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MotoGP: Rossi's bad week

Bryan Edwards

Valentino Rossi's week has borne promise, then failure then near possible catastrophe. Thank God it's Saturday and a new week starts tomorrow.

The French MotoGP 2017 will, rightly, be regarded as one of motor-cycling's greatest races. Even qualifying, where the only real excitement is, usually, in the voices of the indefatigable commentators who are the aural cheerleaders of a sport that has periods of brilliance amongst much predictability and dullness, was edge of the seat stuff, making at least this viewer want to make like Kimi and tell them not to talk in the corners. Or the straights. Helped by camera angles, on board live action and a super-slo-mo that means viewers can watch and, with recording, watch again the absolute impossibility of the angles of lean that some of the riders achieve. We used to marvel at a rider putting his knee down, now elbows are so commonly down that the next obvious marker is shoulders. Everything we learned in physics is denied, there, in life-like colour and before-your-very-eyes quality on our TV screens.

There is no pit to bike radio: if there was, we almost expect that the top riders, hurling their missiles around the track at speeds that often exceed 300kph, sometimes driving around corners and sometimes sliding in the style of speedway bikes, would be singing happy songs inside their helmets. They are people will emotions: anger, frustration but, until something goes wrong, seemingly no fear.

As the Le Mans race wore on, Marc Marquez fell in an accident that could have been so much worse: the day before, in a similar incident, Jack Miller had destroyed his bike and a fence - then got up and walked away furious with himself. Marquez was so cross he almost had to be surgically removed from his bike by marshals who insisted it could not be restarted.

The early part of the race had seen local boy Johann Zarco, in his maiden season, taking hardly anyone by surprise by surging to the front and holding P1 for much of the race, until his tyre combination demanded he pay the price for early grip. Then Rossi and his Yamaha team-mate, both looking to be the winner of the team's 500th GP win, went on a charge, Rossi stalking Vinales until an opportunity presented itself, then diving up the inside, blocking the turn-in, Rossi was off and running. And that, with a handful of laps to go should have been that but not for Viñales who is in the Yamaha team entirely on merit. He pressured Rossi whose tyres had maybe two laps left but there was three laps of race to go. Rossi tried a high-apex, cut-in corner to get a straight-line maximum power from a wide corner to create a gap pack to Viñales - and his front tyre refused to turn in quickly enough and he went wide, allowing his team-mate an easy pass. Rossi, of course, went straight on the revenge attack which was going well until the front gave up completely and dumped him in the gravel. Literally, hero to zero within sight of the chequered flag. P2 would have been good and a huge help in the championship. Rossi, too, was unable to get his bike going. When the gravel had settled, Rossi would be four points ahead of Marquez in the championship and only six behind Pedrosa, Marquez' Honda team-mate. But, instead of being seven points ahead of Viñales, 23 points behind. But Viñales has won three races and Rossi hasn't won any proving that consistency pays off.

So shitty Sunday was over: Marvellous Monday could begin. No, Rossi's friend Nicky Hayden died following a road accident where his pedal bike was in collision with a car causing massive brain and other injuries. Surely things could not get worse. But they did: on Thursday, Rossi's relaxation is motocross. Seriously. As if the risks of MotoGP are not enough, his hobby is to race bikes where the speeds are lower but the risk of crashes is higher and, when they happen, they are almost always serious. There's none of the slithering across the tarmac on shiny leathers until coming to a rest (not always gently) in a gravel trap. No, in motocross accidents are in conditions where there are no easy ways out: when the crash starts, it's always, always, always going to hurt.

And so it was that Rossi, presumably not singing happy songs in his helmet, was riding at the Cross Club, Cavallara, near his home just outside Rimini. Bear in mind we are talking about supermen who appear to have almost no notion of pain: Rossi was carted off to hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from "mild chest and abdominal trauma." in the late afternoon yesterday, he went home with his own training and support team to continue recovery. It's not the first time he's been injured in motocross: in 2010, half of his MotoGP season was compromised by a serious shoulder injury.

Of course, normal people might argue that he should know better but then again, if he knew better he'd not be throwing his MotoGP bike at a corner, scrubbing off speeds of more than 300kph with his elbow on the ground and his shoulder just a few centimetres higher, with "Oh Happy Day" loud in his helmet.


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