Cycle News In The Paddock
Watch Out, Everybody. Marc’s Coming Back
It was a moment to strike fear into every other MotoGP rider. Last week, Marc Marquez appeared before the cameras for the first time in some eight months. And promised he was on the way back.
Fear? Or relief?
Experienced Marc-watchers noted that his long ordeal has left its…er, mark.
The one-time choirboy-look and innocent smile are long gone. The 2021 version looked drawn and angry: nose beaked, eyebrows dark and looming, eyes fierce.
Understandably so. As he mentioned, this is the first time in his life (at least since he was about five) that he has been off his motorcycle for so long.
Breaking his right humerus after that heroic comeback ride in the opening round of last season at Jerez left the 28-year-old with his first incapacitating injury, although only just. Back in 2011 his career was terminally threatened by a pervasive concussion that left him with double vision, requiring micro-surgery to correct.
This time around, the fix was not so easy, requiring three separate bouts of surgery, the second just a week after the first, after he attempted a racing comeback just days off the operating table and the plate bent again. The third was in December, after an unconscionably slow healing progress was discovered to be the result of a bone infection.
The choirboy look was, of course, always deceptive. Even back in the days of his 125-class innocence, he was never anything but a ruthless killer. Marquez the Merciless, a smiling tiger cub.
In the same way Rossi has always scattered beguiling charm, winning fans way beyond his racing prowess. Like a TV reality-show star, riding the crest of a celebrity wave to draw in admirers from far and wide. Most of whom neither knowing nor caring just what a brutal rival he was to every other racer. Rossi has never taken any prisoners.
You wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s what it takes to be a great champion in a full-on high-risk sport like world championship bike racing. Niall Mackenzie was the most successful British rider in the long 35-year gap between GP wins for Barry Sheene and Cal Crutchlow. I well remember him telling me a couple of years ago: “Looking back, I think I was just too polite to the other riders.” Niall took seven podiums but zero wins.
Marc’s video clip came from the internet-only Repsol Honda team launch as February limped towards its Covid-stricken close. He and new teammate Pol Espargaro (his blue helmet making a jarring clash with the team orange livery) were pictured with the latest RC213Vs.
The setting was gloomy—some sort of medieval dungeon: the sort of venue that Spain has done particularly well ever since the Inquisition. This perhaps reflected the fact that 2020 was the first year since 1981 in the premier class that Honda has entered, but not achieved a single race win.
Marc, right shoulder slumped and forearm looking ever so slightly wasted (or was that a false impression, engendering some wishful thinking in his rivals?), was frank enough. He revealed that while he continues to make progress towards recovery after the third surgery to his broken right humerus, he did not expect to take part in the March Qatar tests. He set his target low: just “to enjoy being back on the bike. You cannot pretend to arrive with one year off the bike and still be the same Marc.”
So maybe there is some relief for the rest of the MotoGP grid, coming in after a year giving eight of them the chance to win races, a rarity when Marc is on form. They will have at least the first part of the season to fight among themselves.
This is of particular interest to Marc’s Honda colleagues, who will be under particular pressure from their employer. Pol and the satellite riders Nakagami and Alex Marquez must seize their chance to end Honda’s drought.
Footnote: The death on February 23 at just 60 of title-winning rider and team owner Fausto Gresini, ending a long battle with Covid-19, evokes long memories throughout the paddock.
A double 125 champion and winner of 21 races, the diminutive Italian continued as a highly successful team boss, eventually contesting all three classes as well as MotoE, where his team won the inaugural championship. Gresini riders also won titles in Moto3 (Jorge Martin, 2018), 250 (Daijiro Kato, 2001) and Moto2 (Toni Elias, 2010), and MotoGP races with Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri. The team also suffered tragedy, with Kato and Marco Simoncelli both fatally injured riding in its colors.
I am sure readers will indulge me, indeed join me, in offering sincere condolences for a man who, to me, was always one of racing’s natural gentlemen. CN
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