In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | March 31, 2021

Cycle News In The Paddock


Bonapart’s Coming Back. Just Not Quite Yet

There is a famous series of newspaper headlines, spaced out over a fortnight, covering the march of the returning deposed emperor Napoleon across France to Paris, to reclaim power.

When he first escaped his punitive exile on the island of Elba, he was described as a cannibal (anthropophagi), and “the Corsican Ogre.” And so it went on: Monster, Tiger, Usurper…, the epithets losing power the closer he got to Paris. And when he arrived there, he had been transformed back into “Emperor” and “his Imperial and Royal majesty,” to enjoy “the joyful acclamations of his devoted and faithful subjects.”

Well, nobody called Marquez an ogre during his long-enforced exile—eight months without being able to ride a motorcycle. But perhaps I wasn’t really joking when I said he was going to return and win his first race going away.

Because over the past couple of weeks, in a headlong rush to rival the Napoleonic march, he’s been coming back fast.

Marc Marquez
For the first time in his life, it seems Marc is listening to medical advice. Photo Courtesy of Honda

With the first race approaching equally fast, it looked like he planned to be there. The holiday for all the other riders—a tense, exciting and enjoyable spell of unpredictable results and unfamiliar chances—would be over.

With days to go, at the time of this writing, they got a reprieve. Two more races before Napoleon returns for the start of the European season at Portimao.

Well, probably two more races. Maybe more. For the first time in his life, it seems Marc is listening to medical advice. The slow-to-knot humerus bone needs to get stronger and will be assessed again before round three in Portugal, two weeks after the Qatar double-header.

It’s been intense and exciting without him. When he returns the temperature will rise still further.

Not long ago, when judged as if he was a normal bloke, there was still some doubt about the timing and strength of the come-back. He appeared in a video, looking drawn and tense. Eight months without riding had clearly taken its toll.

Normal bloke? Give it a rest. After his big crash last year, Marc leapt almost straight off the operating table, trailing the smell of surgical spirit and worried-looking nurses, and jumped back on his Repsol Honda less than a week after the fracture. This was headstrong to the point of foolishness, made his injury much worse, and was almost certainly the direct cause of his long exile. But the action sums him up.

He can bounce.

Now, passed fit to test only a few days before, Marc was directly out testing at Barcelona, on a track-prepped RC213V-S street bike, then again at Portimao. And looked pretty good, sliding flamboyantly and almost getting his elbow down. Don’t know how many laps he did but more than 30 days to round three, so what?

After all, his rate of recovery makes that old Lazarus look positively sluggish. And stands to make false prophets of those predicting a troubled return. (Me, among others.)

How riders return from injury depends on a number of factors, including the powers of physical recovery. This is not the first time injury has threatened his career. Back in 2011 he was charging towards a maiden Moto2 title when a concussion triggered double-vision problems, ending his season early, and only cured during the winter by micro-surgery.

This broken arm is Marc’s first serious fracture, and it certainly took it’s time to get better, with broken plates and bone infection preventing the fracture from knitting. But at 28 he’s on the right side of 30 to heal well, now the complications have apparently been eliminated.

Past comebacks are instructive.

Barry Sheene had to do it twice. After his first Daytona leg-mangler at age 25, he returned at full strength for two titles, but after smashing his legs again at age 30, he struggled and ultimately failed to regain past momentum.

Kevin Schwantz accumulated injuries and kept shrugging them off, until by the age of 30 they did it or him.

Mick Doohan was 28 when he suffered mightily from botched surgery on his broken leg but came back to achieve total domination. But it took more than a year of recovery. He won only one race in the interim.

All of these examples, especially the last, demonstrate the most important factor—the capacity to heal mentally, to regain not just physical strength but also that obsessive willpower without which nobody can be a serial winner.

That was what Doohan found, and what was in Schwantz’s case gradually eroded. And, though he denied it, what left Sheene trailing, something that Mick Doohan, with eloquent simplicity called “The Want.”

The past eight months were clearly hard for Marquez to bear, but the first shoots of recovery will have triggered a rapid transformation to his mindset.

Here’s betting that Marc will get The Want back sooner rather than later. CN

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.