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Grazie, Vale

VALENTINO ROSSI HAS THROWN HIS LEG OVER A RACING GRAND PRIX MOTORCYCLE FOR THE LAST TIME. ARGUABLY THE GREATEST RIDER OF ALL TIME HAS FINALLY HUNG HIS LEATHERS UP AFTER A STELLAR CAREER.

Photo: www.motogp.com


Icon. Legend. Words that are bandied about far too often these days to describe the achievements of people who have barely climbed the hill that others stand proudly upon. In motorcycle racing, there are legends from every era but only three riders have become icons, transcending the sport and held dear in the hearts of millions. Giacomo Agostini was the first, Barry Sheene was the second, and Valentino Rossi is the third, and possibly last, a true icon of motorcycle racing.


There are legends of racing in every era; Read, Roberts, Spencer, Lawson, Gardner, Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, and Marquez are all held in the highest regard by the sport and its fans but to be an icon, to take the sport to the masses, and have the marketability that companies outside of the sport want to use in return for vast sums of money. David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Jordan, all bigger than the sport they made their name in, and Valentino Rossi sits at the top of that list, as no other rider in history has changed the face of motorcycle racing for the greater good or inspired so many riders to chase their dreams. There Is barely a racer out there who hasn’t been inspired or been awe-struck by the Italian maestro.


Across the seasons we’ve seen the best and worst of Valentino Rossi; the post-race antics, the jibes at his rivals, and the blatant disregard for the reputation of any of his rivals. Everyone remembers his maiden big class win at Donington Park in 2000, his 500cc title the following year then the Honda domination years. Phillip Island 2003, a ten-second time penalty given for overtaking under a yellow flag (oh, the irony) saw one of the greatest individual efforts of recent times as Rossi won the race by just over fifteen seconds from Loris Capirossi – a race that truly cemented his place in the annals of GP history. The furore of Laguna Seca after he clashed with Casey Stoner (not for the last time) at the Corkscrew during one of the best battles in MotoGP history in 2008.


And who can forget the Barcelona 2009, one of THE greatest final laps EVER. Battling team-mate, Jorge Lorenzo for the title, Lorenzo had the upper hand in the closing stages but Rossi fought back as the pair exchanged the lead multiple times on that incredible last lap. Lorenzo thought he had it, as nobody had ever passed on the final corner at Catalunya. Well, until that moment. Rossi threw his Yamaha up the inside of Lorenzo, if he went down he took them both out, if he didn’t he was guaranteed the twenty-five points. Win-Win. And win he did.


It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Rossi, though. The darker side of The Doctor surfaced on many occasions, especially with Yamaha after the imperious years aboard the Honda. Gibernau, Stoner, Lorenzo, and Marquez all ruffled the feathers of Valentino, in turn fuelling the ‘passion’ of his fans who were becoming increasingly tribal as the years progressed. It’s been a sad indictment of Rossi’s legacy that so many fans missed the incredible style and ability those challengers possessed. All are disliked because they dare challenge and beat their hero.


By the late 2000s, Valentino had lifted what was to be his final World Championship in 2009 after that epic battle with Jorge Lorenzo and a new wave of challengers was on the horizon. But first, the one-time his ego and support network got the better of him as well as the lure of Phillip Morris tobacco money, the ill-fated move to Ducati. It wasn’t the match made in heaven many hoped; Jeremy Burgess didn’t fix it within the 80 seconds he said he would, and the Rossi legacy was fading. Two years of GP wilderness with just a handful of podiums in the prime of his career were years he would never fully recover from. A brave or misguided decision? Only he knows.


In his Yamaha hiatus, the Iwata squad had changed the M1 to a Jorge-friendly version that was all about corner speed and agility (something that remains to this day as Fabio Quartararo will attest), utilising the metronomic style of Lorenzo. As good as Rossi was for Yamaha, Lorenzo wasn’t far behind with three titles and three runner-up finishes in what was a strong field for MotoGP. Then came 2015, possibly the most defining season (race) in Valentino Rossi’s career. Sepang holds difficult memories, especially in 2011 and the incident that saw Marco Simoncelli lose his life in a horrific crash that involved both Rossi and Colin Edwards. Boiling over from the previous round at Phillip Island, Rossi and Marquez let their emotions spill over as the pair engaged in who can upset the other the most. Never has animosity between two riders been so visible and enthralling as that day in Malaysia. Even today the actions of both divide opinion, but in the terms of Race Direction, only Valentino was punished for deliberately running Marc wide and causing him to crash.


Ultimately, Valentino holds Marc responsible for him losing the 2015 title, and in the years that followed, the booing of Lorenzo and Marquez especially tainted the image of the happy-go-lucky multiple World Champion as he did nothing to stem the vitriol spewing forth at every circuit they visited. Motorcycle racing has never been a tribal sport like football and the majority of team sports, but for many years the atmosphere was ugly towards both Spaniards.



Marquez went on to dominate the sport as Rossi started to fade. No longer did the biggest star in motorcycle racing have things his own way as the Marquez domination continued apace. In 2020, former Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess thought Rossi had ‘hung around a bit too long’ in MotoGP as he was being outshone by new pretenders in the shape of Quartararo, Rins, and Bagnaia. After his final win at Assen in 2017, the icon stood on the podium six times in 2018 but just twice in 2019 and once in 2020.


That said, his popularity has been as strong as ever, and after his retirement announcement earlier in the season Rossi-mania has been at its highest for many a year as people wanted to say goodbye to their idol. Packed grandstands, high viewing figures, and social media engagement beyond anything that had gone before. Some of the most endearing shots on the MotoGP coverage this season have been the children decked out in Rossi Yellow, most of whom won’t remember the glory years but have seen the footage and heard the stories from their parents. We’ve all been there.


Valentino Rossi has been MotoGP for twenty years. Valentino Rossi will still be MotoGP for another 20 years as his VR46 Academy continues its impressive talent roster each year. Morbidelli and Bagnaia were two of the earliest signings at the Academy and are now Factory riders and race winners in their own right. With Bastiannini, Marini, Bezecchi all in MotoGP 2022 the future is bright for the Academy and the legacy of one of the greatest riders of all time.


Grazie Vale.


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