Few great athletes know the perfect time to walk away from their sport. Most hang on too long, living off the vapors and adulation from their past while the misery of their present starts to erase memories of the glory years.
But Max Biaggi always had a flair for the dramatic (and melodramatic), and 2012 was no exception. Winning the World Superbike title by one-half point and then strutting away from his career as a professional motorcycle racer on top of his world was refreshing - and rare. It also was one of the more overlooked stories in global motorcycle racing, as MotoGP continues to inhale most of the available media and fan oxygen.
That's a shame, because Mad Max had a season to remember.
Biaggi won five races and recorded six other podium finishes on his Aprilia. He entered the season finale at Magny-Cours with a 30.5-point lead over Tom Sykes and needed only two sixth-place finishes to clinch the title.
But drama and suspense always have followed the mercurial Biaggi, and the season finale was no different. Mad Max fell in wet conditions on Lap 2 in the first race, with Sykes finishing third. Sykes won the second race, but Biaggi finished fifth, just enough to win the title.
Aprilia made an offer to renew its contract with Biaggi, but he decided to call it quits Nov. 7 during a press conference at his home track, Vallelunga, near Rome.
Biaggi, 41, ended his fantastic, 20-year career with two World Superbike titles, four 250cc World Championships, 42 Grand Prix victories and 21 WSBK victories.
But his story was about far more than numbers. Biaggi was a breathing, walking, talking, often raging ball of passion. His rivalry with Valentino Rossi - to whom he finished second in the premier-class standings in 2001 and 2002 - was legendary. His competitive rage was vented on everyone - mechanics, PR people, the press, even his said to be patient-as-a-flock-of-saints partner, Eleonora.
Biaggi mellowed during his six-year World Superbike stint from 2007-12. He also moved part-time into a home in Malibu and embraced the laid-back California lifestyle, something almost unthinkable in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Roman Emperor was one of a kind, in so many ways. He started racing at age 18, an age when many current riders already have three years of World Championship experience. He earned his first 250cc victory in his first season and won pole position, turned fastest lap and winning his first 500cc start, in 1998, on a Kanemoto Honda.
Biaggi was a character, full of color, spirit and emotion. His retirement and the stunning exit of Casey Stoner have robbed worldwide motorcycle racing of two very different, but equally captivating, individuals.