There was actually more swagger than stagger for MotoGP’s biggest icon last week at Motorland, Aragon for the fourteenth round of eighteen. “I expected him to be fast but not like this,” said championship leader Andrea Dovizioso of Valentino Rossi’s speed and performance in the final day of practice in Spain, leading to a front row qualification position less than three weeks since breaking his right leg in two places.
Rossi saddened fans by missing the thirteenth date on the calendar at Misano World Circuit Marco SImoncelli and a true ‘home’ event with the venue less than eight miles from his home due to the unexpected Enduro accident that led to immediate surgery and the insertion of a pin inside the 38 year old’s right leg. He then surprised his immense legion of followers and the MotoGP establishment by making some successful test laps at the same racetrack, passing a fitness test on the eve of the Aragon fixture and turning out (with the assistance of a crutch) on his M1 in Spain.
With a 42 point deficit in the championship to Marquez and Dovizioso (then tied at the top but Marquez surging ahead with victory in Spain) Rossi’s chances of a tenth title seemed firmly in the distance. He was obviously far from full fitness with the standard recovery time from such an injury pegged between six-eight weeks. So the big question as the #46 machine was warmed up and stand-in rider Michael Van der Mark was denied a dream wildcard appearance was: why?
“I’m happy to try, and in general I feel quite good, fortunately not too much pain,” Rossi said on Thursday. “I just need to understand my feeling with the MotoGP bike because I tried some laps in Misano. It is also important to try and come back to a good level for the next three.”
“Every time [injury] is different,” he explained. “It depends a lot on the fracture and I was lucky to take a very good doctor for the operation. At the beginning, in my mind, it was more about Motegi [the Japanese Grand Prix on October 15th. Every day I improved a lot and I worked hard to be strong and have a good level of power and less pain. I think it is important to come back on the bike as soon as possible and not stay at home for another race so I will need less time to come back at a good level.”
“Why not?” reasoned fellow Monster Energy athlete Cal Crutchlow.
“Why is he even racing in general? If you look at the real reason then it is because he loves racing a motorcycle. He doesn't need to race. He has won many world titles and proved he is the best. He is not doing it to prove he can with a broken leg. If you are sat at home then you think ‘I want to be riding’. That is just the way it is and I don't know why. It is in the mentality of most motorcycle racers. Unless it is a complete disaster when your body is in a really bad way and you have to take the rest of the year off then that's understandable. Valentino has broken his leg but he is obviously fit and recovered well.”
“For sure he thinks there is a glimmer of the title still,” he adds. “Realistically it is unlikely. It is hard to explain and it is not about me saying ‘we are all heroes’ but it is hard to explain the feeling of not riding because you are injured. I would not say it is about points. It is about him wanting to ride his motorbike.”
Rossi was unnervingly competitive at Aragon and a race that is followed by three more weeks of recovery until MotoGP heads into the three-in-a-row stint of Japan, Australia and Malaysia. He fought at the front of the 23-lap sprint and finally captured fifth place.
“For sure on the motorcycle I have pain where the fracture is, so near the tibia,” he revealed. “I suffer a bit with the change of direction and I am not fast on the bike like when I am usually at the maximum. Also I have more pain on the right corners but every day it comes a bit better and I hope it will improve on the bike with more kilometres and more time in that [riding] position.”
“To do 23 laps is difficult physically, even if you are very fit,” he then said after the race. “In the last seven or eight laps I suffer a bit. I try to not give up because unfortunately on my board and also on the screen I see that I have four people behind. I say, ‘F**k, if I give up now I arrive tenth.’ I tried the maximum for the best result. At the end I was tired but sincerely, like I said another time, I never think that I can arrive in the top five. And I feel quite good.”
Rossi picked up 11 points in Spain, aside from the small confidence boost and reaffirmation of his good feeling with the Yamaha. He sits fifth in the standings but claims loose thoughts of another crown was not the reason for the early comeback. “I am very upset for the injury firstly, especially, not race in Misano. I wanted to fight for the championship until the end but unfortunately shit happens. Now I’m more then happy that I’m back. But I’m especially happy because in 25 days I can make already quite a normal life; I can walk and make my stuff. This is so good.”
The break was the second leg fracture for the Italian after crashing in Mugello in 2010: an injury that was more painful and somewhat worse than his recent misadventure. Unfortunately for The Doctor the second ailment to strike him this year also came from off-road training, leading to questions about preparation away from the MotoGP asphalt. It was concerns that he batted away. “In the last years we train a lot with the bike together with the young riders. We do some different things,” he said. “For me, it's very important, but it's also dangerous. So also this year I have two problems during training, so I think that for the future, we will try to understand to make something else. But we are still not decided.”