El número siete

I appreciate that the professional peloton has been racing in China and Japan last week, but my interest in cycling concludes with Il Lombardia. Coincidentally this is generally when the race for the blue-riband crown in MotoGP comes to the boil.

It was another early start yesterday morning to watch the race. The question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Marc Marquez would close out the championship in Japan in Honda’s backyard in front of its Head Honcho or would Andrea Dovizioso, lying second in the Championship, win from pole on board his Ducati and keep the championship race alive?

Fans of the sport will know that Marquez secured his fifth MotoGP world championship (seventh in all classes) with an eighth victory of the 2018 season in the Japanese Grand Prix as Dovi crashed with two laps to go.

How the race was won

Marquez started on the second row, in sixth place, at Motegi but quickly moved up to second on the opening lap, biding his time, before engaging in a nailbiting, seat of the pants duel with polesitter and last remaining realistic championship threat Dovizioso.

Waiting until 10 laps to go to make his first move, Marquez passed Dovi at Turn 9, but one corner later he ran wide on the dirt and lost momentum – with his rival almost piling into the back of him, and repassing for the lead.

Four laps later, Dovi recorded a new fastest lap, but Marquez went even quicker the following one and it became clear he was in no mood to settle for a safe second. Indeed, both riders needed to throw caution to the wind to achieve their objectives.

Marquez seized the lead on the 21st lap of 24 with a bold pass at the tight Turn 9 left-hander – he much prefers left to right-hand turns – but Dovi was going nowhere, stuck to his rival’s tail and looked poised to fight back until he lost the front end of his Ducati into the Turn 10 hairpin on the penultimate lap. Game over. Marquez reaches level 7!

More records fall

Titles:

– Marquez becomes the youngest rider to win five titles in the premier class at the age of 25 years and 246 days, taking the record from Valentino Rossi (26 years, 221 days).

– He becomes the youngest rider of all time to reach the milestone of seven World Championships across all classes, beating Mike Hailwood’s record, who was 26 years and 140 days old when he won his seventh title back in 1966.

– Marquez joins Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini as one of four riders who has won five or more premier class World Championships.

– He becomes one of only eight riders who have more than seven titles across all classes: John Surtees (7), Phil Read (7), Carlo Ubbiali (9), Mike Hailwood (9), Valentino Rossi (9), Angel Nieto (13) and Giacomo Agostini (15).

Victories:

– Marquez has won at least five GPs per season in the last nine years across all three classes: 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP. He’s the first rider in MotoGP’s 70 year history to achieve this.

Poles:

– With five pole positions this season, Marquez increases his overall pole position tally to 78 across all classes.

– In Thailand, the previous MotoGP, Marquez (25 years, 231 days) became the youngest rider to reach the milestone of 50 pole positions in the premier class, taking the record off Mick Doohan, who was 32 years and 122 days old when he took his 50th pole position at Philip Island in 1997.

What did Twitter have to say about it all?

Here’s where the race and championship were decided on Sunday.

Over enthusiastic celebrations resulting in a dislocated shoulder which was just popped back in. These MotoGP boys are TOUGH!

Congratulations poured in for for Marquez from other Spanish sporting legends.

I hope you carry on living the dream Marc for many years to come.

The Final Word

MotoGP is lucky to have Marquez, and Marquez is lucky to have landed in MotoGP at a time when such intense rivalries are made possible by the emergence of a generation of extremely talented riders with strong and divergent personalities – a bit like the big four in men’s tennis over the past decade. He is the kind of figure all sports dream of unearthing: a Tiger Woods, a Katarina Witt, a Usain Bolt, a unique individual whose combination of charisma and technical brilliance bursts through the limits and disciplines of their sport and engages multitudes.

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Hung out to dry

Part I of my marathon viewing session over, I replenished the refreshments before settling back to watch Part II, the Spanish Moto GP from Jerez which must be in a plain as it was raining. The damp, slippery track was to provide plenty of spills and thrills, and a wee bit of controversy, in front of the King of Spain, just one of  123,000 spectators jammed into the track.

In 125cc, Nico Terol continued his dominating run of form. He leapt from 2nd position on the grid into 1st, and stayed there. He spent much of the race jousting with his Aspar team mate, Hector Faubel, the 2007 series runner-up, who slid out of contention on the last lap, finally limping home in 11th position. The podium was rounded out by Jonas Folger in 2nd and Frenchman Johan Zarco, who claimed his first-ever podium place, in 3rd.

In Moto2, Andrea Iannone moved up from his 11th place on the grid to assume control of the race mid-way, take his first victory of the season and lead the championship. Swiss, Thomas Luthi, a former 125cc champion, was 2nd and Simone Corsi, who was in 18th place on the grid finished 3rd, providing the only Spaniard free podium of the championship. Rookie Marc Marquez’s bad luck continued when he was tail-gated in the 6th lap by Frenchman, Jules Cluzel. They were both out of the race. Poleman, Stefan Bradl, finished 4th on the track where, a few years ago, his father Helmut enjoyed his first senior win.

Onto  MotoGP, where Julian and Toby helpfully explained that  key to winning today were tyre management and engine settings. They felt the Ducati, with its good rear traction, would start well but that Yamaha would deal best with the wet conditions. They were not wrong.

Stoner, starting on pole, maintained his lead until he was taken out by Rossi who had screamed up the course (on his Ducati) from 12th into 2nd. As the two struggled to right their bikes and resume the race, the track officials, to a man, ran to assist Rossi, totally ignoring Stoner. Rossi re-started coming in to finish 5th. Stoner, not a happy bunny, was out of the race.

Of course, it’s interesting to wonder why Stoner, the championship leader, was patently ignored in preference to Rossi. A couple of years back, I met someone who worked as a hostess at MotoGP races. Her favourite racer, by a mile was Valentino Rossi. I asked her why?  She said that he treated everyone the same, whatever their status, he was kind, charming, thoughtful and remembered everyone’s names. Sounds like a nice bloke.

With Stoner out, Marco Simoncelli assumed the lead,  2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo, on a Yamaha, was 2nd,  Rossi’s team mate, Nicky Hayden, was 3rd, Ben Spies was 4th and Dani Pedrosa, riding very conservatively, had slipped back into 5th. The curse of the commentator struck, Simoncelli went down due to “rider over-enthusiasm”. You need a cool, calm demeanour in these conditions.

Pedrosa recovered and by half-way was back into 2nd, behind Lorenzo, with the Americans, Hayden and Spies, battling for 3rd place. Spiess made it into 2nd, before sliding off the track. Pedrosa back into 2nd. Colin Edwardes moved into 3rd before he too was out of contention. Meanwhile, Rossi was battling back from 18th.  It finished Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Hayden. I love it when they do wheelies over the line. That’s another skill I can’t perform on my bike, not that I’ve ever tried, even unintentionally.

Undeterred

It rained heavily overnight but, by the time we awoke on Sunday morning, the roads were starting to dry out. The sky looked menacing although rain wasn’t forecast until the afternoon. The club had a reasonable turnout  and, as we set off from our usual rdv point, I rode at the front, but still got dropped on the rise out of the Port of Nice.

The boys were riding at a goodly pace, presumably in the hope of outrunning the rain. It wasn’t looking good. I had lost sight of even the back markers before reaching Beaulieu su Mer. I usually manage to keep them in view until Cap d’Ail. I consoled myself by overtaking a bunch of riders from a neighbouring club. Clearly my form had declined, but not by that much. I got a second wind after Monaco and positively sprinted up Mont des Mules, overhauling more riders.

When I first started riding, I couldn’t overtake anyone. Slowly, I progressed. First, it was grannies on sit-up-and-beg bikes, motorised wheelchairs and the odd tourist on a mountain bike before I moved in on the octogenarians. Of course, I overtake far more on the flat, and particularly on the descents, than I ever do on ascents. So any scalp, when propelling myself heavenwards, is cherished.

The boys had only just departed when I arrived at the concentration. It looked as if the weather had ensured a limited turn out for both the pointage and the race. Having congratulated one of our members who’d won his age-group race that morning, I went to leave and the heavens opened. I decided to take the least line of resistance and head back home the way I had come.  

Everyone else must have elected to return via the Moyenne or Grande Corniches as I didn’t see another clubmate until I reached Nice. We rode along the Promenade des Anglais together until one by one they all turned off leaving me to ride into the headwind on my own. I caught up with my beloved at our usual watering hole, he’d been trying to warm himself up with a hot chocolate.

We rode home, stripped off our sodden kit and headed for the showers. After lunch, I donned my new Qatar Airways jimjams and curled up on the sofa with the Sunday newspapers  to watch the Moto GP from Phillip Island, Australia.

I’m not a motor racing fan though I could easily identify all the Formula 1 GP drivers and match them to their cars. However, I have become a fan of Moto GP. I initially starting watching it because it’s often on the television before the cycling. Now, I make a point of catching the races and, occasionally, even the qualifying. Mounted cameras on the bikes give you a taste of the action and make you really appreciate their fearless bike handling skills.

Like cyclists, they tend to be on the petite side and are similarly tough guys who readily hop back onto a bike after a spill at speeds of over 150km/hr or with their broken bones barely pinned back together. However, they earn a way lot more than cyclists. I seem to recall that Valentino Rossi ended up paying Euros 39 million in back taxes to the Italian authorities. No cyclists (Lance excepted) will earn even Euros 39 million anytime soon.

Hayden and the Doctor (Rossi, no 46)

This season’s Championship has already been won by Rossi’s Yamaha team mate, the Spaniard, Jorge Lorenzo. Yesterday, Casey Stoner won at a canter for the fourth consecutive time on home soil. If I recall correctly, he won the championship in 2007 and, despite the facial hair, still looks about 15 (he was 25 on Saturday). Yesterday, the real race interest centered around the tussle for third spot between Nicky Hayden (Champion in 2006) and 7-times  champion Valentino Rossi. The two will be team mates next year at Ducati. In case you’re interested, the Doctor prevailed and is lying 4th overall in the Championship, gunning for 3rd spot.