And then came Sunday afternoon. The lunch was done. The sun was out – though the weatherman threatened rain. The stomach did a tiny flip-flop as the riders lined up on the grid. We pressed our noses against the media centre windows. The cameras whirred, their clickety-click resounding – a stark contrast to the growl of the bikes.
It was beginning. There was a sea of yellow on the grandstands and the greens; a chant went up, as Valentino Rossi got ready to make the comeback everyone had been waiting for. This was the moment. The lights went on and they took off down the Mugello straight.
Then, it happened, as it always does; the unexpected, the unforeseen. The race was on its first lap. Three corners in, Alvaro Bautista ran wide taking Valentino Rossi with him, as the Italian slid and banged into the barrier. It was reminiscent of the infamous Bautista-Lorenzo incident in Assen last year. Rossi walked away, but left the crowd disappointed.
Cries of anger and shock went up in the media centre. Twitter went cuckoo. And well, it did seem like the grandstand opposite got a little empty after Vale returned to the garage. Vale later said in a team press release, “Unfortunately in the start I had a problem with the clutch spinning and I lost two or three positions. Then I was attacking because we had a good pace and I was fast. On the second corner I was on the outside already in front of Bautista. For me, from the inside he opened the throttle to close the line so he doesn’t lose another position but I was already in front so he came to me and took me on the boot. I was lucky because it was a bad crash and I arrived at the wall but I’m ok. We will try next week in Barcelona, but it is a pity because firstly it is Mugello and secondly I think we could have done a good race and maybe arrived on the podium.”
The race continued as Jorge Lorenzo set phenomenal pace. There he was in the distance, all alone, racing himself, one would assume. Dani Pedrosa took himself a neat 2nd place even as teammate Marc Marquez chased his fellow Spaniard down. Meanwhile, Cal Crutchlow had already moved past Andrea Dovizioso and was comfortable in 4th.
I was waiting for the Honey Badger to kick in, but that moment never came. In fact, we had to make do with this till lap 19, when Marquez made his move. He swept past Dani Pedrosa to take 2nd. It was more or less settled then, wasn’t it? The podium, I mean. But see, that’s the thing about races. You never really know till the chequered flag. The 20-year-old Spaniard crashed and handed Pedrosa the 2nd place on the podium.
It has obviously been a weekend to forget. Marquez though has bounced back every time, showing incredible resilience and setting good pace despite a minor fracture and swollen chin. This has been Marquez’s first DNF in his debut season; an impressive record. He also set the the fastest lap record in the 2nd lap with 1’47.639.
The race was more or less decided then. Cal, the Honey Badger who was racing with a broken leg, took 3rd. Andrea Dovizioso, who had slowly slid down the grid from 3rd to 7th at one point, spent his Mugello race battling teammate Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl by turns. He tried to make a last-minute push for a 4th, but failed.
It was a great ride though, by Bradley Smith who has had just as bad a weekend as Marquez. Smith took a brilliant 9th despite the injury and a crash during the morning warmup lap. He later said in a team press release: “To be honest, 9th position was obviously a really good result considering the circumstances of today. This morning’s crash was the last thing I needed, so to be able to go the whole race distance with just one mistake was positive for me. I had a lot of problems with my left hand as well as with my wrist and it was magnified with Mugello being such a physically demanding track.”
Later, as Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Crutchlow took the podium, the track, as is tradition, was opened up to the spectators. The sea of yellow emerged onto the track. The Mugello round had come to a close. Next up will be Barcelona. There needs to be some redemption there. But the battle for the top continues, as Pedrosa stakes his claim with 103 points. Marquez has slipped down to 3rd (77 points), giving up his position to Lorenzo who now has 91 points to his name.
What will Barcelona bring? We have two weeks till we find out.
The Top 10 Finish
1. Jorge Lorenzo
2. Dani Pedrosa
3. Cal Crutchlow
4. Stefan Bradl
5. Andrea Dovizioso
6. Nicky Hayden
7. Nichele Pirro
8. Aleix Espargaro
9. Bradley Smith
10. Hector Barbera
Valentino Rossi (crash)
Alvaro Bautista (crash)
Hiroshi Aoyama (retired)
Claudio Corti (retired)
Marc Marquez (crash)