Last April at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, while racing with Ryan Dungey in the waning stages of the fourteenth round of the seventeen-round 2010 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series, Ryan Villopoto speared the face of an unforgiving jump with the front wheel of his works KX450 and went down in a horrific heap. The crash left him with a broken right tibia and fibula and a broken ankle. Villopoto, who trailed Ryan Dungey by only 12 points heading into Missouri, was done for the year. Now, his leg and ankle knitting themselves together nicely, Villopoto is deep into preparation for the rapidly approaching 2011 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series, working with his team as well as his new trainer, Aldon Baker. Happy, healthy, and focused, the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider has put the past behind him and is looking forward to making a run at his ultimate goal: winning the 2011 supercross #1 plate.
MOTO – Ryan, what do you have going on out here today?
Ryan Villopoto: “Everybody is testing right now [at the Kawasaki track] and just getting new products out of the way that we have to all test. We’re also doing some suspension testing and motor testing – you know, the same stuff we do every year to get ready for Anaheim. Some days are tougher than others. Some days it’s really hard to tell what it is because the changes that we’re testing are very small and other times it’s really easy because the changes are really big. So it just depends on what you’re testing, you know? Suspension stuff is a little bit harder than, say, you’re doing chassis stuff. That stuff is pretty easy to tell what the difference is.”
MOTO – How long have you been back on the motorcycle now? ”
Well, I started riding at the end of the August, but I was just barely riding. My leg still hurt really bad. I was just out riding because they told me I could. It took quite a while to get going. In fact, I was actually getting pretty nervous. There is a plate that rubs on a part of my shin that runs pretty high up into it. I was worried that the plates were causing me pain. I rode for, I don’t know, probably three or four weeks and it wasn’t getting better and it was still bothering me and I was having problems with it. And then basically just overnight one day it got better and I was able to starting riding normal and it didn’t hurt.”
MOTO – I saw you in the Kawasaki pits at the Pala National and you were limping a little bit and the leg looked pretty swollen. Were you still working things through at that point in time?
“Well, they told me that for a year and a half or two years the leg will be quite a bit bigger than the other one, plus I’ve got five plates in there and they are on either side of my leg. It’s just automatically going to be a little bigger, but yeah, if I’m up on it all day or flying for a while it definitely swells up quite a bit bigger than the other one.”
MOTO – How is your fitness and riding? I’ve heard rumors of you doing fifty-lap motos at the track.
“I’m working with Aldon Baker now. We started a little bit after Pala and everything has been going good. His program is a lot more than I had been doing in the past. And obviously what I’ve been doing in the past hasn’t really worked for me the last couple years. I’ve changed it up again and I definitely feel the best I have riding and fitness-wise in a long time.”
MOTO – You look thin. Your business manager, Bobby Nichols, told me you’re down to 156 pounds now.
“Yeah, I’m just on the edge of 155, 154 right now. I think when I started with him I was, I don’t know, 162 or something. So yeah, just shed some pounds and his program is helping.”
MOTO – You were off the bike for a long time. During that period, were you watching the nationals?
“Every once in a while I was watching, but I really didn’t pay attention to what was really going on. I didn’t have any point to.”
MOTO – Once things got going, nobody had anything for Ryan Dungey. Were you surprised?
“I figured there would be some good guys out there, but midway through the supercross season I knew it was going to be between me and him in the outdoors, for sure. I think week-in and week-out it would between me and him.”
MOTO – It appeared that it took you a little while to get going in the early phase of the 2010 supercross season. What’s your take on that?
“Yeah, I started way off, for sure, for me. It really was my fault. I wasn’t ready enough for what I had to do. It’s nobody’s fault except for mine. It took me quite a while. Chad [Reed] and James [Stewart] ended up getting hurt, so they were out. Even after that it took me a little while to just get to where I was able to race with the guys. But once I was in that position, I won seven races.”
MOTO – I was in San Francisco when you won your first supercross of the season and it certainly seemed liked something clicked for you.
“That first race in San Francisco was a good step in the right direction, and it kind of took off from there. I felt that I if I wouldn’t have got hurt, I would have been there until the end and it would have been a good race until the end. But things happen. I mean three of the top four guys got hurt last year.”
MOTO – From Daytona forward, you won four of five races. It started to look like you might have Dungey’s number—then came the St. Louis round. You want to talk about that?
“I thought I did. Especially coming down to like when it was getting close to the end there. Everybody knows the pressure does get to him and that was only going to work in my favor towards the end there. Other than my big mistake at St. Louis…. That’s really where it ended. Up until that point, I knew coming down to the end there was going to be a make-or-break situation for him.”
MOTO – When you were laying in a hospital bed with your chances at a supercross championship shot and your chances at a motocross championship shot, what was going through your head? Did all that hurt you as much as your leg?
“You know, I wasn’t really even thinking about that. I was kind of thinking about if I was going to race or not anymore.”
MOTO – It was all that gnarly, huh?
“Yeah, just because what it was. I ended up spending three or four days in the hospital in St. Louis. They did a surgery there and put like a halo – an external fixator – on the outside of my leg to hold it straight. Then I couldn’t fly. The motor home was there so we ended up driving from St. Louis to California. I was in California for a week or so and then I flew to Seattle. They only did one surgery, or each surgery, at a time. So I was in the hospital for three or four more days right there. I’d be a week out and then right back in the hospital for another three or four days, then there would be another week out. So basically it was four weeks of being in and out of the hospital and dealing with that and drugs and pain meds…. So yeah, that was the worst part about it. I’m really not going to put myself in a position to really get hurt again so I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”
MOTO – Were your spirits down?
“Yeah, that and Andrew McFarlane passing away right around then. I think that was around the time I did this. Maybe a couple days before or a couple days after, right around there. So that opens your eyes up.”
MOTO – On a brighter note, your contract was up this year. Were you confident you were going to end up here? Is this where you wanted to be?
“Yeah, I really didn’t plan on going anywhere. The guys said they wanted to keep me and that I was their guy. That was great. That’s all it was really, other than just getting contract stuff done when it came time. They were relying on me coming back with this being okay. When we were talking, it wasn’t okay—it was a little bit of a gamble. Everybody figures it is going to get better for sure.”
MOTO – Jake Weimer will be your teammate in 2011. Are you happy about that?
“Yeah, with what kind of went down last year, it wasn’t the greatest situation. To have Jake on the team is good. We’re buddies. We were buddies before anything happened. To have him on the team is cool; it’s nice. Testing-wise, we can go back and forth. It’s nice to say whatever you want. We’re all basically friends so it doesn’t matter what gets said or whatever, you know?”
MOTO – Chad Reed was your teammate last year. What do you make of his current situation in trying to create his own team and all?
“I think it’s his only option, obviously. That’s the reason why he went that way. I don’t know.… Like, I watched that interview on MC [Jeremy McGrath] the other day and I think it’s going to be harder than he thinks. That’s basically what MC said. MC said he had full factory support even when he did it. We’ll see. Who knows?”
MOTO – James Stewart will be back for 2011. What do you make of that?
“I think James, Chad – they’re going to be fast. I think it’s going to be the same situation we were in last year, but I should be better.”
MOTO – Due to that St. Louis crash, do you sort of feel that maybe Dungey took what was yours?
“You know, it’s part of the sport. That’s what happens. Do I think if I wouldn’t have got hurt would have won the supercross championship and the outdoors? I’m going to say probably. Definitely supercross. Obviously, you have twelve races coming up for outdoors, so you don’t know what’s going to happen through those twelve races. But like I said, I knew I had him backed into a corner. I figured the mistake was going to come from him, but it came from me.”
MOTO – Dungey went on a won the supercross title, the 450 nationals, and the Motocross of Nations. He’s certainly built some confidence up. Do you still think you can take him?
“Speed-wise, for sure. I know speed-wise I do. And fitness-wise, I should be there. Like I said, I’m working with Aldon now and that’s a big change for me. I think that if I can just put all the pieces of the puzzle together the right way, that’s all I can do.”
MOTO – So come Anaheim 1 on January 8, do you come out like a boxer and use those early rounds or just feel things out or do you come out with your fists swinging?
“Well, we’ll see what happens. If everything goes as planned, if I holeshot and end up winning or whatever, then great. But just to leave there on the box or with a good amount of points would be fine.”
MOTO – All things considered, do you feel good about 2011?
“Yeah, like I said, of my 450 career this is the best prepared I’ve felt and we still have some time.”
MOTO – What is it, two months before the first race?
“It is. So the position I’ve put myself in as of now is way better and way further ahead than I have been. We’ll see when it rolls around. I should be good.”
Interview by Eric Johnson