Of Legends, Old and New

The grounds of the Iveco TT circuit in Assen were holy even before the race on the past Sunday. They were the very rocks which stood at the foundation of two-wheeled motorsport and still they are as strong and history-laden as ever; with each passing year, Assen grows stronger and starts to gain an almost mythical aura.
And by all means, there is something magical about this track. It was not the 83rd Dutch TT race, and it was not the merciless weather, neither was attendance the milestone that made the 2013 race be coined as one of the events to be forever remembered in MotoGP history books.

Last Saturday became important because it was on these seasoned grounds where the true beauty and majestic spirit of motorcycle racing shone again against the cloudy skies.

For many an eye, this June 29 Saturday was Rossi's day, as he put an end to more than two fruitless, frustrating years. So many months have passed denying the multiple world champion almost any chance to make it count once more for the crowds who loved him.

Yet on this day, the Doctor came back to glory and put a firm foot on the highest step of the podium, showing the world that he can still ride to victory and his winning days are far from over. His victory circled the globe round and round and it was clear for many that Rossi was back.

However, in full glory, Rossi knew better than to boast on his achievement. During the press conference, he admitted that the premier class racing is so different than what he was up against in his early days. Even more, he also mentioned he knew we had to take advantage of Marquez' and Lorenzo's injuries which prevented them from riding at their best.

In a way, Rossi credited them for his win, and this makes him an honest rider, as good a winner as he showed he was a good loser. With 106 GP wins, out of which 80 in the premier class, Rossi can beat Loris Capirossi in the top of all-time longest winning careers in MotoGP. Rossi knows he is a legend and humbly accepts this, trying to make it even higher in the history of motorsport.

In the shadow of the old legends, new ones are born, and those present in Assen in late June witnessed the birth of one, though some might have missed it more or less. The new MotoGP legend is Jorge Lorenzo, and for me his race was the true image of a winner, if ended in the 5th position.

For those of you who have never had a broken bone or other sort of serious injury, it's probably hard to understand the true dimension of Lorenzo's race in Assen. Even so, his Dutch story is no lesser.

Crashing at just under 140 mph (238 km/h) in one of the Free Practice sessions, Lorenzo was rather lucky to have broken only his left collarbone. A clean break, a doctors said, so Wilco Zeelenberg, Jorge's team manager urged him to go to the Assen hospital and have it plated as soon as possible.

I couldn't tell whether Lorenzo wanted to see the others practicing while his clavicle was still in three pieces... I really doubt he would. However, Zeelenberg insisted that the fracture was better off plated sooner, and he knew he was right.

As Jorge made it to the Assen hospital and learned that the operating rooms were full with life-threatening cases, the only thing he could do was to follow Zeelenberg to Barcelona. Wilco flew with Jorge to Barcelona and stayed with him as he woke from the anesthetic sleep... and he was the one to tell him that he could race.

Is Wilco insane? He definitely is a bit crazy... but just like any other guy involved closely in Moto GP racing. Was Jorge insane too, when he decided to race? I added him to the wacko list in the blink of an eye, but... both Lorenzo and Zeelenberg knew what they were doing and what were they up against.

Some said that Lorenzo needed Wilco's boost of confidence, and some say Zeelenberg's trust in Jorge's capabilities was way overrated. I'd say they know each other only too well, and placed each one's fears in the care of the other... just like the members of a true team do.

I know Lorenzo was happy to pass the medical tests once back on the Assen grounds, but I doubt he or Wilco were all smiles as they went down to the paddocks and get ready for the race. They both knew this was probably one of the biggest moments of their careers so far: the moment when they defied fear and pain and decided to do what they came to do – race.

There was something in Jorge's eyes as he looked at the cameras before the race. He mentioned that even finishing the race would mean a victory for him, personally, but he was going to try his best. Until I saw the race end, I had no idea what “his best” was really about.

Watching him start from the 12th position and battling his way up toward the top riders, where he was convinced he belonged to, was exhilarating. Getting past pain, fear, bad weather and poor starting position, Lorenzo knew he was made for racing.

To be honest, I must admit I feared he would give in and crash again. This scenario, as nasty as it seems, was only too likely to dismiss. I am glad I was wrong. And I am now glad to see Lorenzo having achieved something even more important than his 11 points: he showed to the world that he would never give up, and as long as he can ride, the others must fear him.

Rossi said “he was the real hero”, Bautista almost laughed in disbelief and astonishment as he heard that Jorge was already flying back to race 36 hours after the surgery, and Crutchlow admitted he found Lorenzo passing him truly embarrassing.

Bahind all these, Lorenzo brought the bike back to his paddock, and had to be helped off it. In visibly agonizing pain, he let a couple of tears flow down his face, with at least one probably caused by seeing the sheer joy among his team... and it looks like legends are also made with tears.

Thank you, Jorge, for one of the most inspiring racing stories ever.
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