David Vuillemin is standing on unfamiliar ground. For the first time in his career, the 24-year-old Frenchman is leading the AMA EA Sports US Supercross Championship.

He's never been the rider with the target on his back, but he will come into Saturday 12 January's race at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the man to beat. Vuillemin leads the series coming into round two after taking a surprising win at the season opener Saturday in Anaheim.

Vuillemin is no stranger to winning at Qualcomm, the factory Yamaha rider having earned his very first AMA 250 Supercross win there in 2000. That season, his first in the US, was a memorable one for Vuillemin. He won four races and finished runner-up to Jeremy McGrath in the final standings.

Then came the 2001 campaign.

Vuillemin broke his ribs in practice for San Diego and his season became one plagued by injury. With strong determination he still managed to seek out eighth in the final standings that year, but went back to France an unhappy rider.

This off-season, Vuillemin took a cue from Ricky Carmichael and reunited with his trainer from his youth - former world motocross champion Jacky Vimond - in a unique deal set up by his clothing sponsor Oxbow. With Vimond's help, Vuillemin entered this season in the best shape of his life. His off-season preparation showed at Anaheim where Vuillemin looked extremely smooth throughout the 20-lap final. Despite his early fortune, Vuillemin remains realistic coming into San Diego.

"The supercross season is a long one," he admits, "If I am to have a chance at winning the title this year, I'm going to have to stay injury free. At Anaheim, I was lucky and did not have to ride near the limits, but I know Jeremy and Ricky are going to come back strong, and I'll will have to be careful to not be too aggressive."

Pre-season favorites McGrath and Carmichael are both hoping to make up for rough starts in the series opener last week.

Carmichael, the defending champ who switched from Kawasaki to Honda this year, suffered his worst crash in years in the final at Anaheim. He was temporarily knocked out from the impact of his crash, but Honda officials claim that Carmichael should be ready to defend his last year's win at San Diego.

McGrath finished a disappointing 13th last week after suffering from arm pump - a fatigue condition that leads to loss of feeling in the arms and hands. It was the worst finish for McGrath in almost four years, but he is a five-time winner at San Diego and hopes to get back on track at the stadium that's just a few miles from his home in Encinitas.

Hoosier Mike LaRocco is second in the series coming into this weekend's race. The 30-year old veteran continues to earn top finishes, but he hasn't won a supercross race since 1995. The Factory Connection Honda rider feels he is going to have to figure out a way to get back into the win column if he's to have any chance at winning the championship.

A minor surprise coming out of week one was the performance turned in by 1999 AMA Supercross/Motocross Rookie of the Year Ernesto Fonseca. The Costa Rica native took third in his 250 class supercross debut last week, and the factory rider - a two-time 125 Regional AMA Supercross champ - has to be a pleasant surprise to Honda after his performance last week.

Kawasaki's Ezra Lusk joins Carmichael, McGrath and Vuillemin as a former San Diego winner. Lusk was fifth last week in Anaheim.

The second round of the 125 West Region Supercross Series will also be featured in San Diego. California's Travis Preston admittedly lucked into his win last week, after Anaheim race leaders Rodrig Thain and Chris Gosselaar crashed together while battling on the final lap. Preston was 17th at San Diego last year, but is confident riding for his new team, Factory Connection Honda.

All eyes will again be on Kawasaki's rookie sensation James 'Bubba' Stewart, who made a few rookie-type mistakes last week and crashed a number of times in his pro debut, but was still was able to rally to finish second. Many expect Stewart to be the rider to beat this weekend in the 125 class.