I know this post is late. But in all honesty, it took me a while to catch my breath. Saturday races at Assen are never easy and always manage to throw me for a loop. Add a nail-biting, throat-hoarse-from-screaming, manicure-ruining race into the mix, and you have one exhausted race-watcher on your hands.
I did, I must admit, have a good feeling, as we turned the corner into the weekend. Valentino Rossi was showing good pace and Cal Crutchlow was as angry as ever, pushing his bike incredibly hard. But, I was too scared to predict, nay, even hope, for anything spectacular. I didn’t want to jinx Vale.
Then came the whammy – the horrifying crash on a rain-slick circuit that saw championship contender Jorge Lorenzo lose his front-end in standing water. He was out of the race. Well, that’s what everyone was saying. I would say it too. After all, a broken collarbone, in two places, mind you, isn’t something you ignore. But come Friday qualifying, there was news that Lorenzo, was taking a private jet to Assen – after his surgery. What? I gaped at the news, rereading it several times over.
For heaven’s sake, if I were in his shoes, I would be tucked in bed, acting like a princess. And therein, lies the difference.
So, a quick visit to the MotoGP website on Saturday morning, clearly indicated that Lorenzo was back. He would be starting from 12th place on the grid.
I have never been a Lorenzo fan. I don’t think I’ll ever be one. But there has been a growing respect for the 28-year-old. I got all warm and fuzzy when he shared the podium with Anna Vives. Then, there was some serious respect, when I saw him clamber on to his bike on Saturday. I have a feeling I will think back to this moment every time I call in sick.
So, come race time, I settled down in front of the television wearing my favourite sunshiny yellow Vale tee and fingers tightly crossed. As they lined up, I realized I was looking at a phenomenal grid where the stakes were truly high.
There he was, Cal Crutchlow right at the head, after taking his first pole position in MotoGP. He didn’t have an assured ride for next year. But that didn’t matter. For now, he was angry and ready to prove that he was worthy.
There he was, Marc Marquez, young blood, supremely talented, and learning every step of the way, trying to stay ahead of the riders he probably grew up worshipping.
There he was, Valentino Rossi, nine times world champion with nary a win in sight for nearly three years, desperate to prove that he still had it in him, burdened by his fans’ expectations and the world’s criticism.
There he was, Dani Pedrosa, championship within sight for the first time in his MotoGP career, trying to hold back his young teammate.
And there he was Jorge Lorenzo, 2012 world champion, fighting Pedrosa for points, battling pain, just out of surgery and in 12th position.
This was it. I thought. It can’t get any better than this. Assen truly was the arena.
The lights went off, and they sped down towards the first corner.
“Vale!” I screamed. “Vale”.
Pedrosa took the lead, Crutchlow slipped to 5th and Lorenzo worked his way up to 7th. Vale was holding steady at 4th, intent on stalking Bradl. But there was something different this time. There was no hesitation. To be honest, I have felt that we have seen a very tentative Vale the past few times. His racing was missing that decided, edgy feeling we are so used to.
But, as Lin Jarvis later said, there was a spark this race weekend. It was the Vale of old pushing his bike to the maximum, an assured air about him as he took the corners and then 3rd after making a smooth pass past Bradl. And that was just the first lap.
His next victim was young Marc Marquez, racing with an injured finger and toe, yet holding on to his position, trying to chase down Pedrosa. Lap 4, Vale made his move and swung past Marquez to take 2nd position.
Dare we hope for more? Fingers crossed, I stared at the screen. Then it happened. Vale had been closing in on Pedrosa, waiting to make a move. He did. On lap 6. He moved past Pedrosa to take the lead. I jumped up screaming, clapping, and nearly in tears. “Vale. Oh my lord, Vale,” I shouted.
The Doctor is back, my friend shouted. He is back! Not yet, I told him. I don’t want to jinx anything. But in my heart, I knew. The Doctor was back. While Vale was busy extending his lead, the battle shifted to Marquez who had taken 2nd position, leaving his teammate at 3rd.
But the race wasn’t over. Our Man of Steel may have been in excruciating pain, but he didn’t show it. He had moved into 4th place, past Crutchlow and was trying hard to hold on. But our honey badger was a man with a mission. He charged past Lorenzo and then Pedrosa. He wanted that podium.
He closed in on Marquez, nearly. A touch of tyres saw him go wide at the last lap. Crutchlow had to be content with a 3rd.
TV time however was split between the two men who made the Assen round special.
There he was Valentino Rossi, on a victory lap, riding to the tune of chanting fans. It was his 80th win and 8th at Assen. Redemption was here.
There he was Jorge Lorenzo, exhausted and in pain, pulling into the garage and collapsing in his seat, in tears, as his team gave him a standing ovation. He was the man of steel, a true winner. It helped too that Lorenzo with 127 points had closed in on Pedrosa who is now at 136 points in the championship standing.
Vale took the first step on the podium, kissing it first. Crutchlow and Marquez exchanged friendly banter and champagne flowed.
I would like to say ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but Sachsenring is coming up in two weeks time. The battle will continue. But the Assen memories will not fade. There are many races we talk about to date – of the good old days, when it was all about pure racing. This will be one of those races. History was made on this day.