I'm prepared to offer some suggestions regarding the top motocross prospects on Vancouver Island, B.C.
First of all, I must make a global apology and disclaimer. In providing my view on this question, I will invariably offend somebody. I can only base my opinion on what I've seen recently—although I know it could all look different in a year's time. I also have to consider factors like age, time spent racing and mental fortitude. One rider may be faster than another at the moment, but if he's older, has been riding longer and is less focused, then I may judge the slower rider more likely to succeed in the long run. This, understandably, could offend the faster rider. That's a risk I'm prepared to take.
Most of the riders I've put on this list are intermediates because they've been around long enough to get a good sense of their abilities. I do have a junior on my list, but he's more speculative than the intermediates. I also have a couple of 85-cc racers, but I haven't gone lower than that—too much can happen between the ages of 10 and 16.
Although there is little doubt about who the top prospect is on the Island, there is a pack of about six riders right behind him that are all very close. By the nature of doing a list, I've put them in a particular order, but realistically third through seventh on this list are virtually interchangeable, and I think they're all catching up to the No. 2 guy pretty quickly. Between these riders, it will all come down to who works the hardest and practises the most.
With the junior and 85-cc riders there's still a lot of time to elapse before they get anywhere near the pro level. I've seen many fast juniors and 85-cc riders disappear off the map long before they get to the intermediate or pro level, so I list these riders with an asterisk. They have the potential if they stick with it.
1. Ryan Lalonde
I doubt that anyone would argue that SG Power rider Ryan Lalonde is the current hot property on the Island. Since last fall, he's been winning everything on the Island in convincing style, and he’s even gone out and scored half a dozen pro points at the nationals.
Lalonde burst onto the racing scene about two years ago when he showed up in the spring of 2010, racing first a KX85 and then a CRF150 in the mini classes. He was consistently near the front of the pack racing with Damon Riesach and Dylan Hansen for wins right from the start. Then, in the fall of that same year, at the last round, he borrowed his dad's RM250F and raced the junior class on the Saturday of the double-header. He won fairly convincingly so, in an unprecedented move, he bumped himself up to intermediate for Sunday. He won again, and hasn't looked back.
Yes, it's true—Lalonde was in the junior class for exactly one race and won his first ever intermediate race. Lalonde started the year 2011 on his RM and had some epic duels with Connor Barnes, but they were usually for second place behind Corey Cardinal, who went on to win the series. When Lalonde’s RM blew up, SG Power stepped in and gave Lalonde a KX250F to ride. He rode between three to five times a week during the summer and came back an even better, faster rider in the fall. Although Cardinal didn't race the fall series, it was clear that Lalonde had raised his game to a new level over the summer. He was no longer duelling with Barnes or anyone else; he was in a class by himself.
Lalonde’s domination of the intermediate class continued throughout the start of the 2012 Island Championships—even when Cardinal came back—until he set out on the national trail. When you meet and talk to Lalonde, it becomes evident why he's been so successful.
Last year, I awarded him the Seehorse Ambassador Award for best representing the sport of motocross on the Island. Lalonde is just so focused and driven for a 16-year-old kid, and smart too. He not only talks about practising, but about practising "properly." He explains how he sets goals every time he practises. Whether it's braking later, leaving the gas on longer or raising his corner speed, he always has an objective when he rides. He also makes a point of riding in different locations. This prevents the feeling that you're getting faster just because you're becoming more familiar with a track. At higher levels you don't get the luxury of riding the same track six times a year so you have to be able to adapt to new obstacles quickly.
Then, after talking about how seriously he takes his practice sessions, Lalonde turns around and emphasizes the importance of having fun. He loves to go trail riding with his dad and have roost battles in sand pits. Despite how seriously he takes racing, Lalonde has not lost sight of the fact that dirt bikes are all about fun!
When you start talking about going forward it becomes clear how driven Lalonde is. There is no hesitation when he states his goal is to win everything in the intermediate class next year (if he's allowed to stay in the class), and to be a top 15 guy in the nationals. Lalonde desperately wants to win, he has an inner drive to be the best, and when you read interviews with the legendary guys like Ricky Carmichael, Ross Pederson or Bob Hannah, they all say the same thing—the desire to win is what sets them apart from their competition.
Lalonde is one more example of this truism; at the end of the day the victory goes to the guy who wants it most, and who does the work required to earn it.
2. Corey Cardinal
It's with considerable reservation that I list Corey Cardinal at No. 2 on this list. If you plot his trajectory over the last year or so, it would be easy to conclude that several of the guys below him on this list will be beating him very soon. In fact, at the most recent round of the Island Championships, Blaine Morrow beat Cardinal straight up in one moto, and Daniel Vanderbasch looked like he had the potential to do the same. Damon Riesach has also beaten Cardinal straight up this season. None of this would have happened a year ago; the gap has clearly closed.
Nonetheless, on pure talent alone, Cardinal beat all these guys most of the time this year, and is currently leading the intermediate class by a substantial margin, despite giving up a round altogether (Lalonde has missed several rounds to race the nationals). Cardinal is going through that awkward “finding himself” phase of life, and I know for a fact his work ethic, motivation and desire to compete have dropped off substantially.
Since this list is about potential, though, there is no doubt that Cardinal has the potential to be the best on the Island—perhaps even better than Lalonde. I still hold out hope that Cardinal will "find himself" just in time, and rededicate himself to the sport that has given him so much over the years. Daniel Vanderbasch still speaks of the frustration of being lapped by Cardinal in the mini classes, and I still recall the days when he competed in the supermini class on his 65-cc bike and eventually won the championship.
Corey Cardinal is a phenomenon, with natural talent few are blessed with. It would be sad to see him stall out before he reaches his full potential, and I believe he would regret it for the rest of his days—but the desire to do it has to come from him.
Cardinal remains No. 2 on this list on a wing and a prayer.
3. Blaine Morrow
Blaine Morrow has come up through the Island racing ranks alongside Damon Riesach and he has battled with him the whole way—beating him as often as not. Morrow is only 15 years old and he's already been racing for 11 years.
Morrow's been near the front of the pack throughout his riding career, but he's really caught fire this year in his second year as an intermediate. At the last race of the Island Championship spring session, Morrow beat Cardinal straight up in a moto and stayed right with him in the other motos.
Morrow trains hard, riding every other day, working on his strength at the gym regularly and riding his bicycle consistently. This year, Morrow has been competing on a 250-cc two-stroke, which may also be part of the edge he seems to have found.
To be fair, riders Nos. 3 to 6 on this list are virtually identical in speed, and rider No. 7 is close in speed and is perhaps the most consistent of the bunch. I've chosen to put Morrow at No. 3 because he was the fastest of this bunch right out of the gate this season and he's been the most consistently fast at the races he's attended. If he hadn't missed three rounds due to injury, I'm fairly convinced he would be in the top three in both the youth and intermediate classes.
On top of that, Morrow recently discovered that his swing-arm bolt has been partially seized for most of the season and this was the reason his bike kept trying to buck him over the bars—which it eventually succeeded in doing. Hence his injury and missed rounds.
Now that his rear suspension is working properly, I suspect Morrow will be even faster.
4. Daniel Vanderbasch
Daniel Vanderbasch, in some ways, may be the most impressive rider on this list.
Unlike most of the riders listed here, who have won almost immediately at every level, Vanderbasch has consistently started each new class in the middle of the pack and worked his way up. He spent two years working his way up in the junior class, and he has been in the intermediate class for three years. As a result, he's a couple of years older than others on the list. Vanderbasch is 18 years old but he has overcome more obstacles and setbacks than any rider should ever be expected to.
In his first year as a junior, Vanderbasch had a horrific crash and crushed his pancreas—a potentially life-threatening injury that left him unable to digest food properly for about a year. Then in his second junior year, he suffered a nasty arm break that required plates and screws to repair. He has also suffered more mechanical difficulties and endured more blown-up bikes than perhaps anyone at the track. Despite all this, Vanderbasch's drive and determination have propelled him to the top of the intermediate class. After a couple of years running mid-pack in the class, he now runs almost even with Corey Cardinal—who used to lap him in the mini classes—and he currently leads the Youth Championship standings.
In most cases, I would choose younger riders to be on this list; it's a sad fact that 18 years old is already getting up there in the motocross world, but Vanderbasch is one of those riders who could be an exception. He's proven over and over that he has the stick-to-it-ness required to get the job done. When you speak to him, it's obvious that he has passion and desire to spare, and it's apparent that he has had to work harder than anyone to get to where he is.
What Vanderbasch gives up to others in natural talent he has been able to make up for with hard work and determination. You have to admire that, and now he looks as talented as anyone when he rides.
5. Damon Riesach
Damon Riesach appears to be on the opposite trajectory as Corey Cardinal, and may have just passed through his unfocused phase.
Riesach is only 15 years old, but he's been racing and winning for 11 years already. He and Blaine Morrow stomped in the mini classes, and dominated the junior class when they were there. Right from the start of his intermediate campaign it was clear he had a ton of speed, but up until recently he tended to fade or crash before the end of his motos. It was equally clear that Riesach lacked either the fitness or mental fortitude, or a degree of both, to win in the intermediate class. Then, just toward the end of the Island Championship spring session, this all seemed to change.
At the National's Amateur day, Riesach got out ahead of Cardinal and stayed there. Cardinal was unable to make up ground on him over the course of a full 20-minute moto. He's done this sort of thing enough times to convince me it wasn't a fluke. In fact, at the nationals, Riesach qualified for the race within his first three laps of qualifying before he crashed and had to sit the day out with a concussion.
Riesach has always had amazing speed, and is perhaps the most stylish of our Island intermediates. And now he's taking his fitness more seriously. He has started a regular bicycle training regiment and also taken up mixed martial arts fighting to bolster his fitness and mental toughness.
If Riesach sticks with this program, and gets it in his head that he wants to win, I have no doubt he can be up there with the best on the Island on a consistent basis.
To see the rest of the list, go to Vancouver Island MX Season Review: Part 3, The Prospects.« Back to Moto Mayhem »