Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 7: Lorenzo Races Less Than 48 Hours After Surgery
by staff
Monday, January 06, 2014

Jorge Lorenzo hit Assen seven points out of first place in the MotoGP championship. An amazing process followed Lorenzo's practice crash.
image thanks, Yamaha

Fans of North American stick-and-ball sports love to trot out tales, usually with a large dollop of hagiography, about how football player X, basketball player Y or baseball player Z "played hurt" or returned from an injury more quickly than expected.

Those stories shared among friends almost always are greeted with nods of respect or awestruck gapes of memory in between slugs of beer and inhales of tortilla chips.

Let the jock-strap mythology continue. But here's a fact: A 5-foot-8, 143-pound motorcycle rider made all of those behemoths of North American sport look silly and wimpy by comparison last June.

Jorge Lorenzo's ride to fifth place Saturday, June 29 at TT Assen less than 36 hours after surgeons rebuilt his shattered collarbone with eight screws and a titanium plate wasn't just the stuff of legends. It forever secured Lorenzo's place in the pantheon of all-time greats and is one of those rare moments in sport that will become of the respected, remembered and cherished gospels of MotoGP at least into the next generation.

2012 World Champion Lorenzo entered The Netherlands in second place, seven points behind rival Dani Pedrosa. He had won two consecutive races, at Mugello and Barcelona, and was poised to continue his hot streak into summer in an attempt to win a second straight world title.

Pedrosa had finished second to Lorenzo at Mugello and Barcelona, and it looked like the title race could end up as a straight fight between the two longtime Spanish rivals. Assen was the start of a crucial stretch for both, the first of three races before the summer break.

But Lorenzo's season appeared to be shattered - along with his clavicle - after crashing at the fast Hoge Heide left-right complex during practice Thursday, June 27. It was immediately assumed impossible for Lorenzo to race Saturday at The Cathedral, and his return was targeted for two weeks later, July 14 at Sachsenring.

Lorenzo initially agreed with that assessment. But Yamaha team manager Wilco Zeelenberg knew the mental strength of his rider and correctly presumed visions of racing Saturday soon would dance through Lorenzo's head. So Zeelenberg urged Lorenzo to have surgery to fix the bone immediately, arguing it was silly to wait since extra recovery time would benefit Lorenzo whenever he decided to return.

So Lorenzo hopped a private jet to Barcelona on Thursday night, with his arm in sling, for immediate surgery. Lorenzo then flew back to Groningen, near the Assen circuit on Friday morning. The paddock ignited with rumors that Lorenzo might attempt to race Saturday.

Wanting to race on a broken collarbone and actually mounting the bike are different beasts. Besides pain management, injured riders must pass strenuous physical tests that border on medieval torture at Clinica Mobile at the track before being allowed to race. For example, Cal Crutchlow had to hop across a room on his broken ankle to race in 2012 at Silverstone.
Lorenzo passed his physical test, which was rumored to include push-ups to test his rebuilt collarbone, on Saturday morning and participated in the morning warm-up in clear pain. But he was fast, as traffic denied him a chance at recording the quickest time in the session on his M1.

The race was next. Lorenzo made a public goal after the warm-up of scoring at least five points, a finish of 11th. Anything less would be worthless due to his suffering, he said.

Instead, Lorenzo created plenty of agony for his rivals in the race. He started 12th and sliced through the field, up to fourth in the early laps. Lorenzo tired down the stretch from dealing with extraordinary pain created by the extreme G-forces of hanging on to a 250-horsepower prototype motorcycle at 200 mph, ending up fifth.

Lorenzo accomplished far more than his stated mission. He scored 11 points, losing just two points to Pedrosa in the standings.

But more importantly, Lorenzo sent piss shivers up the spines of Repsol Honda teammates Pedrosa and Marc Marquez and HRC executives. Lorenzo proved he would do almost anything to keep his crown, a bid that fell just four points short to Marquez 18 weeks later at Valencia.

One can imagine Lorenzo's courage, determination and Jupiter-sized balls that Saturday afternoon in Assen caused even legendary hard ass Kenny Roberts to nod in admiration.


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