In The Paddock
The Pain Of Contest Interruptus
Extract from a MotoGP Rider’s diary:
06:00 – Woke up, put on leathers, in case of calendar change.
06:05 – Took leathers off, went for a run.
10:00 – Put leathers on, in case of calendar change.
10:05 – Read emails. Racing postponed again. Took leathers off. Drank tea out of sponsor’s energy-drink cup.
13:00 – Put leathers on, in case of calendar change.
13:05 – Took leathers off. Ate calorie-controlled lunch (pasta), wearing other sponsor’s baseball cap.
14:00 – Calendar changes announced. Nothing for months. Put leathers on, just in case. Contemplated suicide.
14:05 – Went cycling until too tired to think.
19:00 – Ignored calorie-controlled supper (pasta again). Drank whole bottle of vodka out of sponsor’s energy-drink cup.
20:00 – Put fresh leathers on. Passed out.
Well, not the suicidal thoughts, I hope. But flippancy aside, it’s a bleak time for all the world, and especially worrying to contemplate the mental state of world-class athletes who are already so far out there that many “normal” people think they must have several screws loose.
I share this view. I’ve known a parade of champions and wannabes for more than three decades. They might not have wildly staring eyes and they might not be given to uncontrollable ranting (well, not all of them), but there are very few who you wouldn’t think of as at least slightly nutty.
In a really good way.
Putting your neck on the line weekend after weekend, risking life and limb to measure yourself against the best riders in the world, is a particularly fine kind of madness. Loony, yet in its bonkers way actually saner than engaging with the rat race, battling on to pay the rent and save for two-weeks annual holiday on a crowded beach.
It certainly helps to be obsessive. Often knowingly so, if only in hindsight. The difference in mindset between active racers and retired racers can be astonishing, even to themselves.
I’ve known riders who would bite your head off at the merest hint of offense while they were active emerge just a year or two after retirement as entirely pleasant and amusing meal companions. As if released from chains. (To be fair to all, some never change. Especially those whose retirement was not voluntary.)
Why do we admire and respect our racing heroes? As well (obviously) as their talent, for this mental dedication. But only some of us actually envy them. And especially not now, when the past months of expensively managed and controlled mental and physical training—the dieting and programmed exercise routines, all aimed at being ready to race at Qatar 10 days ago—have culminated in, well, nothing.
Coitus interruptus. Maybe literally so, if reports of reports emanating from virus-stricken Italy are correct. The Italian website GPOne attributed information to the Spanish press that Marc Marquez and his wistfully beautiful model girlfriend Lucia Rivera Romero had split after more than a year of bliss, reportedly because of the unexpected stress of having to spend so much time together.
Sounds like fake news to me. More comforting is the report from the Italian Gazzetto dello Sport, repeated in German-language website Speedweek, that Rossi’s enjoying spending time at home with mum and girlfriend Francesca Sofia Novello.
These are truly extraordinary times. Racing is caught up in a 21st-century version not so much of the plague, but of world war. No shooting, but the equivalent suspension of normal life and the usual economic realities. Current conditions make it highly unlikely that the season will begin, as presently proposed, on May 3, at Jerez in Spain. It also looks unlikely that the remaining 19 races will be able to squeeze into the time available. The regulations decree a minimum of 13 for a champion to be declared. The regulations, however, might have to be bent more than somewhat.
Meanwhile, while fans twiddle their thumbs and watch replays of favorite races (funnily enough, they always have the same outcome); organizers and promoters wrestle with problems of finances and rescheduling; tire technicians worry about whether they will need to make special new tires for conditions if the racing goes on into the European winter.
The riders? They carry on training, wearing holes in the seats of their dirt bikes, and ensuring team managers bite fingernails to the quick. This is a real concern: big names are no strangers to seasons spoiled after dirt-bike misadventures. Rossi broke his leg in just such a manner, Marquez suffered a bad hand injury a few years back, and a wrist fracture was a major contributor to Lorenzo’s dire final Honda season and premature retirement. And already last week Maverick Vinales spent a night in hospital after a thumping dirt-track fall.
Safer news comes from Rossi again. “With my buddies and the Academy guys, we play real fights online on the simulator—the last race at Spa.” CN
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