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Images from the 6th Annual Ironman National. This year's Ironman National will once again mark the season finale of the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing.
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Adam Cianciarulo: A Long Time Coming

Aug 272019

Ever since he stepped foot into the pro ranks way back in 2013 there was an expectation that Adam Cianciarulo was going to be a champion. The most successful mini bike rider in history was seen as the next big thing in the sport, following in the footsteps of Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Ryan Villopoto before him. The spotlight has shined brightly on Cianciarulo since he was just a kid, and as a result he quickly became one of the most well-spoken and charismatic riders in the sport, which only furthered the level of expectations.

Initially, the potential surrounding the Florida native was recognized pretty quickly. An illness hampered his first season in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, but by the time Monster Energy Supercross rolled around he was everything we all had hoped. He won his first start, and then went on to win three of his first five. What happened next became a precursor to an arduous stretch for Cianciarulo that spanned the next four years, finally culminating with the biggest moment of his career, and the realization of what we knew he was capable of all along. Finally, Adam Cianciarulo is an AMA National Champion. However, it’s important to realize how unlikely this all seemed not too long ago.

 

In order to be successful in the sport of motocross you have to stay healthy, but when being among the best in the world requires almost daily riding, in addition to of the unparalleled intensity of race weekends, the odds of injury increase dramatically. There’s a reason why the likes of Carmichael, Villopoto, Ryan Dungey, Jeremy McGrath, Chad Reed, and others were able to win as much as they did. They largely avoided serious injury. There’s also a reason why a rider with once-in-a-lifetime talent like Stewart didn’t go on to break the records so many expected him to. He often struggled to stay healthy. There’s a very fine line that each of these riders toe every time they take to the track, and sometimes it seems like once one significant injury occurs, there’s the potential for a snowball effect of others.

 

For Cianciarulo that’s exactly what happened, and it altered the level of expectation surrounding him, and even casted doubt on what he might accomplish. After a major shoulder injury brought his rookie supercross season to an end in 2014, he had to endure through a similar injury again later that year, halting his progression and forcing him to start from square one for the second time. It happened again mere months after he returned, pushing the reset button on his comeback yet again. Things finally seemed like they were behind him heading into 2016, but given all the time lost and the severity of the injuries he suffered no one had any idea what kind of rider Cianciarulo was anymore. Then, right before he was expected to contend for the 2016 supercross title he suffered a broken wrist.

To call this a dark period for Cianciarulo is probably an understatement. As much as members of the industry expected him to be a superstar, you can bet no one carried a heavier burden than Cianciarulo himself. He knew he possessed a rare talent, and he knew he had the tools to become one of the best in the world. When that doesn’t happen, and you’re instead forced to sit idle on a couch while all your rivals continue to progress, it unsurprisingly delivers a heavy blow to your confidence and opens the door for doubt to creep in. Doubt is the worst thing for a rider to deal with, especially when you add all the physical pain Cianciarulo suffered through with his injuries. Mentally, he was no longer the rider that burst onto the scene from the amateur ranks, but at the same time, there was nothing stopping him from regaining that confidence. It was simply a choice Cianciarulo would need to make, and to the benefit of the sport, he went all in on climbing back up the ladder.

 

Enter Nick Wey.

 

Without a doubt, Wey is one of the most beloved riders in the history of the sport. He was the everyman rider. While he possessed world-class talent, Wey also had the misfortune of competing against virtually every one of the most successful riders the sport has ever seen over the span of an 18-year career. Despite that, Wey always possessed tremendous grit, and it paid off on numerous occasions to provide some genuine underdog success. Through it all, Wey always had a smile on his face, and his own brand of charisma was too charming to not want to cheer for.

 

Wey’s mindset, and his wealth of experience across three different decades, kind of made him a perfect fit for Cianciarulo, at a time when he really needed to believe in himself and his talent in order to get back to the top. There was no doubt that at his best, Cianciarulo is one of the finest talents the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, some mental baggage comes with the adversity he faced over such and extended period of time.

 

Since they began working together there’s been a steady progression that saw Cianciarulo reach his full potential this season. As someone who’s been in the trenches, Wey is able to provide the kind of perspective and motivation that Cianciarulo needs and can benefit from the most. In addition to the mental game, Wey also refined Cianciarulo’s fitness. Being in shape has never been an issue for Cianciarulo, but a massive growth spurt saw him surge from one of the smallest riders in the sport to one of the biggest. It created a new dynamic for Cianciarulo on the motorcycle, and he had to acclimate to it. Now, that fitness can work in conjunction with the mental game to be used as an asset, and the results were evident.

 

 

Last season, we saw that Cianciarulo was nearing that level that would make him the rider to beat every time the gate dropped. Unfortunately, due to actions out of his control with another rider, Cianciarulo suffered a knee injury that required surgery and took him out for an extended period. However, this injury didn’t seem to carry the same weight as those that marred his early career. Cianciarulo took it in stride and strived to come back better than ever.

 

When 2019 rolled around, many did look to Cianciarulo to carry the torch in supercross, and he responded. He grabbed five wins in eight races, and controlled his own destiny entering the Las Vegas finale. What happened that night in Sin City was well documented, and many worried that all the progression Cianciarulo had made was a wash, and understandably so. However, Cianciarulo was adamant that he’d bounce back, and a betting man would have taken his word for it.

 

From the moment the Pro Motocross season began it was very clear that the Cianciarulo we saw all season in supercross was still there. Vegas was the exception, not the rule. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider kicked off the summer with a historic start, winning the first four rounds. While he withstood a stiff challenge from fellow Monster rider Justin Cooper early on, there was little doubt that Cianciarulo was more determined than ever to finally get the gorilla off his back.

 

With the blazing start under his belt, Cianciarulo was able to easily manage a healthy lead through the middle portion of the summer. It proved to be invaluable when another Monster rider, Dylan Ferrandis, picked up steam over the second half of the season. But like a true champion, when things seemed like they might have the chance to slip away, Cianciarulo responded. It resulted in six wins in 12 rounds, and the most consistent summer campaign since 2013. While the wins were big, it was the podium finishes at every round that became the hallmark of his championship run.

 

We’ve always known what Cianciarulo was capable of, but adversity unfortunately delayed the performance we saw throughout the 2019 season. Now that he’s finally won the championship we expected him to win, albeit six years later than we thought, the time has come to see what Cianciarulo is really capable of.

 

Fittingly, Cianciarulo’s championship run came during his swan song in the 250 Class. He put everything into going out of the class in a blaze of glory, and he succeeded. Now, he’ll join the sport’s biggest names aboard a 450cc, joining powerhouse Eli Tomac at Monster Energy Kawasaki.

 

Welcome to the champions club, Adam Cianciarulo. You’ve earned it.

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