finish line for the first 450 Moto win of his career. The victory was a feat in itself and was made more impressive by the fact the day started with a pile-up in the first Timed Qualifying session that left his race bike in serious need of repair and with a couple of busted fingers on his hand. For a less experienced rider, the crash could have been considered a bad omen or threw off their outlook for the day. For AC, it was nothing more than a flesh wound.
Another excellent start put Cianciarulo into the lead on the opening lap in 450 Moto Two and with every lap ahead of Osborne, Musquin, and Baggett, AC looked more likely to sweep the day with 1-1 win. That chance was taken after a run-in with slower traffic late in the race put him on the ground, a mistake that Cianciarulo later took the blame for, but he regrouped, raced on to a third-place result in the moto, and claimed the overall win. Yes, the rider often ridiculed for being inconsistent scored the overall by being the only guy in the 450 Class to finish in the top-three in both of the day’s races.
The pandemic has sucked some of the excitement away from the races this year, but you’d never guess that anything was amiss if you got to be around the podium. While AC cooled down after the race and talked to NBC Sports, the team gave him wet rags and water bottles in exchange the bike, his mom stood back and snapped pictures with her phone, and riding coach Nick Wey shared praise. Cianciarulo struggled to pop the top on his bottle of prosecco, which gave veteran racers Osborne and Blake Baggett the chance to hose him down and joke that he’d forgotten how to do it, but soon the open bottle was passed around by some of the Monster Energy Kawasaki staff.
Cianciarulo was the star subject of Tuesday night’s post-race press conference and he detailed the day, saying, “I’ve been fortunate enough to come into this season in a good situation with a good team and a good motorcycle. I know I’m capable of being up there and having the speed, but getting over the hump of actually winning a race, there’s a lot more to it than just speed. That’s kind of the reason why I moved up from the 250 class when I more eligibility left in that class. I wanted the chance to say, I’m the best in the world this weekend. That’s what I get to say, and that’s what I’m proud to say for at least the next week and a half or so, until we have to prove it again.”
Near the end of the session, Cianciarulo wrapped up his thoughts on the accomplish and explained that in his opinion, there’s no way he’d be in that position if not for the issues he’d overcome and the progress made in just the last few weeks. “Just to give you an example, I don’t think I would have won that first moto if I didn’t lead all those laps at Ironman a couple weeks ago. You get up there and you’re more comfortable. You fake it till you make it. You just start believing in yourself,” he noted. “You’re still out there. You know you have good pace. I think maybe 25 minutes into the first moto I’m like, ‘I do not have to lose this race. I can do this.’ I just gave it my all and I just trusted that was enough, and it was enough. Once that clicks and you realize that, you start seeing things a little bit different.”
Will this be the first win of many? There are four rounds left in the 2020 race season to find out.