The Hardest Thing Is Saying Good-Bye
There’s a new documentary film coming out shortly made by Dorna covering the history of the World Championship. Information is embargoed, but I don’t think I’ll be breaking too many confidences, having seen a rough-cut preview, when I say it’s an unmissable classic.
And if I divulge just one comment from it, by Mick Doohan, about Valentino Rossi. “The thing that astounds me about Rossi is how long he’s been going.”
“Astounding” is right. Or maybe, given his latest exploits, not really strong enough. Rossi is flabbergasting. Repeatedly so.
I have to admit that I was one of the doubters who wondered whether his recent broken leg might be an injury too far—that while he lay on his bed of pain he might be questioning his position.
Knocking on for 40, he is already surrounded by piles of money big enough to block out the light, a similar number of trophies, with every ambition achieved, and facing a challenge that gets tougher every year, as young talented riders keep feeding in.
I seriously thought he might now think it’s time to relax a bit, enjoy the fruits, and devote himself not to out-riding the crop of bright young Italian wannabes who attend his training ranch and ride for his ever-expanding SKY VR46 empire, but to finding an easier way of nurturing their talents.
There is really nothing left for Valentino to prove.
Well, he promptly showed that there was one thing left—to prove us doubters completely wrong. In spades. Hang my head.
Valentino broke the 26-day double-fracture record set in 2010 by Randy de Puniet to get back on a MotoGP bike on the 22nd day. And we know the rest: qualified on the front row at Aragon, challenged for the lead, and finished a very close fifth, less than six seconds behind winner Marquez after almost 75 miles of racing. And he’ll be stronger still for the three upcoming flyaways.
I mean, wow.
But I also mean—gee, Valentino, do you really need to put yourself through this? Where can it all end?
It’s hard to work your way up in racing to reach the highest level. Granted, Rossi had a primrose path, but it was talent that drove him along it at top speed. Some riders don’t have such help and guidance, and as a result never get there. But for nobody is it actually easy.
What can clearly be even harder is managing to stop.
Of the champions I’ve known, some of them quite well, there are very few who actually made it out into real life with their dignity fully intact. Kenny Roberts Sr., Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner and the most shining example, Casey Stoner.
Leaving out those who, like Rainey, Doohan and to a large extent Schwantz, were forced to stop because they got too badly hurt, there are more stories of sad and sometimes protracted decline than the other thing.
Even Giacomo Agostini didn’t go out on a very high note—no GP wins in his final year of 1977, by when he’d left Yamaha for a pointless MV return, then come back to Yamaha. To be fair, he did win a couple of F750 races that year.
Multi-champion Phil Read was battling as a privateer when he jumped in his Rolls Royce halfway through the Belgian GP of 1976 and went home in a huff.
Then the battles of Freddie Spencer who had shone every bit as brilliantly as Marquez today. In fact, the two have a lot in common: precocious youth and a gift being able to ride deep into the crash zone, the bike having already given up, without actually falling off.
Fast Freddie was a mid-1980s giant-killer who had beaten Kenny Roberts, and went on to even greater success. Always enigmatic, he then ran out of motivation and eventually also money, following a series of pitiful comebacks. It was hard to watch a rider who had been so inspiring, then lost his own inspiration. He didn’t deserve that.
Nor did the fearless injury comeback man Barry Sheene deserve his final years as a privateer, forgotten by the factories and overshadowed by youth.
These are just a few of those whose careers petered out before they were prepared to admit it.
So what of today’s top dogs? What fate awaits?
How long can Marquez sustain his current intensity? Will Vinales really be able, as he once suggested, to win the title once, then leave it at that? What compulsion will keep Pedrosa going, when he seems doomed to be forever coming second?
And so on, down the grid.
But I’ll tell you one thing. We’re all getting tired of waiting for Valentino to run out of steam. There’s definitely no sign of it this year.CN