Interview - Aldon Baker on Adam CianCiarulo's Pro Debut
by Racer X Virtual Trainer
Last Saturday just before the start of the Budds Creek national, I sat down with trainer Aldon Baker to talk about Adam Cianciarulo's long awaited pro debut. Other than maybe Cooper Webb, few amateurs have garnered the hype and expectations of turning pro than AC. You’d have to go back to the “believe the hype” madness of 2000 to come close. AC has been training with Aldon down at Ryan Villopoto’s farm in Florida for the past few years. It will be interesting to see if practicing with the big boys is enough to get this young man ready for the madness of a pro national. Adam’s long time amateur rival, Cooper Webb set the bar high with his 11th place (5th in moto 1) debut at Hangtown. But what AC is attempting to do is a completely different way of entering the pro ranks. The series is 8 motos old and even the rookies are looking like 2-year vets. And no one has the spotlight square on them like AC. I decided to do a two-part interview with Aldon. Part one was before the race and part two was the day after.
|Adam's day started off with a huge sigh of relief in moto 1. Unfortunately, things would not go this well the rest of the day.|
Virtual Trainer: Well, here we are Aldon. After a brief detour AC is finally healthy and ready to dive into the deep end. Is he ready?
Aldon Baker: Well obviously the plan was to start at the beginning of the season and get started with the rest of the guys and gain some experience and learn but that didn’t happen since he got Salmonella the week before and was extremely sick. I was actually really surprised at how bad that affected him. I had riders deal with stomach issues in the past but nothing like this. This definitely took it out of the kid. At first we thought maybe a week off and then get back into it but it was a good full month before we thought he was back to where he was before he got sick. Once he started feeling better we just had to go week-by-week and he finally started getting better to where he could ride and train without feeling so tired. You know at first we just thought it was one of those 24-hour type bugs. Some of the guys had had it and we just thought maybe AC picked that up. But when he didn’t show signs of getting better and he was still pushing himself with riding and testing, he just kept getting deeper and deeper in the hole. I feel if we would have gotten the test early and known that we were dealing with Salmonella it may not have been so severe. But once we figured out what it was we were able to deal with it and get on track to getting better.
So once you guys figured out it was Salmonella, what steps did you go through to get him back in race shape?
Well the first thing we had to do was wait until the diarrhea subsided and he could eat and keep food down. That took about a week and once he started feeling normal again we slowly got back on the bike. And when that happened we were back in Florida which was tough because the track is tougher and its hotter. I was actually pretty surprised at that point because I thought he was going to bounce back a little quicker. But I think the heat got to him a bit. But once the Salmonella cleared his system it was just a matter of building back his strength and getting ready for today.
How was his mental state throughout out all of this? He had to pretty bummed sitting on the couch watching the season start and go on without him.
He didn’t complain or anything like that but I could tell he was bummed. So much had gone into preparing for Hangtown so when that didn’t happen it was a big let down. But he knew there was nothing he could have done to avoid it so we just put it behind us and moved on. He kept working and pushing forward so he would be ready for this moment. It’s just one of those things and you have to get past it.
Man I can imagine he is so hungry right now he is about to chew his arm off. That had to be motivating to sit and watch his rival Cooper Webb go out and do so well and get a bunch of press.
Yea for sure but then there is the added pressure of knowing that those guys are out there getting the experience that only comes from racing. These guys are mid-season and he is back to jumping in the deep end. And the pool was already deep enough! So it's tough all around and you have some people who say he should just wait until next season and all that, but I think he needs to get in there and learn. That is what this whole season is all about, learning and getting the experience that you can only get on race day. But no matter how realistic we are and no matter how much we try to take the pressure off, it is still there. We just need to get this first race out of the way and get on with our business. We have three race weekends in a row to look forward to so that’ll be good to get into a groove and see where we really stack up.
So he got out on the track for practice today. How is he feeling and what did he say?
Well, physically I think he feels fine. The biggest thing he is struggling with is putting the track together. Linking all the sections is tough on a pro track. Pro tracks change so much from the morning to when the races start. That will be the toughest thing for him today. We were looking over sections a little earlier and he would be fast in a few and then struggle in some others. So he’s gotta figure out how to put that all together.
|Adam has been working with Aldon for the better part of a 2-years. He gets to ride and train alongside multi-time champion Ryan Villopoto
How about physically? Is he still feeling any lingering effects from the Salmonella?
No, he says he feels fine but again it's just practice. I think he’ll be fine.
Are you expecting any problems as the day goes on. It’s hot out but certainly not Florida hot.
Yea, that is tough because we have no real baseline to go off of. It’s all new ground at this point. I’m a little nervous to see how well he copes. I mean we have done our homework and trained for this moment but come race day, you just never know how your body is going to react. I’m eager to see how he performs and handles the pressure. I do hope he gets a good start because that will take a lot of the pressure off.
Yes, for sure. That will be the sigh of relief heard across the land!
Yes for sure. So if he can get a good start and get into a good flow that will help a lot. And if he doesn’t get a good start….oh man, that is going to be a tough lesson.
Ok, I’ll put you on the spot. What are your expectations for the day?
Top ten. If he can get a top ten overall finish then that will be a great day. Anything out of the top ten and I will be a bit disappointed because I know his potential. But its racing and we will have to wait and see.
Okay, we will talk after the race and see how the day went.
I wasn’t able to catch up with Aldon immediately following the race, so I phoned him up the next from his home in Florida.
Okay, Aldon let’s pick up where we left off. Tough weekend for AC that’s for sure. Take me through the day.
Well, the first moto could not have started off better. He almost got the holeshot and was up front where we wanted him to be. So that was good that he could start off with those guys up front. But something was going on in that back section because every time he came out of there he would lose a spot so he obviously had a bad line or something. And it just seemed to get worse and worse from there. It seemed that the harder he tried the more he just beat himself up. That's what I expected. To go in there and learn a little. But I didn’t expect him to learn that hard! He was having trouble with line choice and in the corners he was trying to come up on the inside so tight and just could not get any sort of flow. He got frustrated and disappointed within himself and the whole tire just seemed to go flat from there.
Were things were pretty tense in between motos?
Not really. We talked about line choices and things that went wrong and how to fix it but in the second moto he got the worst start possible and just never recovered from that. Everything we talked about in between motos was gone and he just struggled.
So what happened on that second start? First moto almost a holeshot: second moto almost dead last.
Well, he actually got a good jump but right out of the gate he spun too much and everyone just went around him. So he comes around the first turn in 40th and I’m like well, he will now have to learn how to pick his way past guys. He was looking okay and then he tipped over on lap two I think. So he had the full learning curve from getting a bad start and then tipping over. I don’t think anything more could have gone wrong. And once again frustration set in and he wasn’t picking good line at all. So really he had a massive eye opener to his pro debut. At the end of the day we all just wanted to walk away with our tail between our legs. But it’s not all bad. The things that we learned will motivate us to get better and move on. But it was ugly.
|Adam was not the only rider to struggle with the rollers at Budds.
You know, I was thinking. Everyone says that turning pro after Loretta’s is hard. But think about what Adam just did. At least after Loretta’s you were just racing the prior week in a high-pressure situation. Here, he had nothing for the past, what, year? The last time he raced was MEC and that isn’t exactly an outdoor national!
Yea, you’re right and sometimes I have to kind of remind myself to not be too hard on him. Even something that Adam’s dad said, ‘I’ve never seen him ride so bad.’ And I was like, yea, but we have nothing to base it on. And MEC doesn’t count. You cannot compare that race to this one. At MEC he wasn’t racing against Roczen or Tomac and all those guys. So it’s not the same and we need to keep that in perspective. But after I’ve had a day to think about it, I stuck my foot out there and said top ten and I still believe that is where he should be. But boy oh boy did he jump into the deep end for sure. And I believe in the long term it is going to be really good. But sometimes what your expectations are and what is realistic aren’t the same. But I keep going back and thinking where would he be if he had raced Hangtown and evolved with the crew. The evolvement of a rookie is well underway at this point and Adam is at day 1. On a positive note I’m glad he didn’t try so hard that he yard-saled and got hurt. So that was smart on his part.
What did Adam have to say at the end of the day? Was he so dejected he didn’t even want to think about it or was he okay with how he rode? And how did he hold up physically?
Well, physically he said that he felt good until just after half way and then he just beat himself up. He said that riding in Florida with Ryan and the other guys and on that track which is pretty tough, he thought it wouldn’t be so different. But I was telling him, that is a rough practice track but nothing gets rough like a pro track on race day. Everyone knows you cannot duplicate in practice what you see on race day and I think Adam completely understands that now. That’s why you have to go racing to get to that next level. He did say that he didn’t manage himself very well during the race which is something he does well in training during motos. And the rollers, man he said those really worked him a bit. He is still pretty small and has a long way to go to get to the strength we need. And like we have talked about a lot you and I, you’ve got to be strong to race in the pros. Adam said the bike was really working him through the rollers and he just didn’t have the overall strength to really go through that section fast.
Well, he has to go through puberty before he can gain any real strength (laughs).
Yea, well exactly (laughs). But really that is a touchy thing because he is still very young and you have to be careful about how you go about it. But he does realize now just how important that area of training is and know that you cannot neglect it. In a lot of ways what happened actually will help me. I don’t think I’ll have to motivate him to get to the gym anymore. You know how young kids are. They are like, man do we really have to go to the gym today? I think Saturday opened his eyes to the importance of that part of his training. Mentally, of course he was very disappointed but I spoke to him earlier today and Budds Creek is in the past and he is fired up to have a good week of training to get ready for Southwick. But even that is going to be tough because he has to go to press day which shortens the week.
I know that the young kids I’ve worked with including Cooper, that even though they nod yes that they understand how important strength training is, it is still like pulling teeth to get them to do it right. They just want to ride and I get that. Was Adam the same way and do think Saturday opened his eyes?
Oh no, eyes are wide open now (laughs). In the past I don’t think he fully understood how much strength it was going to take to ride at this level. And you don’t know until you get out there and the bike beats you up like that and then the light goes on and they get it. Ad it's not like the bike was bad it’s just that it turns into an animal on a track with those type of conditions. And you just cannot simulate that on a practice track. Even Ryan admits it's tough on those tracks. And, man if you miss the setup just a little, it makes it really hard!
Yes, and let’s face it. If yesterday was a Loretta Lynn’s regional, Adam probably would have won and everyone would have said he was flying. I’ll bet even Adam would have said he felt great and the rollers were not a problem. But go out there with 39 other pros and suddenly things are a bit different. Welcome to the Pros!
That’s just it and Adam said even the lines in the turns are different than in amateur. And I told him those are things you cannot explain to a guy until he has raced on it. That is the learning curve. But overall there were a lot of good positive things to come out of this weekend and I cannot wait to see where we can go from here.
Well, I'm sure all eyes will once again be on AC at Southwick. I can't wait to watch this kid grow and catch up with the rest of the pack. Thanks again for the time Aldon and good luck!
Thanks mate. Always good to catch up.
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.