RIDER Valentino Rossi turned 42 three days ago (Feb 16) and what an inspiration he continues to be.
While others his age would have either slowed down or probably called it quits, Rossi remains competitive as he is still blazing the track at the highest level of his sport.
In just over a month’s time, Rossi on bike No. 46 will be on the starting grid as he lines up alongside fellow Italian Franco Morbidelli under Petronas Sepang Yamaha Racing Team (SRT) colours to open the 2021 MotoGP season at Losail International Circuit in Doha.
Few athletes have been so competitive at that age, let alone win for so long and it is incredible to see Rossi still in for the fight against rivals, some half his age, in the 2021 premier class season.
There is Fabio Quartararo, only 21 but he was the one chosen by Yamaha to take over Rossi’s seat.
Quartararo is still bristling with agony after squandering the opportunity to claim the MotoGP crown with Petronas SRT last year and whether the Frenchman can pull it off with full factory support from Yamaha remains to be seen.
There are also Rossi’s proteges Luca Marini and Morbidelli. Both were graduates from the VR46 Academy set up by the big man himself to nurture young Italians to break into MotoGP.
The 26-year-old Morbidelli was the surprise package for Petronas SRT when he won three races en route to finishing runner-up in the MotoGP world championship last year.
Marini, who was born in 1997 - the year Rossi claimed the first of his motorcycle world championship crown in 125cc - will be wearing the colours of VR46 on a Ducati bike for his debut MotoGP season.
Then there is Marc Marquez, who will be bent on showing what the world missed when he was forced to sit out the 2020 season after fracturing his right arm in the first round in Doha.
It is just amazing to imagine that these are riders who grew up in the days they were idolising Rossi and dreaming to become like him when he was dominating. Now, they are the ones contending for the crown and Rossi is still in there for the fight.
Will Rossi be competitive this year?
In the 60s and 70s, it’s common for riders to be competitive well into their 30s but then again, they often did not start competing until much later in life.
Australian Troy Bayliss won his third WorldSBK title at age 39 but Bayliss did not start racing seriously until he was in his late teens.
By contrast, Rossi was riding motorcycles since he was two and a half and started racing since the age of 10.
Three years later, he committed to racing motorcycles full time, dropping the karts he had previously been racing.
He was racing in his first Grand Prix and won his first race at Brno in his rookie season at only 17 years of age.
Rossi already has an astounding nine world championship titles – seven in the premier class – under his belt as well as the all-time highest premier class wins - 89 in total.
It is an inspiration to all top athletes who aspire to have longevity in their chosen careers to understand what just drives Rossi to risk his limbs at his age.
To line up on the grid against the likes of hungry, young talents like Marquez, Morbidelli, Quartararo and not forgetting the reigning world champion Joan Mir of Spain and with a realistic chance to beat them, is not easy even for a rider at their physical peak.
To do it at his age is truly remarkable and one can learn from the sacrifices Rossi has to make, and his ability to learn and adapt.
As a teenage rider, Rossi was known as someone who likes to party but he has certainly transformed himself into a serious athlete who lived for his sport and trained hard.
That means disciplining himself for it is the only way he could remain competitive against the influx of younger riders entering the premier class.
It’s not just the focus on training and diet but also changing his riding style.
Rossi has always studied his rivals closely, learning their secrets and trying to apply it to his own riding.
His enduring presence all these years is why I feel honoured and privileged to see him up close all these years while covering the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. I’m sure his legion of fans feel the same way too.
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