Miller and Márquez, mountains and molehills


Twenty-three years ago Luca Cadalora and Helmut Bradl were engaged in a bitter duel for the 250 world title, just as Álex Márquez and Jack Miller are in Moto3 today. At Misano the pair exited the final corner side by side and dashed towards the chequered flag, the Italian blatantly elbowing the German onto the dirt. Cadalora won the race by nine thousandths of a second and Bradl wasn’t a happy man.

The following weekend it was the West German GP. The Hockenheim grandstands – a vast concrete amphitheatre overlooking the final few corners – were packed with locals and the atmosphere wasn’t pretty. Each time Cadalora rode into the stadium section the crowd erupted into a chorus of boos. Before the weekend he had already received death threats and during practice he made the mistake of crashing right in front of the grandstands. As marshals dragged the groggy rider out of harm’s way, the crowd added insult to injury, unleashing a torrent of abuse. Cadalora was hurt and plenty of fans seemed delighted.

Bradl and Cadalora at Misano, 1991

I’m not a sporting patriot but I’m fine with a little light-hearted partisanship: taking joy in the success of someone simply because he or she possesses the same passport. In other words choosing your heroes by the accident of geography. But Hockenheim 1991 was just horrible and removed the joy of what should have been an epic encounter.

Cadalora was wrong at Misano, but the German fans should have let the riders sort it out. Did Jack Miller do wrong at Sepang on Sunday? He was undoubtedly on the limit, but isn’t that where racers are supposed to be? It was one Aussie on an outgunned KTM fighting against four Hondas, with a world championship at stake, so it was always going to get physical.

What Miller did was what Valentino Rossi did at Laguna Seca in 2008. He knew full well if that any of those NSF250RWs got more than a few corners of clear track then they would clear off. Thus he had to constantly get in their way, just as Rossi did to Casey Stoner at Laguna.

None of this is new. Riders have been unleashing withering, slightly out-of-control attacks on rivals ever since bike racing started: knees, elbows and the occasional mouthful of spittle in a rival’s face, in the days of open-face helmets.

Photo: MV Agusta

There were several contacts during Sunday’s Moto3 race, but they were gentle nudges in slow corners. A few years ago those incidents would’ve passed without comment – no-one rammed anyone, no-one put anyone’s life in danger. To older riders like Mick Doohan it was a normal, hard-fought motorcycle race.

Nowadays it’s all different, of course, not because racing has changed, but because the unholy trinity of global TV, slow-mo replays and social media have conspired to make a mountain out of every molehill.

Miller rode a brilliant race, fighting to compensate for his Red Bull KTM that lacked a vital mile an hour or two against the Honda NSF250Rs. Estrella Galicia’s Álex Márquez also rode a great race, but he made a few mistakes. At Turn One he kept putting himself in an impossible situation. Miller would do a desperate on the brakes and take the inside line, while Márquez tried to hold position on the outside. That’s never going to work, especially when there’s a world title up for grabs. The rider on the outside is a hostage to fortune, so Márquez was a little naive in thinking he could put himself in that position and get away with it.

Miller was close to losing the front every time he charged into Turn One, so sometimes he ran wide as the front tyre skated across the tarmac and other times he let the bike run a little, forcing Márquez to lift up, run wide and lose positions.

Doohan would’ve done exactly the same. “When someone thinks they can go around the outside, you just pick up and modify your line,” he told me a while back. “They’re already committed, so there’s only one place left to go…”

Márquez’s coolness under fire was otherwise mightily impressive. Each time he got shuttled back he calmly worked his way back to the front. Most other teenagers would’ve lost their cool, overdone it and crashed.

What sealed his fate was the arrival of Danny Kent. Miller’s tactics helped make this happen – his battle with Márquez, Efrén Vázquez, Álex Rins and John McPhee slowed the group, allowing others to catch up. His plan was simple: to put as many bikes between him and Márquez. Jorge Lorenzo employed exactly the same tactic at Valencia last year, slowing the pace in an effort to get more riders in the fight.

Who will I support at Valencia? No-one. Too much emotional investment. I’ll just watch the race and enjoy the moment. And may the fastest, cleverest rider win.

Of course, there’s no doubt who the locals will support. But I’m sure they’ll behave better than some idiots did at Catalunya in 2000 – they took off their socks, filled them with stones and hurled them at winner Kenny Roberts Jr.

As for Miller, he’s in a weird position. On the Sunday he will do everything in his power to deny Honda its first Moto3 world title. The day after he will commence a three-year term as a Honda MotoGP rider. “I keep giving the HRC guys some shit,” he laughed at Sepang. “I keep telling them, ‘I’ve still got to beat you f***ers before I jump on your MotoGP bike.’”


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