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Championship Trainers

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

Aldon with his riders before the start of the 2011 SX Season. If they only knew then what they know now.....

For the most part, I have never tried to advance the role of the trainer beyond what I truly felt for fear of diminishing the role of the rider. Certainly the rider is the most important part of the assembly of parts that is required to win races and compete for championships. After all, when it’s all said and done, he is responsible for twisting the throttle. But after watching this years Supercross championship battles play out, I feel it is time for me to take a stand and pay homage to two trainers involved in those championship efforts. I am talking about Aldon Baker who trains Ryan Villopoto and Charles Dao who takes care of the newly crowned Lites West Region Champion, Broc Tickle. I have known both of these trainers for 5 or 6 years now and consider both of them friends and some of the nicest guys in the sport. I have learned a lot from both of them and they have been very generous with their time and knowledge often contributing to this website. The aspect I enjoy the most about knowing these guys is how differently they approach training motocross athletes. Charles prefers to stay at home and has a gym where he teaches group fitness classes and trains other riders, mixed martial artists, and other personal training clients. Aldon, on the other hand travels extensively with his motocross clients at times giving all of his attention to one rider. The 2011 season is one of the few times that he has worked with multiple riders at the same time, namely Villopoto, Blake Baggett, Jake Weimer and Tyla Rattray although RV is his main guy. While their individual approach to training is indeed different, their level of commitment, knowledge, and dedication to the rider is paramount to both. As a good buddy of mine would say, they are good people.

Aldon Baker
Let me tell you about Aldon. Aldon no doubt gets the most praise and attention of any trainer in the motocross industry. That praise is well earned as he has won championships with Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, and now Ryan Villopoto: RV’s championship undoubtedly being his biggest accomplishment to date, at least in my opinion. Like I stated earlier, up until know I have never tooted the horn of the trainer. There are plenty of trainers in the industry who will tell you how great they are and how they are responsible for their rider’s success. Aldon has never been one to call attention to himself, not even close. As a matter of fact he struggles with praise and would rather people talk about the rider. Aldon’s entry into motocross is well documented first landing the role of transforming a young, relatively out of shape Ricky Carmichael into a fit rider who could move on from a 125 to the mighty 250. Granted, RC turned out to be the GOAT, I used to think that anyone could have trained Ricky and been successful. While I still feel that way to some extent, I also feel that RC’s success may have been a tick less without the help and direction of Aldon. Perhaps the win streak would have been a few races shorter, or possibly one less championship won, but I truly believe Aldon played a large role in RC’s success.

The next athlete Aldon trained was James Stewart. Again, Aldon was tasked with taking a young rider with unbelievable talent and speed who was struggling to find that magical combination and perform the same magic he did with RC’s riding. In the beginning it appear that Aldon and James would be together for James’ entire career and perhaps surpass the championships and accolades Ricky achieved. It is conceivable that James can still do that even though he and Aldon have parted ways. But with the championship effort Ryan Villopoto just put in, I’m no longer on the ‘James Stewart will win everything no matter what’ bandwagon. It wasn’t until Vegas that I stepped off the bandwagon and decided that Aldon has been the common denominator in too many championships to discount his worth. Sure James was hurt for most of the previous two years, but what Aldon brought the table was more than just how many miles to ride the bike, how many meters to row on the Concept2 or how many sets to do at the gym. Aldon brings a work ethic and lifestyle to the table that is the intangible ingredient in making a champion. He is not a “man friend” by any means. He is the reminder of what it takes to be the best. He's the little South African conscience letting you know what it takes to be the best. Can Aldon take just any rider and make him or her a champion? Certainly not: I think there are only 4 or 5 guys capable of actually winning a Supercross or MX championship no matter who trains them. But I do believe Aldon is the type of trainer who can take a rider at any level and make him or her perform at their best. Whether it’s making a champion or taking a 10th place guy and turning him into a 5th, Aldon seems to have a formula that to this point is unmatched in the sport.

"The best move I made in my career was hiring Aldon"

Ryan Villopoto in a post race interview after Vegas, 2011

Up until this championship run with RV, I believed that Aldon was a good trainer but there was still a part of me who thought, well yea, he is good but how hard can it be to train RC and James? After all they are arguably two of the fastest men to ever throw a leg over a motorcycle. Not taking anything away from Villopoto, he is a great rider but he has undoubtedly not enjoyed the same level of success as RC or the hype that follows James every time he sets foot on a track. I always fantasized about a matchup between RC and James when they are both healthy and in their prime. What would be the deciding factor in a championship run? The bike, the team, luck, injuries, alignment of the stars? I believe the deciding factor would be whoever was working with Aldon. I believe this more now that Aldon has won the championship with RV and James’ career has seemingly hit a snag. What is different this year than in the past with James? He is still arguably the fastest man on the track but that doesn’t always translate into wins as we have seen. Many people point their finger at distractions and other factors in James’ life. Certainly there has to be some truth to that. Maybe Aldon was responsible for more than we know somehow being able to keep the distractions to a minimum. Tough call for sure but one thing that cannot be argued is who won the SX championship this year.

Before you jump all over me and say that I’m hating on James, nothing could be further from the truth. I have been and will always be an @JS7 fan. I appreciate his talent on the bike and realize that the distractions he deals with on a daily basis are more than I will ever deal with in 10 lifetimes. When I walk in a room, no one is breaking their neck to get a glimpse or trying to figure out a way to exploit me. I can only imagine what it must be like to be the best at something in the World. I mean think about that. Of all the billions of people on the earth, James Stewart is one of the best riders to ever ride a dirt bike. That is amazing to me. Only a handful of 20-somethings can handle that amount of success and no matter what you may think about James as a rider, he is without a doubt a success. I’m afraid if I were given the same praise and attention at his age I’d have blown it all and become a complete loser before I turned 25. Some are saying the wheels have come off the James Stewart bandwagon. I’m not sure I agree with that but I do think that if Aldon were still a part of the process, things would be a bit better in James’ world.

Charles' choice of clothing whether he's at the gym, the track, or on the podium.
(The other) Sir Charles
What kind of trainer is Sir Charles Dao as he likes to be called? At least I think he likes it since he jokingly refers to himself as such. Either way if you know Charles you would understand how fitting and funny the title is. Charles doesn’t go to the track with his riders everyday nor does he attend many of the races outside of California. Charles’ riders come to him three or four days per week at his modest gym that just happens to be right next door to the factory KTM shop in Murrieta, CA. Like Aldon, Charles is a family man and he wears his faith and work ethic on his sleeve. Charles is not about designer jeans, the latest Oakley sunglasses, or being seen at the races. Like Aldon, he prefers the rider to be in the spotlight. Heck, I’m pretty sure he owns one set of clothes; his red and black workout clothes that he proudly wears with his gym name, Icon Sports Performance and Wellness Alliance, prominently displayed. If you ever hung out with Charles or Aldon I’m sure you would come away thinking, wow, those are some good dudes. They are both hard working, professionals with the best interests of their riders foremost on their minds. I say this because it speaks of their character. To me training a rider is much more than figuring out a training schedule. In this industry a complete training program is needed. One that not only includes reps, sets, meters and miles, but life management as well. We have seen so many hot prospect amateurs enter the pro ranks only to fizzle early and drop by the wayside. I can’t speak for all the cases of failure but I have to think that a lot of it had to do with whom the riders surrounded themselves with. For sure, Aldon and Charles are good people to have in your camp.

Look at a rider like Broc Tickle. I met Broc three years ago on a trip to California to hang with Charles and get some video footage of Charles’ new client Nico Izzi. I remember when Broc and Nico showed up, I could certainly tell who the alpha was in the relationship. This was to be expected. Nico was the hot thing entering the pros with as much hype and expectation as any rider at the time. In fact, he was the 2008 rookie of the year. At the same time, Broc was a little unknown and hadn’t yet accepted the fact that he belonged on the track with the greats in the sport. Nico was the star for sure. Maybe too much for his own good. I watched the two riders train for two days and Nico impressed me for sure. Check out this video of Nico rocking the TRX 40/40 challenge. I was so impressed that I made a few bets that, under Charles’ direction, Nico would vie for the championship or at least have a consistent presence on the podium. After seeing Nico and Charles’ relationship in the gym, I was certain. They seemed to get along that well.

That's Charles on the far right celebrating with Broc and the team. Look closely at the clothes....You know I love ya, Charles!

Well, for certain reasons, depending on who you talk to, Nico and Charles weren’t together very long after I left. My personal opinion is that once the East Coast races started and Nico left California, he wanted a trainer who would travel with him and take more of a role outside of the gym. Charles would certainly be good at that but Charles is simply not set up to travel the entire series. The two went their separate ways but Broc stayed with Charles. Again, if I examine the paths of these two riders, one has had the ultimate success of a Supercross Lites championship while the other has struggled. Granted, Nico had a broken foot that would put most riders in retirement. Again, like James, I am not hating on Nico. He seemed like a good kid when I met him and by all accounts is a successful person and rider. Whatever the reasons though, the results cannot be argued. One is a champion; the other is not.

I honestly believe that Charles played a large part in Broc’s championship this season. Maybe not as big as the role Pro Circuit played, but certainly one that would allow Broc to remain calm and focused when the going got tough. And if you watched the last race you would understand just how tough that race was. No matter how you saw the outcome of the race in Vegas, one thing is for sure. When things got tough, Broc dug deep and found a way to win. You can say that Seely and Cunningham blocked Tomac and gave the win to Tickle but I’m not buying that. At one point Tomac was in front of them all and somehow got passed back. No blocking there. And at one point Tickle was in the lead only to get passed back by his “friends”. Taking nothing from Tomac either. The kid is blinding fast and will no doubt be one of the riders we as fans hold in high esteem as the person we want our kids to look up to. This kid has the potential to be one of the all time greats in our sport. Which makes what Tickle did in that last race even more amazing.

Are Aldon and Charles the only trainers in the industry deserving of this attention. Heck no, there are several other trainers who I think do a great job. There are also a few who I would prefer to see leave the sport. In the end it is up to the rider to twist the throttle and win the race. But there is more to the game than just going fast. I once heard that the trainer is the last to be budgeted and first to be blamed. Sadly, in motocross this is almost always true without fail. So like it or not I am taking a stand for trainers and giving them their due FIRST! So to Aldon, Charles and their riders, congratulations on a great Supercross season and good luck in the Outdoors this summer!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Sean May 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Great write up Tim! Of course, you almost always see Aldon on the podium for the 450 class, but it was great to Charles up there in Vegas. The way these guys work with riders is incredible; it's not just training, but a way of life and these 2 trainers epitomize that.

  2. Gravatar
    Joel May 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Very very cool article! Two guys getting after it!!!

  3. Gravatar
    GlennJ May 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Excellent article.
    Sidenote: I ordered a TRX system today and put you (Tim) down as where I learned about it.

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer May 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Glad you guys liked the article and thanks for the mention Glen! You are gonna love your TRX!

  5. Gravatar
    Greg Hammond May 20, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Great Article. Good trainers are worth their weight in gold.

  6. Gravatar
    Jon Le June 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Awesome article. Trainers like Charles and Aldon play a huge role not only physically, but mentally. Good to see them getting credit for their great work.

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