Chad Reed (Courtesy TwoTwo Motorsports/Simon Cudby)

(Courtesy TwoTwo Motorsports/Simon Cudby)

The 2014 Monster Energy season is just days away, and it’s time to take a look at the riders who will be fighting for the FIM World Championship beginning in Anaheim this Saturday night.

With reigning triple champion gunning for his fourth consecutive title, the task will be tough for every competitor to end his reign of dominance. However, with the most talented field in history set to line up on the gate this weekend, there is a large contingent of competitors looking to make their presence felt throughout the 17-race season.

The favorites to unseat Villopoto are three of the most successful riders in series history. Each has at least one supercross title to his credit and has achieved so much success that anything but a spot on the podium could be considered a disappointment. These riders are accustomed to winning and are in turn the most likely to make Villopoto’s path to another title a difficult one.

Chad Reed
What’s old is new again for Reed in 2014. In 2010, Reed lined up alongside Villopoto at Monster Energy Kawasaki to establish one of the most formidable teams in history. Unfortunately, Reed’s season ended before it ever really began following a second round crash with Stewart that resulted in a broken hand. Once he returned, Reed finished up front but never secured a victory and never appeared to be fully comfortable on the Kawasaki.

His departure from Kawasaki is what ultimately led to the creation of TwoTwo Motorsports and, after three seasons on a Honda that produced mostly positive results, Reed will be back on green for the 2014 season. It’s no secret that Reed’s 2013 campaign was perhaps the worst of his illustrious career, going winless and capturing just one podium finish en route to a fifth-place standing in the championship. However, Reed has been up front about the struggles he experienced, including a nagging knee injury, and acknowledged a change needed to be made to refresh his motivation and increase optimism for the upcoming season.

As the most consistent rider in supercross history with the most podium results of all-time, Reed is accustomed to being at the front of the field. His passion appears to be renewed with the new bike and Reed is excited about his chances.

Critics have cast a cloud of doubt over Reed’s odds this season following his tough campaign a year ago and his status as one of the oldest riders in the field, but Reed is determined to succeed. He’s proven in the past that when he’s determined, he’s tough to beat, so with a revamped program it will be interesting to see if Reed comes out swinging in Anaheim.

James Stewart en route to victory at Monster Energy Cup. (Courtesy Team Yoshimura Suzuki)

James Stewart en route to victory at Monster Energy Cup. (Courtesy Team Yoshimura Suzuki)

It was strange to see Stewart fight for podiums instead of wins last season, but following a knee injury in practice at Anaheim 1, Stewart was racing less than 100 percent all season long and also endured occasional bike issues. He still managed to grab a main event win and he ended up claiming the most heat races of the season. Considering what he was up against, it was a solid year for Stewart despite the 10th-place finish in the championship. However, given the expectations he and the Yoshimura Suzuki team had going into the season, it was surely an enduring year for the veteran.

Through the ups and downs, Stewart has said he learned a lot along the way. It was a bit humbling for the most prolific rider of his era, but from those struggles came growth and a huge win at the Monster Energy Cup in April. Stewart looked like the rider that made him the sport’s most dominant force in the late 2000s, fending off his rivals’ every move and doing things that only Stewart can do.

With the jolt of momentum heading into the off-season, it’s safe to say Stewart’s preparations for 2014 have gone smoothly. He’s somehow coming into this season a little under the radar – a first for him – and could actually surprise people if he’s hands down the rider to beat on Saturday night. That’s not to say Stewart isn’t one of the top title contenders this season, but considering the difficult times he’s had the last couple years it doesn’t appear as though Stewart is getting as much attention as we’ve been accustomed to throughout his career.

As odd as it may seem, Stewart is in position to shock some people this season.

Ryan Dungey. (Courtesy Red Bull KTM)

Ryan Dungey. (Courtesy Red Bull KTM)

The thorn in Villopoto’s side throughout his dominant stretch has been Ryan Dungey. During their intense showdown for the 2010 title, this rivalry was filled with bitterness, but since then it has shaped into one of tremendous respect and the desire to push one another to the limit. The Ryans have ushered in a new era of supercross, assuming the lead that was set for them by Stewart and Reed.

Since his historic championship win in 2010 where everything appeared to go his way, Dungey has had to face some of the hard luck and heartbreak that comes in supercross. However, through it all Dungey has continued to strive for more and as a result has become the new Mr. Consistency in the sport. In four years of 450SX Class competition, Dungey has championship finishes of first, third, third, and third, and has given Villopoto his biggest battles more often than not.

Despite his status as Villopoto’s main rival, Dungey still gets a mixed reaction from the fans. Some love him for his nice guy mentality and relentless work ethic while others argue he’s “dull” or even “lucky.” As a result, Dungey hasn’t really entered any championship as the heavy favorite or the leading challenger, but given what he’s accomplished since entering the premier division and his prominent rivalry with Villopoto, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t belong in the discussion.

While Dungey’s critics still think he has something to prove, he enters 2014 with Red Bull KTM as prepared as ever to challenge Villopoto and the rest of the 450SX Class elite. We’ll see if his streak of consistency continues starting on Saturday night.

The former champs are in search of more hardware and will lay it all on the line to stop Villopoto’s supremacy, beginning Saturday night as we kick off the 2014 Monster Energy Supercross season. You can watch the action unfold LIVE on FOX Sports 1 beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

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