Rossi: when dirt bikes bite

by Mat Oxley on 1st September 2017

Valentino Rossi's broken leg means he has lost his championship chance – was he right or wrong to be thrashing around on a dirt bike midseason?

Well, that’s torn it. Probably the greatest-ever contest for the premier-class crown just lost a lot of its glitter. Valentino Rossi’s exit from the title fight following a dirt bike accident turns the 2017 championship into a three-man race: Andrea Dovizioso, Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales, 13 points between them, six races to go.

Rossi’s accident couldn’t have come at a more frustrating time. His Silverstone ride was close to perfection: 17 laps in the lead, riding as well as ever and crossing the finish line 0.7sec off the win. Make no mistake, he had a chance of the championship, even if he wasn’t the favourite. Yamaha turned the corner during their pre-Silverstone tests and may have made further progress since. After the British GP I wrote that championship battles usually swing this way or that for two reasons: machine adjustments or rider injuries. Now we’ve had both in the space of a few days.

Rossi crashed an enduro bike, breaking his right tibia and fibula, the same bones he fractured when he crashed during the 2010 Mugello Grand Prix. The bones were displaced, which means it was a bit messy, but surgeons fixed the damage with the usual titanium pin (or nail, in medical parlance), which is inserted by drilling through the top of the tibia bone and then hammering the nail down through its full length to give the still-broken bone full strength. He was very wise to have had the nail removed following his 2010 accident, otherwise this procedure would have been much more complicated. Remember that tibs and fibs can cause huge problems; just ask Ian Hutchinson, Mick Doohan and many others.

Inevitably, many fans have thrown up their hands in horror and asked: why was Rossi riding a dirt bike when everyone knows that people get hurt riding dirt bikes? This viewpoint makes a lot of sense, at least initially. Why threaten your ability to do your job – racing a MotoGP bike – by hurtling around the countryside, charging through berms and jumping over jumps?

There’s probably not a rider on the MotoGP grid that hasn’t broken bones while riding motocross, dirt track, supermoto or minimoto. Rossi has ridden dirt bikes since he was tiny; it’s part of his life, just like riding MotoGP.

Asking Rossi not to take risks on dirt bikes is a bit like asking Vincent van Gogh to lay off the booze. You cannot divide him up into his component parts, then take the bits you want and leave the bits you don’t.

Rossi isn’t the man he is because he wants to be a billionaire or because he wants to win twenty world championships. He is the man he is because he amuses himself, he does what he enjoys doing; nothing more, nothing less. If he wants to thrash around on an enduro bike, then that’s what he will do. And to hell with the consequences. Because that’s the mindset you need to be a top motorcycle racer. So don’t bother: there’s no point asking him to change.


Related: Freddie Spencer and Mat Oxley's post-Silverstone podcast


 

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