No sooner had defending eight-times champion Marc Marquez started to underline his godlike status than he became all too suddenly and much too violently human again
It all happened again, to the same rider, the following week, when the MotoGP circus got going again for the second successive double-header at the Andalusian track.
Agony. Ecstasy. Agony again.
Run in a blazing heat wave, the two Jerez rounds were the much belated start to the Covid-stricken 2020 season. Run behind closed doors wearing face masks, with skeleton crews in the pits and thermometers at the entrance gates, it was all very other-worldly. And yet wonderfully, joyfully familiar.
Especially when Maverick Viñales’s factory Monster Yamaha took off in the lead, only to be hunted down and passed on the third lap by former boy wonder and now serial dominator Marquez on the factory Repsol Honda.
There was a gasp as Marquez, going away, lost the front in a fast corner a couple of laps later, only to execute one of his trade-mark miracle saves, then recover on the gravel. He rejoined almost last, then embarked on a come-back ride that heavily underlined his stature as the genius of the age. It was hugely enjoyable to watch, and (he later said) also to perform.
By now new boy wonder Fabio Quartararo on the satellite Petronas Yamaha had got to the front to win his first GP in immaculate style; a feat he would repeat a week later.
Marquez? He’d got all the way through to third and was planning to challenge for second. Sheer brilliance. Racing divinity.
Then, on the same corner that ended Mick Doohan’s career 20 years earlier, and for the same reason, “I took a white line with both wheels”. A vicious high-side slam-dunked him down then the bike hit him. He was stretchered away.
The immediate diagnosis was bleak enough: a “diaphyseal fracture of the right humerus”, which Dr Google described as “slow to heal”.
It seemed certain that hopes of a seventh premier-class title in eight years were over.
Surgery, the usual screws and plates, went well; there’d been no nerve damage. We’d probably see him again four or five races down the road, in the compressed and attenuated season. But, to the amazement of all… rivals and fans alike, who should turn up back at Jerez?
You guessed it. “I wouldn’t feel like a real champion if I didn’t try.”
Marc waited until the second day of practice, executed 18 laps morning and afternoon, the best of them half-a-second off his own race record and putting him 16th overall.
Then, before final qualifying, he bowed to the inevitable. The combined pain and risk were too much.
The level of commitment and determination that can take a rider from post-anaesthetic daze to the seat of the fastest motorcycle in the world in four days is beyond belief to ordinary mortals. Never mind the ultimately fatuous “human or god?” question. Truly this is the mark of a great champion.
But here’s the thing.
Marc Marquez wasn’t the only rider to do it.
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow had also suffered injury during that first weekend. A high-speed crash from his LCR Honda in morning warm-up ruled him out of the race with concussion, but subsequently a fracture in his right (throttle) wrist was discovered. This was to the scaphoid, a small and notorious bone with a poor blood supply and a bad reputation for slow healing.
He underwent pin-screw surgery by the same Spanish doctor in the same Barcelona hospital and on the same day as Marquez. And Crutchlow likewise made it back to Jerez, jumped back on his LCR Honda, and he actually did make the start. In agony he pitted before the finish … but with only 13 riders still going in a crash- and breakdown-heavy afternoon, all he had to do to earn points was to go out again and take the flag, even if he was last. Which he did.
There is more.
Factory Ecstar Suzuki rider Alex Rins also crashed heavily on the first weekend, suffering a painful shoulder dislocation. That ruled him out of the race, and he was expected also to need a period of recuperation that would at least see him sit out the following weekend too.
No sir. Rins – whose long neck and narrow head have earned him the nickname “Giraffe” – was also back in the saddle, for a very remarkable ride to tenth.
It has always been clear that, along with talent, good luck and good management, a top-level racer needs a level of dedication and determination that is unimaginable to most people. Seldom has this been so forcefully demonstrated as it was at Jerez.