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Lifestyle images of MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales

Maverick Viñales: A conversation with a MotoGP world champion-in-waiting…

Apr 062017

One of the most picturesque spots in Catalunya – the northeast jewel of Spain that combines the rugged terrain of the Pyrenees mountains and the dramatic Costa Brava coastline – contains the seaside hamlet of Cadaques; famously the abode to one of the country’s most eccentric and memorable artists, Salvador Dali. To get to Cadaques you have to drive close to the beachside town of Roses: the home of another Catalan person of importance that is starting to gather description such as ‘master’ and ‘genius’.

Maverick Viñales is only twenty-two years old but is already a Grand Prix World Champion. Rarely has the arrival of a talent to the highest level of motorcycle racing and the pinnacle of a sport worshipped in countries like Spain been so anticipated. The puns on the name and the top gun element of adrenaline and gung-ho have long been exhausted, but #25 now stands on the threshold of genuine greatness courtesy of his union with the decorated factory Yamaha team and after two years of education and apprenticeship with the Suzuki squad. A prospective duel with countryman, defending champion and former junior rival Marc Marquez through the eighteen rounds of MotoGP in 2017 has already enticed many fans to relish the diverse circuits and territories that make up the highest peak of motorcycle sport.

"I think it is important that people look at you and think ‘he can win’…it means you are doing a good job...."

2017 must feel a bit different. The hype around you at Yamaha is a new set of circumstances…

The first two years in Suzuki were really difficult, not for my riding style but the machine was not at the top level of the ‘important riders’ but the pre-season was really good and I’m so happy. The team, the bike, how I worked in each track: all was excellent. I improve day-by-day and we are happy with the lap-times but we know we have to be ready for other conditions. At the moment I don't feel too much pressure; I have just been able to enjoy the bike. Normally I try to take everything in a positive way and the fact that so many are saying I can be a favourite for the title motivates me so much. I think it is important that people look at you and think ‘he can win’…it means you are doing a good job.

You are used to media attention but the brightness of the spotlight with social media and other demands must have increased quite a lot…

It is a different story now…and with social media people can talk good or bad [about you]. You have to try and take all the information and everything that comes at you in a good way. When you see critical comments then you have to take what you can from them…but at the moment it is nice to open Twitter and Instagram and see all of this news, and I like it. I like being at the front [of MotoGP] and I like being competitive. I also like that the media start to talk [more]…

"This is something important about me: I turn the bad things to positive. It is important to stay calm."

But, as a public figure, it must be difficult to see the criticism sometimes…

Sure…sometimes you feel bad because there are comments directly at you…but it also makes you think ‘perhaps this media is saying this because of this reason’…and I look for a positive [twist]. This is something important about me: I turn the bad things to positive. It is important to stay calm.

That cannot be easy…

[smiles] No, it is very difficult but I am surviving.

Are you a sensitive guy?

Yes, a lot. And it is strange because when I’m at the track or doing something in MotoGP I am not – I’m quite strong – but when I’m at home I’m very different, very normal and reading some bad media at home you get some bad feelings…but like I said before, I try to use that stuff in a different way.

"When I was a kid I never imagined my life would be like it is now."

Tell me about your home in Roses?

I know it is a place I will live for the rest of my life. At the moment being in Andorra I cannot visit so much, just a few days, but I really feel at home when I am there. When I have the chance to go there then I do. Andorra [his current residence] is nice. It is quiet and you can do a lot of sport so for my career at the moment it is good to be there.

What is it like for you in Roses?

Quite normal, people are used to seeing me about. It is not the same as being in Barcelona or another big city. It is easy for me to be there. I like that we have the mountain and the sea within a distance like three kilometres. It is nice to do something like go running along the mountain and see the sea next to you: so nice. When you are up the top then the view over the coast is special and when the sun is going down with the light there is incredible. You feel free, feel relaxed…even though you are training! One thing that I hate is the wind! It can be a nightmare for going on the bicycle. If we can get rid of the wind it is the best place in the world!

As a boy were you looking to escape? Get out in the street, on the bicycle, with a football?

Always! Always out of the house. It is not like now where you have the feeling the kids don't go out much. I was lucky because as a kid it was like the ‘old times’: we were always on the street and not much was happening. At 9 in the morning we’d be out on the bicycles, heading to the mountain, playing, making jumps and then come back to eat before going out to play football. I was lucky I could live that life because now it is totally different; the kids stay at home with the PlayStation. They lose a lot of ‘good feeling’; when you are with your teammates at football or your best friends on bicycles.

The journey from Roses to where you are in the world of sport now must seem like a fantastic one…

For sure. When I was a kid I never imagined my life would be like it is now.

"...I don’t remember a time when I have enjoyed a pre-season as much as I have done this year."


I was taking it [racing] like a hobby. Of course sometimes I was dreaming that I could be one of the riders at the top level but it is also difficult as a kid to believe you can really do it. Year by year you trust in yourself more and more and you see your possibilities. At the beginning though – when I was first on the bike – it was impossible to think I would achieve all that I have.

Can you remember a time when racing started to change for you? Going from fun to a vocation, leaving home and it all starting to get serious…?

Now! Now it is getting good. No, seriously, in 2011 when I started in the world championship it was still a bit like a game for me. It was racing and a bit of training and just loving everything about it. When I won my first Grand Prix, which was just the fourth race, suddenly it became more of a job. I had the chance to win more and I had to take it seriously. After that I changed my mindset and looked at the training and many other things. Did I lose the fun? It changed. It is not like when you go and do motocross where you can just ride and enjoy yourself and that's it. You have pressure, people that push you, a team relying on you, money behind you and many things that can make it difficult to enjoy…but like I’ve said in many interviews I don’t remember a time when I have enjoyed a pre-season as much as I have done this year. I am taking it really easy and I didn't care so much about the times and results. I was just getting to know the bike and getting a good feeling with the team. I hope I can carry this through 2017; I know it will be difficult but I will try.

"I think it is easy to lose your way but at the moment I think I have my feet on the ground and I haven’t gotten lost."

Do you feel lucky to be where you are now or it is something you worked for?

[pause] Let’s say ‘worked for’. Especially last year: it was quite difficult and I had to demonstrate many things to different people. That I could be strong…especially for Yamaha. It wasn't easy and I worked a lot at home and on the track. You need to have luck…in particular during the season and in many situations you have to keep your concentration and stayed focussed on the job. I think it is easy to lose your way but at the moment I think I have my feet on the ground and I haven’t gotten lost. Away from the track my life is about motocross, cycling and the gym.

What is the best moment of a race for you?

The start is incredible. It is really nice. You feel something strange in the stomach and every start is like my first one. It is such a good feeling. Then, I think it is crossing the line and just seeing everyone going crazy when you win. It is emotional. Compared to the start I think only the first corner is quite [thrilling]…then you start to relax and go through the race. I am quite good with the physical part of riding and I don't feel like I am hurrying too much.

"When people believe then it is another motivation for me. A big motivation."

People are already calling you a ‘genius’. It must be good to read this but do you also think ‘hang on guys…’

I prefer to have the victories and titles behind me…but it is nice to hear something like this because it means you are doing a good job. You want to show to everyone that you can be strong and be at the front and win. So to see or hear a word like that means they believe it can happen. When people believe then it is another motivation for me. A big motivation.

Being a Champion must be very special but then you also sacrifice some of your way of life for that…

You ‘lose’ part of your life, for sure, because most days I don't do much aside from being focussed on my job. I’m thinking all the time about how I can improve and there is not much more time for anything else. The days are very similar and I think it will be difficult to continue like that for a long time. That's why I admire Valentino [Rossi] so much. For many years he has been doing the same thing: many [promo] events and he is so nice and friendly to everyone. I admire that a lot and it surprises me. For what he has achieved and who he is he can get off the bike and still be incredibly famous. He has a lot of money for sure and he doesn't need to race. It is a nice thing.

OK, so you have achieved all of your goals in 2017 and I can give you twenty-four hours to do whatever you want: what would do you?

Eat like hell! Cakes, pizza, everything! Having a diet all season is so hard: it is the hardest part of the job. And it is not like you are preparing just for one race, it is a whole season. So I would eat everything that I could and then hang out with some friends.