LAKEWOOD, Colo. — With over 6,000 feet of elevation to battle at Thunder Valley Motocross Park, the third round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship provided a true challenge for the world’s best riders on Saturday afternoon.
As the heat index hovered in the mid-90’s, the Thunder Valley National became a battle of endurance across both classes as Team Honda HRC swept the overall wins for the second time this season.
Ken Roczen prevailed in the 450 class and Jett Lawrence raced to a third straight victory in the 250 class.
The first gate drop of the afternoon got underway with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Antonio Cairoli leading the way with the holeshot, with Roczen in close pursuit. The two former world champions battled throughout the opening lap until Roczen was able to make the pass and open a gap.
Behind them, Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS Factory Racing’s Justin Barcia settled into third, just ahead of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jason Anderson and Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton — the season’s two overall winners.
Cairoli continued to lose positions and soon fell outside the top five.
Up front, the battle for second intensified between Barcia, Anderson and Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing’s Eli Tomac, a Colorado native. Anderson made an impressive pass to take control of second just before the halfway point and Tomac eventually got around Barcia for third several laps later.
As the moto entered its final 10 minutes, the battle for second heated up between Anderson and Tomac. The Yamaha rider pounced at the first opportunity and stormed past, which put Tomac just over five seconds behind Roczen with eight minutes to go.
With the support of the home crowd, Tomac went on the attack and erased the deficit in a matter of a couple laps. Once he closed onto Roczen’s rear fender, Tomac pulled the trigger on a pass and got by Roczen to take his second consecutive moto win.
Anderson, Sexton and Cairoli rounded out the top five for moto one.
In the second moto, Cairoli grabbed his third consecutive holeshot, but was immediately passed by Roczen in an opening lap sprint. In the first ten minutes of the moto, Sexton and Tomac pushed their pace to take the podium away from Cairoli, while Sexton continued to charge for the lead.
Roczen had an established lead of nearly four seconds, but with 13 minutes to go, Sexton caught up to his teammate and made the pass.
As the clock wound down, the top three were running within three seconds of each other, with Tomac remaining the fastest rider on the track. However, despite the better pace, Roczen kept Tomac at bay while Sexton sprinted away.
It all came down to the final lap, when Sexton went down with a few turns to go, handing the lead to Roczen.
The German rider crossed the line 5.1 seconds ahead of Sexton, who remounted quickly enough to lose just one spot, with Tomac following in third.
“I don’t know (what to say). I came into the corner and got a swing with the rear and cross rutted. It was a costly mistake and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Sexton said.
With 2-1 moto finishes on the day, Roczen took the overall win — the 21st win of his career and his fifth victory at Thunder Valley, where he also emerged triumphant one year ago. Tomac earned a runner-up finish at his home race with a 1-3 finish, while Sexton finished third overall with a 4-2.
In the 250 class, Jett and Hunter Lawrence once again topped the podium with a 1-2 overall finish.
The surprising performance of the day came from Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Levi Kitchen who finished third overall, after winning the first moto and coming in fifth in the second moto.
“I knew in that second moto I was going to suffer, so I just gave it all I had in the first 10 minutes and brought it home. I didn’t even think I was on the podium, so it feels great to make it up here,” Kitchen said.