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Shots from final day at MotoGP Brno
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“Some could say you’re an adrenaline junkie” Cal Crutchlow talks MotoGP speed

Aug 262019

Squat, with an unfaltering stare, prominent sinews and a wit as sharp as his reactions while jostling a 360kmph MotoGP prototype motorcycle, Cal Crutchlow is an uncomplicated and ‘old fashioned’ racer: a 33 year old with a hobbled right ankle that will either harry and hassle the likes of Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi or be contemplating the rash of gravel stones.

For many Crutchlow is the point of attention when MotoGP returns to the UK and to a resurfaced (and optimistic) Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. Crutchlow is a figurehead (the sole Brit in the MotoGP pack) who has not only given the UK distinction with his three victories though 2016-2018 but also thrilled the home fans when he ran to second position at Silverstone in ’16. In 2019 he’ll mark 150 GP appearances by rolling out onto the former airfield and fourth fastest track in MotoGP.

Crutchlow has owned chequered flags in every series he has contested. From World Supersport (where he was world champion) BSB, WorldSBK and MotoGP. He has felt the pace of elite level competition for almost fifteen years. He is part of a cast of a sport that is breathlessly and innovatively portrayed on television and is a sensory assault of noise, power and pace from trackside fences; where the athletes have to hit their marks at tremendous intensity and at an eye-straining blur from the first minutes of a session. What is it like to live like that?

"...People think we are mad. They think speed is mad. If you don't want to go that fast then team managers will always find someone who does."

Do you have to get used to speed? You spend ten months of the year racing, practicing, qualifying and testing and then have a two-month off-season ‘black-out’ where you don’t even see a Grand Prix bike. What are those first laps like at 200mph?

It is strange how fast it comes back because you’ve had two months without any real speed and then we always go to Malaysia for the first test. On the first lap we are up to 330kmph almost immediately, that’s 200mph. It feels like being on a rollercoaster. But within three laps you then feel nothing. After the first run of the day you might complain that the bike is a bit too powerful or too fast and your eyes won’t be up to speed but once you are used to it and you get your head around it then by the second run the bike isn’t fast enough! We always want more power. There is probably only one place on the calendar where we don't want more speed and that’s Mugello [Italy] because there is a jump at the end of the straight! There is a study – and I think it is true from my experience – that there is little difference in perception from 200kmph to 400. I’ve done the parade lap at the TT and it feels a lot worse than racing here in MotoGP because everything flies past so fast in that ‘tunnel vision’, whereas here things are further away and you don't feel that effect: the brain doesn’t notice it somehow. The acceleration to 200kmph is where you really get the g-forces. It doesn't have that much effect on your body when you are tucked in but it hits you coming out of the corner and from other factors like the wind.

Are there times when it still takes your breath away?

No, not really. It’s so normal to go at speed. People think we are mad. They think speed is mad. If you don't want to go that fast then team managers will always find someone who does. Sometimes we do say MotoGP is a bit too fast – when you are five-abreast going down a straight - and in many places we are doing 330kmph now it can feel too much.

Do you get more of a sense of it when you see videos or photos of yourself?

I don’t see the speed…for me it is more about not liking my riding style! You are always critical of yourself and always trying to improve. Even when you win races you think ‘that doesn't look right,’ or ‘why didn't I do that there?’ or ‘why didn't I react better there?’ It’s always how you enter a corner, how you brake, how much lean angle to you have, your lines but watching on TV is so different to what you feel on the bike. When you are riding then something that feels big looks like nothing on the images. Our risk level: it’s a fine line, so something that looks like a small ‘moment’ on the screen can actually feel huge.

You love your cycling and, even though it is still two wheels, it seems like quite a contrast for the pace of it all…

I love riding my bicycle. A lot more than riding my motorbike. People will find this comment strange but I don't really like riding motorcycles. I love my job, I love racing and the competitiveness of it and trying to improve but I don't really enjoy motorcycles. I think after my career I’ll like being able to cruise around on one in the mountains or something like that. We are so on-the-limit here, and you are always trying to get that extra inch. It is so difficult. Sure, when you are winning and you are in that zone you love it but most of the time it’s difficult. I love what I do…but I don't have a motorcycle outside of the circuit. If I rode any other bike now it would be a scooter. I understand 100% why people love riding, don't get me wrong, the freedom, thrill and the smile it gives you. The sport is great fun but you are constantly ‘at it’. You cannot cruise in MotoGP. Anybody who rides would love a day on my bike but that’s because they don't have to work and strive to find that last tenth [of a second]. I love my job and I love racing but it is hard to say you love every moment of it. I’m at the point where I feel fast and I am obviously fast enough to be counted among some of the fastest in the world. I can absolutely accept that if I haven’t won then I have given my best week-in week-out. I never throw in the towel. I’ll always go down trying, and that's always been my style. I’m not the most talented – I’m not exceptional - but I know I am good riding a motorcycle. I try.

Is the endurance of something like cycling an attempt to escape from the pressure trying to find the tenths of a second?

I get motivation from training on my bicycle but I like it because it’s so much slower than racing. People run, and I cannot. People ride other motorbikes and I tried that years ago but it did not work for me. It didn't make me any more precise or faster and I’m not very good with motocross or off-road. I can ride my bicycle and I’m fit for it. If I trained specifically for it then I could do it at a really good level. I’ll push on my bicycle and a lot of my friends and some Pros will ask “why are you pushing so hard all the time?” but that’s just me. I see no point going out on the bicycle and cruising around. I can climb but I’m not a climber. I enjoy the tranquillity of the climb because it’s slower. Everybody loves a descent! I don’t crave any speed on a bicycle but I know when I am going well on the bicycle then I will go well here.

How so?

It’s all in your head. If you’re s**t on your bicycle then you go into the weekend thinking ‘why was I sh**?’ it's the same for other [MotoGP] guys who do motocross or go on their supermoto or pitbikes and cannot make their lap-times.

Has there ever been a race bike that ‘got you’? That left you shaking or a bit giddy?

No, not really but the circuits? Yes. There are some when you get off the bike and you think ‘ufff, that was fast’. Mugello again is one where afterwards you think ‘that’s ridiculous’. Places like Jerez and the turns 7 and 8; we go around there at speeds that you cannot imagine. I remember thinking ‘how does this work?’. But then somewhere like Barcelona feels like you are cruising around even though you are still going really fast.

If you think back to your Supersport days was it a walk in the park comparatively or is the speed relative?

I loved racing Supersport. I don't find it easy to race a motorcycle: physically or mentally. A lot of other guys might find it a lot easier than me. In Supersport I felt good, comfortable and at ease and on a MotoGP bike I don't feel like that.

Is the cliché true that this hazardous sport and the risks involve makes you feel more alive?

The adrenaline buzz you get from racing is incredible. Some could say you’re an adrenaline junkie. I get my ‘fix’ racing and I don't have a desire to jump out of a plane or do anything else risky. I think you have enough with racing. I hate rollercoasters and these other thrills. I hate fast cars.

You’ve got another year in MotoGP. But will you eventually miss it?

Oh yeah. I’ll have to do something and I’ll definitely miss it. There are points of your career where you think ‘I’ll never miss this…’ but deep down you know you will. I won’t miss the politics or the status of being a ‘MotoGP rider’ because I’m not in it for that, and I’m not being unappreciative of my position by saying that. I will miss the team, the bike, the speed and the competitiveness. And trying to better myself. That feeling of when things are good and you are racing well. I don't know how many more years that will be.

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