As it has been since 2008, the Women's Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, has been dominated by two riders. One rider was clearly the strongest in the first half of the eight-round series; the second has swept the last six motos and three overalls. Both riders had potentially season-killing injuries near the midway point.
On Saturday at the Red Bull Lake Elsinore National, standings leader Jessica Patterson and second-place Ashley Fiolek enter the final round separated by only five points. Tarah Gieger is third, 10 points out of the lead.
Since 2008, Patterson and Fiolek have won all 37 overalls and all four championships. The chances of a complete five-year sweep look good, and if Fiolek reels off two more moto wins she will finish with a perfect second half and a fourth WMX title, which she vows will be her last. It's a huge comeback considering she thought her chances were dead in June when she missed Round 4 one week after finishing the previous round with a concussion.
"I just kept working and wanted to try to see how many points I could make up," Fiolek said of her second-half surge. "At the time I was returning, JP [Patterson] was dealing with an injury of her own, so that helped as well."
Five days before Round 5 in Michigan, Patterson crashed at Comp Edge MX in California and broke the second metacarpal in her left hand, close to her wrist. Patterson still raced July 7 and gutted out 13 points to Fiolek's 50. In hindsight, it's a move that kept her in this championship chase.
"I just tried to salvage some points," Patterson said. "In my head I thought I'd be able to do a little better, but when I was out there the pain was unbearable."
On July 9 she had surgery and on July 21 she competed again, this time with a plate and five screws in her hand. She finished fourth overall. Still not 100 percent, Patterson is seeking a record seventh WMX title. She said she started practicing again but only for two sessions per week to save strength and not injure her hand further. She has made modifications to her bike to help with handling because she still cannot make a fist, and the bottom of her pointer finger still goes numb. One noticeable change is the grip tape that covers her gas tank and air box, which provides more friction for her legs and knees and takes the pressure off her hands.
To win the title in Lake Elsinore this weekend she must stop Fiolek from winning both motos. One moto win and a second place will give Patterson the title, so she won't be backing down in either race. "If I take it easy, that's where the mistakes happen," Patterson said. "That's what can cost you championships."
Gieger, winner of the first moto at Round 4, is also eligible for the title. Her last overall win was in 2007.
Fiolek is happy to be in contention for a title she thought was long lost, and she's well aware that the shot at winning the title is in each rider's control.
"It's not over till it's over," she said. "It's on me, and I love the opportunity to make it happen for myself."
Fiolek, only 21, Tweeted in May that 2012 is her final season in WMX. She is sticking to her word, but has offered no information regarding her future plans.
"Absolutely! It is my last season in the outdoor series but certainly not racing! You will have to wait until November, sorry."