Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.
When he was good, he was very good. but when he could not manage the pace of his younger rivals, no one seemed more disappointed than Valentino Rossi.
Rossi won just one race in 2013, at Assen. It was his first victory since October 2010 at Sepang. And while the victory thrilled his throngs of fans worldwide, the ride was a false dawn and a brief trip into the time tunnel rather than a trend toward being competitive with true aliens Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa.
The Doctor caught a perfect storm of breaks to win the TT. The cool weather on Race Day caused Repsol Honda's RC213V and Bridgestone tires to bicker the entire 26 laps, ruining Marquez and Pedrosa's chances for victory. And Lorenzo was racing just 36 hours after surgeons rebuilt his broken collarbone with eight screws and a titanium plate. That left Rossi as the master of opportunity, earning his 67th premier-class victory and 106th overall win in Grand Prix racing.
It was a popular win, with fans crying in front of the their television sets the world over. There was a point in the early season when even Rossi didn't know if another win would ever come. And that question remains today: was Assen Rossi's last race win?
Rossi never came close to the top step again in 2013, finishing no better than third at the remaining 11 races of the season. He ended up fourth in the standings, 97 points behind World Champion Marquez.
There were a few mechanical problems with his M1 during the season, especially with the brakes. And he opened the year with a promising second place under the lights at Qatar, finishing just 5.99 seconds behind teammate Lorenzo.
But Rossi didn't have the same persistent mechanical maladies to blame last season at Yamaha as during his two-year nightmare at Ducati. He complained intermittently in 2013 that the handling of the M1 wasn't quite tuned to his style, but setup changes catering to his requests didn't pull him any closer to the top three.
Plus Lorenzo was able to ride the same machine to a season-best eight victories, compared to just one for Rossi. Lorenzo beat Rossi in qualifying in 14 of the 17 races in which they both competed. But to be fair, Rossi discovered consistency in the final two-thirds of the season, finishing fourth or better in 12 of the last 13 races.
Rossi's output still came as a bit of a shock, on the surface. He had endured the most barren patch of his career from 2011-12 at Ducati, with no victories and just three podium finishes. Most observers attributed that drought to the cantankerous GP11 and GP12 motorcycles fielded by the Boys from Bologna. And Rossi's impatience and discomfort with the Italian way of working and bike development after 11 consecutive seasons with engineering-driven Japanese teams didn't help, either.
But maybe the signs of decline started to show in 2010 for Rossi, and no one paid much attention.
Rossi suffered a shoulder injury early in the 2010 season while riding a motocross bike. The injury troubled him for the rest of the year, a sure sign of delayed healing caused by age. He also suffered the most serious injury of his career, a broken leg, at Mugello. That break forced him to miss four races and also provided plenty of time for him to realize he was fallible just like every other rider.
That sensation - and the subsequent self-doubt - must have multiplied 100 times Oct. 23, 2011 when Rossi was involved in an accident at Sepang that killed his close friend Marco Simoncelli.
Rossi looked haunted at times in 2012. Haunted by the mistake he made to leave Yamaha for Ducati. Haunted by the loss of his friend. Haunted by the realization his career was heading for its sunset as he rode on a maiale of a Grand Prix prototype.
He wasn't alone in those sentiments. It took Ben Spies quite some time to mentally recover from Simoncelli's death, especially as he saw the accident unfold on TV screens while doing guest commentary in the Dorna booth while injured. Spies also never recovered from his shoulder injuries, leading to his retirement in 2013.
And like Spies, no change of team and machine was going to fix those mental and physical ailments for Rossi in 2013, not even the comfortable embrace of familiar surroundings at Yamaha.
Rossi is putting up a brave, bold public fight against the clock. He made the shocking decision at Valencia to fire longtime and legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess - the top wrench for all seven of Rossi's premier class titles. Rossi then took another chance by replacing Burgess with Silvano Galbusera, who hasn't worked on GP machinery since his days with a 500cc Cagiva and John Kocinski in 1994.
The Doctor also told media in his hometown of Tavullia, Italy, that he would not continue in MotoGP past the 2014 season - the end of his current contract - if he's not competitive by the sixth race of next season. He backtracked on that personal ultimatum a few days later.
Rossi also started to set the table for his career and life after racing by starting a Moto3 team, Sky VR46, that will debut in 2014 in Moto3.
For Rossi's fans 2014 will be very interesting indeed.