For outsiders to the world of Monster Energy Supercross, Ken Roczen at a glance is just another top athlete. His graceful style and confidence on and off the track does not betray the brutal obstacles he's encountered and the tough road he's traveled to nearly win two of the first three 2021 Monster Energy Supercross races.
In 2017 Roczen dominated the first two rounds, leading the title points until round three, where a terrifying crash injured his left arm; it was thought he might never race again. But Roczen pushed through the recovery to rejoin the pro ranks at the same high level in 2018. It was on round 6 in San Diego that he tangled with another rider – Cooper Webb – catching his right arm between the swingarm and wheel of Webb's bike. The injury should have been another career-ender, but the German rider, fluent in English other than the word 'can't,' put his heart back into a full recovery.
2019 was another heartbreaker, with what looked like a return-to-the-top win in Arlington, snatched away by a final-turn pass by the racer who would win that title that year; it was again Cooper Webb. Roczen missed that return-to-winning milestone by.02 seconds, a loss indiscernible to the naked eye and the closest ever in the history of the sport.
In 2020 all the hard work came together at round two in St. Louis with his first Supercross victory since his injury in 2017. Roczen had made the final step. He would win again. And the 2021 season, a full 17-round undertaking made possible by the rapid adaptation of series promoter Feld Entertainment, looked like it could be his title run. At the opening round Roczen hounded the leader, making several side-by-side pass attempts, but the German rider didn't force the issue, and settled for second.
Going into round three this past Saturday he would have been leading the points but for a controversial (from Roczen's perspective) points deduction at round two. No matter, he had learned to channel frustration into race performance. And he did. A great start and an early pass on the leader – Cooper Webb – soon turned into more than a three second lead in the 20-minute plus one lap Main Event.
But Roczen got slowed by a lapper he could not get around, and as the white flag came out, Webb was back to his rear tire. Four corners later, with Roczen out of his flow trying again to pass the lapper…Webb cut to the inside, crossed over the corner exit ruts, and snagged the spot away. It was like a nightmare replay.
Roczen was furious on the podium but vowed he would re-direct his frustration into track speed at the next round, Saturday January 30th inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The limited attendance, pod-seated crowd cheered his spirit, knowing they'd see Roczen turn his fury into race aggression there. He goes into that round as the points leader, just a single point separating him from two other riders; one is Cooper Webb.