After losing three points to Eli Tomac during last Sunday’s Salt Lake City round 11 main event and dropping to 32 points behind Tomac in his 450SX title defense, Wednesday’s main event had become a truly a do or die situation for Red Bull / KTM’s Cooper Webb. While Cooper trails both Ken Roczen and Tomac in the 450SX title chase—and the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Championship is looking like a long shot at this stage—if he were to lose another point to Tomac he may as well mentally check out of SX and start preparing for outdoors. The #1 is obviously not ready to do that—not yet at least. Cooper may lose that #1 plate in ’20, but he is not going down without a fight.
On Wednesday night in Salt Lake City for round 12, Cooper started off to a second-place start in the main event behind his training partner, Zach Osborne. With Tomac buried in the pack, Cooper looked content with letting Zach set the pace until he saw that #3 green fender edging closer and closer late in the race. The race was evolving into a three-man chess match and Cooper proved one more time that there is not a rider on earth currently better at playing chess on an SX track.
With just 3 minutes on the clock and Eli pushing the pace from behind, Cooper made a pass stick on Osborne for the lead. Tomac followed Cooper through two laps later, but Cooper had given himself a two-second cushion that turned out to be enough to lock down his second win of 2020. Now, with just five main events left on the calendar, Cooper trails Roczen—who finished 5th on Wednesday—by 16 points and Tomac by 29 points. It is not an ideal spot for Cooper, but with SX that can change quickly and Cooper knows that as much as anyone.
Today, MotoXAddicts joined Cooper on a Zoom call for the post-race press conference and he answered some questions about his win and more.
Cooper, congratulations on the win. Late in that main event with Zach in first and you second—I can’t help but to think about you and Zach and the hours you have ridden and battled together at the practice track—was there some comfort in that you were going up against someone you know? Someone where you know their riding and racing tendencies.
Yeah, it felt like another day in Florida, but on a race day. It was good. He had a great pace going and I kind of knew that the whole main event that he was going to lay it all out there. I felt like our pace was really good and he was riding well. Late in the race, I saw Eli was kind of inching closer and closer and I tried to make it happen. I was able to make the pass late and tried breakaway, but Eli got around him and put the hammer down. Overall, it was a great race for me and getting my first win in Salt Lake was great. So far, it’s been two good days of racing. I’m looking to keep the ball rolling. It’s awesome whenever you can get a win, that’s for sure.
What was your routine between Sunday’s race and Wednesday’s race? People have been wondering with the altitude and the short break, is there anything you did differently? And, did you feel different racing on a Wednesday?
I quite enjoyed it, honestly. It was kind of strange, I didn’t ride dirt bikes or anything. I went and played golf and did a little bit of cardio stuff. I actually enjoyed it. Being able to show up on race day after a previous race day, it was kind of cool. It didn’t really feel like a Wednesday, it felt like a normal race day. Now, looking today at it being Thursday, it is a little weird. I think, overall, it was a different program than what we’re used to. We’re used to a lot of days in between, but I quite enjoyed the quick turnaround. It was nice.
Do you feel like the layoff due to Covid-19 was the best thing that could have happened for you after that big Dallas crash?
It was definitely a help. At that time I was struggling with the body, so, yeah, it was a good help. I think the biggest thing was to be able to have that break, look back, and realize what I was doing wrong or what we need to be better at. It was definitely a help there, but at the same time, I really like the east coast style races and the soft dirt and the ruts. It’s been quite the opposite of that here, but I’m pretty stoked on how I’ve been able to adapt to the hard pack stuff.
The altitude has kind of been the theme of this race, and a lot of guys seem to be struggling. We expected Eli to be good because he lives and trains at altitude, but what did you do to prepare? Did you maybe get a therapeutic use exemption [from WADA] for oxygen or anything like that?
I’m not educated enough on altitude and I haven’t really changed anything I’ve been doing. We were in Florida doing a lot of laps and it was super hot. It seems like me and Zacho are pushing each other hard to duplicate those race day vibes. I’ve just been doing my normal things and training like normal. I mean, you definitely notice it, but I think it’s something that you just push through and know that it’s going to affect you a little bit.
What was it like to you going back to the same stadium, but at night with a different track layout? How much different was it for you?
It was definitely a change in schedules. From it being really early to the latest one I’ve ever raced. It was definitely than what we’re used to, but it was cool. It felt comfortable with how everything went. It seemed like this time around I felt like with the mechanics and the routine, it felt a bit easier. Just ’cause everyone knew what to expect. The track had more moisture this time and definitely a more technical layout. I was stoked that they changed the track. Not entirely, but it was quite a bit different from last Sunday and they were able to do that in two days which was impressive. I thought they might leave the same layout and just change a few sections here and there, but it was cool that they did a full-on rebuild.
One of the most overlooked parts of your game is your on-track chess game during races. When you and another rider are similar speeds and there are five laps to go, I can’t think of the last time you were passed in that situation. Was your pass part of that chess match with you seeing Eli coming and needed to go, or was it more you saw the opportunity and took it?
I think a little of both. I saw Eli coming and I knew I needed to make a move. I thought our pace was pretty good, but I could tell Eli was catching us a little bit, a little bit. I knew that he was going to be strong down the stretch so I felt like I needed to get going. I tried a few laps before that, and then Zach stepped it up for those laps. He made that mistake in the whoops that gave me the opportunity. Racing is—especially with the long main events—a bit of a chess match. It is a long main. It’s one of those things—depending on the position your in—you have to take what you got and go with it. I was stoked with how I rode and the way I handled the race. I knew Eli was riding strong so I had to hold it down and make it happen.
Are those situational chess matches during the race something you have always been good at. Is it something you can even work on?
I’m not sure. The goal is obviously to be out front and that’s what I always try to do. It’s something I enjoy doing. Just kind of riding back there and checking everything out I guess. I knew the pace was strong enough to last that amount of time and I didn’t want to get into a cat and mouse game where we pass each other back in forth. I’d rather ride the wheel for however long I needed to and be able to make that adjustment on the fly.
Photos by: Simon Cudby