Villopoto goes for third big crown of 2013

Steve Cox

Ryan Villopoto races to victory April 6 at the Houston Supercross, one of 10 wins he had during the 2013 season.

Ryan Villopoto says that winning $1 million at the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas this weekend would be nice, but it wouldn't make his year -- he's made it already.

"We reached our goals that we set," said the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider. "I wanted to back up my Supercross championship and win another outdoor one. I really couldn't ask for anything more."

That doesn't mean he won't be gunning for the big money, though. Villopoto, who fell out of overall contention last year after crashing in the second moto, won the MEC in 2011 and the million-dollar bonus that goes to the rider who takes first place in all three main events. So, what's he got to do to hoist another giant, glass box stuffed with stacks of cash? checked in to see what was on the champ's mind heading into Sin City.

Steve Cox

Ryan Villopoto celebrates with his team April 27 after he clinched the 2013 Supercross championship in Salt Lake City. After motocross season wrapped up, you decided to have a surgery -- what was it and how'd it go?
Yeah, my left big toe was all jammed up in the joint. They just dried out the bone in there and worked on it a little bit. It was a nagging injury, and after having it for years, I got tired of it always being there. A couple weeks after motocross season, we got it out of the way. The whole injury is basically just something I'd done a few years ago, and I had to get it back to where I needed it to be. The recovery was just a couple of weeks. It wasn't anything major, but it had to be done.

You had a big crash at last year's Monster Energy Cup. Do you have to make any effort to shake that off mentally going into Saturday's race?
Crashing and that kind of stuff happens all of the time, so we'll just show up like it's another race, really. There's a whole lot of races that have happened since last year, so you forget about it pretty much.

What's your take on the evolution of the MEC track and Ricky Carmichael's efforts to design it with maximum drama in mind this year?
It's a fun one-off race, and I think it's good from a fan's point of view. If I was sitting on the sidelines like Rick is, I think it'd be great to watch that go down. It makes for good spectating. The first year, it was a pretty traditional race, and then they added another element, the Joker [Lap]. That's kind of a real curveball. It's just not what I'm used to. But everybody's got to do at least one lap through it out of the 10 laps. I wouldn't say I'm a fan of it, but that's what it is.

Why aren't you a fan of it?
It kind of takes out who's actually the better rider, the fastest rider and who's the fitter-guy type of deal, and makes it so if you're close to them, it comes down to strategy. Not that there's not strategy in our sport, but it's not that type of strategy, where you've got to figure out when to take that line on the track.

Is there anything about the track that will play to your strengths?
I wouldn't say anything in particular makes me stronger or better at this point. There's no whoops, so that makes the track a little easier.

Are there any aspects of it that are more challenging for you?
Well, it's not a true Supercross track and it's not a true outdoor track. So it's a little-bit-easier Supercross track, I guess. There's no major rhythm sections or whoops or the traditional-style jumps. But we have two rounds this year that are so-called stadium-style jumps. It's actually less demanding than motocross, where the track gets a lot more beat-up and stuff.

Ryan Villopoto SX, MX seasons in review

How does having only 10 laps factor into your strategy?
That makes the racing closer. Someone can't just run away with it. I mean, they can, but obviously they'd have to be quite a bit faster than the guy in second. You have to get a good start, you have to be the fastest and the fittest and you also have to make sure that you don't forget to take the Joker Lane, or [don't] take it at the wrong time.

Overall, what would you say that you improved on this season?
I think our bike got better and our bike staff got better, but I think that's par for the course with everybody. I tried to work on weak areas, and it's part of my trainer's job to know the weak areas.

You mean physically speaking, or mentally?
Mainly physical. Strength and everything. Every part about the physical side of what we do. Being more fit and in better shape makes you more consistent.

What will the next couple of months look like for you, getting ready to try for a fourth straight Supercross title?
I'll be back home in Florida just preparing. It'll be basically a 7-to-5 job every day, training and riding.

How about downtime? Are you taking any time off?
No. Before you know it, it'll be Jan. 7, and we'll be racing.

Carmen R. Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, and you can follow her on Twitter at @CarmenRThompson.

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