It was enough to break through the writer’s block.
It was enough to bring one out of what seems to be eternal hibernation.
It was enough to get the heart thumping, the blood pumping, and the adrenalin flowing.
That’s what he does, isn’t it? All the time. Without fail. Breaking through the naysayers and haters, to emerge at the top.
2014 hasn’t really been a terrible season for Valentino Rossi. The Doctor has managed to edge his way on to the podium quite a bit this season – 8 out of 12 races to be exact.
But the win, that enviable top spot has been out of reach. It was almost as if that space was meant for the young pretender, the world champion, and the breaker of records, Marc Marquez.
Well, not here. Not in Misano. Not in front of Vale’s home crowd. Not today.
The special helmet was unveiled. It was a message of love from Rossi to his home and to the circuit a few kilometres from his home. It was a riot of colors that is so Vale. And also, at the back of the helmet was a tiny decal, unmistakeable, heartbreaking, remembrance for a friend, never forgotten: 58.
Raceday Sunday dawned to a sea of yellow, flags waving, #46 caps a tilt. There was a thrum in the air, a buzz that set the pulse racing. There’s nothing like watching a MotoGP race – or rather like watching Valentino Rossi race – in Italy.
Qualifying had set hearts aflutter. Misano wasn’t being too kind to the Honda brigade. Jorge Lorenzo took pole with surprise, surprise, Andrea Iannone at 2nd and Rossi at 3rd. Marquez slotted in at 4th followed by Dani Pedrosa.
The race start was classic Lorenzo, and classic Marquez. Both tried to get away, speed off into the distance, leaving the rest to fight it out behind. But Vale was having none of it. He was strong, and he stuck in at second place, shimming past Iannone at race start.
Marquez tried to bully his way in. And there, for a brief moment, for a few laps, we witnessed heartstopping racing. It was a demonstration of prowess and talent that was undeniably Valentino Rossi. It was proper racing – the stuff of old. It was a declaration that Vale could not be written off – even if he was 35 years old. It was done with flair, confidence and determination.
With every move Marquez made, Rossi countered. Side to side, nose to wheel, Rossi took his rightful place again and again; thwarting Marquez’s every attempt. With 25 laps to go, Lorenzo set the fastest lap. Perhaps it was an attempt to extend the gap and get away from the two charging men behind. But Rossi and Marquez did not back down. Then, Rossi spotted an opening. He charged in and took the lead. Lorenzo fought back. They exchanged places, back and forth, sliding to take positions, a ballet played out at over 160kmph. Rossi won the duel, and Lorenzo settled in to second place, waiting perhaps for a moment when he could take back the first spot.
It wasn’t to be. Marquez slid past Lorenzo and took the second spot, determined to battle Rossi for first place. Lorenzo had to settle for watching the young champion chase the old guard.
A quiet fell over Misano, as we waited, fingers crossed, practically cross-eyed, for the action to begin anew. History told us that Marquez was just biding his time. Waiting to attack. Rossi stayed ahead, tried to extend his lead and held off a charging Marquez.
Behind Pedrosa tried to move past Iannone and hold off Andrea Dovizioso. The Honda versus Ducati battle was to continue till the very end.
Up ahead, Rossi charged ahead, head down, focused, leaning into the corners, knee scraping the tarmac. Lorenzo tried to keep up with the two in front.
Tried of waiting and desperate to catch up with the front pack, Pedrosa passed Iannone, an aggressive move, brushing past the young Italian rider. Iannone lost two places even as Bradl crashed out behind, walking away in disappointment.
Up ahead, Rossi showed no sign of slowing down. This was his race. The sea of yellow cheered, waving their flags, fingers crossed. And then, it happened. It was the unthinkable, the unbelievable. Marquez made an uncharacteristic mistake with 20 laps to go. It was at the Rio corner, and it cost him the podium.
Marquez rather suddenly lost his front, sliding down, but away from a charging Lorenzo right behind. He grabbed his bike, lifted it up and tried to restart. But it stayed silent. He pushed it desperately, as the commentators shouted in surprise and the crowd cheered in the background. The marshals gathered around, pushing the bike, as Marquez got on, trying to get it to restart. “He’s out. He’s out,” the commentators shouted. Rossi steamed ahead.
Marquez didn’t give up, rejoining the race at 20th place. He finished at 15th spot, with 1 point to his name. Battles played out behind Rossi and Lorenzo. Pedrosa took 3rd spot.
But time stopped for the man of the moment. His last victory was in Assen last year. His last win in Italy was five years ago. Today, he became the first MotoGP rider ever to reach over 5,000 career championship points. He was now just 1 point behind Pedrosa in the championship standings.
Valentino Rossi had waited for this day. It had been worth the wait.
The Doctor had finally come home.