'Unbeatable superheroes only exist in movies. Real life is different,' said Valentino Rossi at the end of the 2006 MotoGP season, when he lost the world championship to Nicky Hayden. That statement has come back to haunt him this year. While Hayden is nowhere in the picture this time around, it's Casey Stoner who's been giving Rossi hell. Things have gone far enough to make people wonder if Stoner is indeed the new Rossi, and whether Rossi has enough talent to win despite Stoner.
While the Stoner vs Rossi debate rages on, noted motorcycle journalist, Mat Oxley has gone ahead and asked some people – people who should know Rossi very well – to speak out and say what they really think of Rossi. These people are Ohlins suspension specialist Mike Norton, Rossi's teammate Colin Edwards, 2006 MotoGP world champ Nicky Hayden, Rossi's crew chief Jeremy Burgess and finally, Giacomo Agostini himself. Here's some of what they had to say...
Colin Edwards: “My assessment of Valentino is that he's like a 16-year-old who never grew up. He looks at riding a motorcycle like my daughter looks at riding her bicycle – it's something fun to do. It's a bit different to the approach of most guys on the grid who are maybe gritty, hard faced and determined. Valentino has got all that – he just has a different way of showing it. He goes out there and enjoys the battle.
I've never really felt like he gets enough credit for how hard he works – there's always that myth that he always has the best bikes and so on. I don't think many people realise how hard he works – there's no in-between, he does it all to the max. He's also very clever. How would you say it... he's sly! He's very undercover, foxy, sly. It's cool. He's not real blatant about some of the mind games. But on the track, he's pretty vicious!
Something he's really good at is recovering from mistakes. When he makes the kind of mistake that would have most people sliding on their asses into the gravel, he seems to somehow gather it back. Like Donington 2004, that really wet race. I locked up the front a couple of times and it scared the shit out of me, so I was cruising with the pack. The next thing you know, he just pisses off. Later, I looked at his data and it was scary – Valentino was locking the front in the rain on a shitty track that was slicker than snot! Every other corner, he just had it locked! The guy's crazy!”
Giacomo Agostini: “It's something inside and it's difficult to find the reason. In Italian, we say regalo dalla natura. It's a gift from nature. It's the same with Valentino, Hailwood, Barry Sheene or Michael Schumacher.”
Nicky Hayden: “I can't say it's just his approach that makes him good. But regardless of whatever he does, he definitely gets around the track fast, which is what's most important! Once you're in the garage, that dude is so serious, so focused. Everything seems perfect, right down to the windscreen sticker and the colour of his boots. He doesn't overlook anything and I think that's a big part of it.
More than anything, it's the racer in him that makes him so strong. It's obvious the guy wants to win. He's got a lot of natural talent but I know a lot of guys with natural talent and it gets some guys in trouble. It's the whole package that makes him strong – the desire, the focus, the talent.
I think sometimes, maybe he's not as laidback as he comes across. He knows what to say and when to say it, to make it look like things aren't really getting to him. He knows how to play it, on the bike and off the bike. Him and Burgess haven't won all those titles just through his riding. They know how to play people, they know how to play their cards, when to show their hand, when not to show their hand. I don't think [Rossi] plays as many games as some of the other guys. You don't need to play a lot of games when you can ride like that.
On the track, sure he's aggressive. But he's totally clean and he definitely has a lot of tactics. I'd say that his biggest strength is that he can adapt. It's not just braking or corner speed or this or that. I'd just say when he's in a rhythm and putting those laps down, he can break a guy. He doesn't ride at 95 percent – he rides on that razor edge for a long time...”
Jeremy Burgess: “He enjoys his job. As for talent, guys like Valentino have a very special ability to process information, so they can correct mistakes as they're happening, before we would even realise we've made a mistake. It's the ability to process information so fast and so accurately that makes all the difference.”
Mike Norton: “Valentino's very good because he's very methodical. He doesn't dwell on problems. He's very black and white, very clinical. It's very rare that he can't tell you what's going on, but when he can't, he'll say so.”
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