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Images from the 2019 Monster Energy Cup at the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.
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Cianciarulo and Tomac Leave Sin City Seeing Green at Monster Energy Cup

Oct 212019

After an incredibly impressive showing at Saturday night’s Monster Energy Cup, the supremely talented duo from Monster Energy Kawasaki has officially put the racing world on alert heading into the 2020 season. For the second year in a row, the “green team” landed both of its riders on the podium inside Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium, and while the thrill of a million-dollar jackpot eluded both Eli Tomac and his new teammate Adam Cianciarulo this time around, being able to go head-to-head for victory and end the night with a 1-2 sweep was a nice consolation.

A year ago, Tomac was forced to track down and pass his premier class rookie teammate, which successfully carried him to the “Monster Million.” A similar situation presented itself again on Saturday night, but Tomac came up on the short end of the equation in his bid to not only become the first back-to-back winner at the event, but also build on his distinction as the winningest rider in Monster Energy Cup history. Instead, Cianciarulo did the unthinkable, outrunning his superstar teammate to emerge victorious in his first ever start aboard the big bike.

The hype was real coming into Las Vegas, as Cianciarulo’s anticipated move to the 450cc division and his personal “rebrand” with a new single-digit career number made him arguably the hottest story of the weekend. Even with all the attention, a win still seemed like it might be a little out of reach given all the variables surrounding an event that intentionally entices on-track chaos. When you also consider that a win would very likely entail withstanding a relentless pursuit by Tomac, the odds became more of something you’d thrown some money down on at a Vegas sportsbook; not a sure thing, but tempting enough to buy into in hopes of cashing in. Everything had to go right, and while he wasn’t without some hiccups, Cianciarulo couldn’t have asked for a better start to his 450cc career. 

Fresh off a breakthrough summer in which the world was finally able to bear witness to the Florida native’s true potential, Cianciarulo carried tons of momentum and confidence into his debut. The questions surrounding his ability to win a title were gone. The pressures of living up to the sport-altering talent he showed as an amateur had been washed away. And, most importantly, the doubts that festered deep inside his psyche after years of injury and heartbreak were vanquished. The Adam Cianciarulo that joined Monster Energy Kawasaki for the 2020 season and beyond is a new rider. Someone who sees nothing but opportunity ahead of him, and is motivated to go bar-to-bar alongside the likes of Tomac, Ken Roczen, Marvin Musquin, and Cooper Webb, with hopes of one day achieving the type of success they’ve all enjoyed.

The carefree and optimistic mindset that Cianciarulo carried into the Monster Energy Cup was perfect for the specific scenario it presents. The three Main Event format is always a defining factor in the outcome, as is the infamous Joker Lane. Mistakes often prove costly in this event, and the added wrinkle of three different track layouts for each respective race only enhanced that idea. In the end, mistakes were made, but it was how a rider bounced back from those mistakes that ultimately decided who came away with the $100,000 check as winner.

Qualifying

 

A pair of qualifying sessions helped set the lineup for the night, allowing riders a chance to navigate the two distinct directions that the track would flow over the course of the three main events. Fittingly enough, both Cianciarulo and Tomac took their turns atop the time sheets, immediately establishing themselves at the head of the pack.

 

Tomac ultimately posted the lowest time of all across both sessions, which gave him first slight advantage of the event with the first gate pick heading into the evening,

 

Main Event 1

 

Thanks to their prowess in qualifying, all eyes were on the Monster Energy duo when the gate dropped on the first Main Event of the night. Right away Cianciarulo put himself into a position to thrive, emerging with the holeshot while Tomac jostled for a spot inside the top five.

 

Cianciarulo appeared to be in full control early on, easily leading the first couple laps. However, his one hiccup came on the third lap. He had already built a comfortable lead, but the front tire of his Kawasaki slid out as he navigated under the over-under bridge and sent Cianciarulo to the ground. He was able to pick his bike back up and re-enter quickly, but fell from first to fourth.

 

The miscue by his teammate provided an opportunity for Tomac, who suddenly found himself tracking down the leader from second. In his pursuit of Vince Friese, Tomac nearly threw it all away when he mistimed a rhythm section and cased a jump. He later admitted he forgot where he was on the track, no doubt a byproduct of the variety of track layouts. While it abruptly halted his momentum, Tomac kept the bike on two wheels and didn’t lose a position. He then started over on his quest for the lead.

 

It wasn’t long before Tomac was back on Friese’s rear fender, and he didn’t waste time making it happen. Just past the halfway point of the opening 10-lap Main Event the defending Monster Energy Cup winner was in control, potentially embarking on another million-dollar journey.

 

While Tomac charged to the win, Cianciarulo was doing work of his own, rebounding from his tip over to fight back up to second. Tomac took the checkered flag by two seconds over his teammate, which essentially set the tone for what was to come.

 

Main Event 2

 

Things didn’t start off nearly as smoothly for either rider in the second Main Event. In fact, they were both lucky to escape a first-turn crash as the field funneled into the first turn. The end result saw Tomac fight his way into a top-five start, while Cianciarulo was forced into some extra work outside the top 10.

 

The hard-charging Tomac quickly stormed up into second and once again only Friese sat between Tomac and another checkered flag. Unfortunately, Tomac’s hopes for another million-dollar night crash to a crashing halt. As he chased Friese through the section of the track outside the stadium, Tomac was shockingly kicked off his Kawasaki as the rear broke traction and high-sided. No worse for wear, Tomac scrambled back to his bike and returned to the track in ninth.

 

Like the first Main Event, Tomac’s misfortune provided opportunity for Cianciarulo, who was charging his way through the field. While he wasn’t able to challenge for the lead, but he got as far as he could, following race winner Malcolm Stewart across the line.

 

True to his nature, Tomac bounced back in emphatic fashion to salvage a third-place finish. 

 

Main Event 3

 

As the field lined up one final time for the most important Main Event of the night there was a three-way tie for the lead between Tomac, Cianciarulo and Stewart. Whoever took the win, or earned the best finish of the race, would be crowned Monster Energy Cup Champion.

 

This tension-filled finale epitomized what the Monster Energy Cup is all about, and why its format is the most compelling in the sport. The fans were as anxious as the riders when the gate dropped for the fastest and most wide-open start area of the night that carried the field out the stadium around a flat-track style first turn.

 

With everything on the line, Cianciarulo and Tomac both got the start they needed out the gate, with Cianciarulo leading the field in and out of the first corner to grab the holeshot. Reigning MXGP Champion Tim Gajser separated the Kawasaki teammates for a lap, but Tomac took advantage of his inexperience to jump into second and give chase to Cianciarulo.

 

What ensued was a high-speed chess match between the two new teammates. Cianciarulo had the speed to lead, and even though Tomac was slightly quicker, it wasn’t enough to get around. It made for a thrilling head-to-head showdown for the win between two riders poised to engage in similar battles throughout the next season.

 

Since he was unable to pull the trigger on a pass, Tomac’s hopes for victory came down to his ability to navigate the Joker Lane. Fully expecting Cianciarulo to hold off on the Joker Lane until the final lap, Tomac ducked in with two laps to go and sought to hopefully gain enough ground to edge out Cianciarulo on the following lap.

 

When Cianciarulo entered the Joker Lane on the final lap, the biggest win of his career was hanging in the balance. He was smooth over the trio of walls in the tricky sand section and rejoined the track about one and half bike lengths ahead of Tomac. The crowd roared as the Monster Energy riders resumed their battle through the final couple corners. Tomac gave a look, hoping Cianciarulo would bobble, but it didn’t happen. Tomac’s new hotshot teammate successfully kept the defending million-dollar winner at bay for the entirety of the Main Event to become the third different winner of the night.

 

The win gave Cianciarulo a one-point edge in the overall classification, making him the eighth different winner in nine years.

 

“That’s what racing is all about. That last race was as fun as it gets and I’m so proud that we finished what we started during qualifying,” said Cianciarulo. “Hard work really does pay off and I can’t thank my Monster Energy Kawasaki team enough for setting me up for this win. This was huge for me and I’m really looking forward to carrying this momentum into the supercross season.”

 

While missing out on the win was no doubt bittersweet for Tomac, he still walked away with a strong performance, and an even better night for his Monster Energy Kawasaki squad.

 

"What a battle. We came to race and put on a show and that’s exactly what we did,” said Tomac. “My team set me up with a great bike; I felt good and was having fun all day. A small mistake cost me but I can honestly say that was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. After riding with Adam a few times out in California, I knew we would be battling like this so I’m just happy we could take the 1-2 for the entire Kawasaki team."

 

The successful night in Las Vegas bodes well for even more success for the Monster Energy Kawasaki team heading into the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross season. Tomac will no doubt be the title favorite for the third straight season, while Cianciarulo’s impressive debut means there’s definite potential for a win and possibly more during his rookie campaign.

Monster Energy Cup Overall Results (Main Event Results)

 

Adam Cianciarulo, Monster Energy Kawasaki – 5 points (2-2-1)

Eli Tomac, Monster Energy Kawasaki – 6 points (1-3-2)

Malcolm Stewart, Honda – 7 points (3-1-3)

Vince Friese, Honda – 14 points (4-5-5)

Tim Gajser, Honda – 15 points (7-4-4)

Justin Barcia, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing – 19 points (5-8-6)

Aaron Plessinger, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing (15th) – 47 points (22-17-8)

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