Originally published by Julian Ryder on Saturday, July 22, 2006
There was a new edge of aggression— exemplified by the fight with Rossi in Qatar, the second race of the year. His reaction after winning today wasn’t the whooping, hollering delight of last year, it was an altogether more visceral display. It was another win at home for Nicky but it was a totally different story from last year. We didn’t see the blinding opening laps of ’05, instead we saw him work his way up from third place, where he was happy to be for the first eight laps, and once he was past Kenny Junior he took another eight laps to get up to the splendid Chris Vermeulen who led the first half of the race off pole before being progressively and then dramatically slowed with some sort of fuelling problem. That Chris V didn’t get a rostrum finish is another example of the total lack of natural justice for which bike racing is famous.
Once Nicky hit the front he didn’t make a mistake, but the man who kept him honest was his team mate, the remarkable Dani Pedrosa. The Laguna newcomer enjoyed America. He found the politeness of the fans who said “thank you, sir” after he’d declined to sign autographs because he was on his way to a meeting refreshing: at home they’d have dragged him over the fence and ripped the shirt off his back. He was chirpier than usual after the race and seemed pretty pleased to have finished second on his first visit to the place.
Marco Melandri’s third place was nearly as remarkable and he called it ‘as good as a win.’ Twelve months ago he was the loudest voice in the anti-Laguna camp and he fulfilled his own prophecy by crashing three times, including on the first lap of the race. Now he loves the place.
It is probable that Valentino Rossi feels no such affection. His attempt at damage limitation ended when his rear tyre lost a chunk of rubber and he had to slow the pace. That led to the overheating that stopped his Yamaha M1 and the Doc’s third DNF of the year. As the man himself admitted, a 51-point deficit to Nicky means his championship has gone. He did see a bright side though; “Now I race without the pressure of the championship.”
Nicky is now in the position where the championship is almost his to lose. He has four weeks to contemplate the idea of a world championship although he obviously refused to do so in public. An Italian journalist did manage to goad him into some barbed comments about “trash talk” he’s had to endure—a reference to the “he’s a follower not a leader” remarks that bubbled to the surface after Assen. Right from the start of the year we’ve seen a different Nicky than we’ve been used to. There was a new edge of aggression— exemplified by the fight with Rossi in Qatar, the second race of the year. His reaction after winning today wasn’t the whooping, hollering delight of last year, it was an altogether more visceral display.
That nice polite boy from Kentucky is letting the steel show through.