Sunday, October 23, 2011

Farewell, Super Sic: A tribute Marco Simoncelli - Galactus

I'm still in something of a state of shock at the news that Marco Simoncelli, at the age of 24, died after an horrific accident at the MotoGP race at Malaysia's Sepang circuit in the early hours of this morning.

After losing the front end of his Gresini Honda RC212V he slid into the path of the oncoming bikes of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. Neither rider was able to avoid hitting him. In the aftermath of the crash he lay unmoving on the tarmac, his helmet no longer on his head. He was pronounced dead only 50 minutes afterwards.

The plan for today was pretty simple. A lazy late morning breakfast, followed by catching up on the Sepang race on iPlayer. Except the race wasn't available. Then I found out why.

Death is, sadly, part and parcel of motorcycle racing, even more so than in the four wheeled version. You can't build a roll cage around a bike. You can't fit it with crumple zones. I can still remember attending my first live race and realising just how sickening the sound of leather hitting tarmac at high speed truly is.

I've witnessed my fair share of deaths in the sport (thankfully never when actually at a circuit). Shoya Tomizawa at Misano last year sticks in the memory. There have been a number in British Superbikes and its various support classes, Ben Gautrey in the Superstock 600 race at Cadwell Park in August being the most recent. I won't even start going into the Manx TT.

The riders, and indeed the fans, accept that this is the case. It happens, your heart goes out to the riders' friends and family, but ultimately you accept it and move on. So I'm not sure why, to me at least, this death feels so different.

Perhaps it's because Marco, affectionately known as Super Sic, was one of the bright emerging talents of the sport, a world champion at 250cc level. Perhaps it was his racing. He had been criticised many times in the past for his aggressive riding style and, for some of his fellow riders, overly dangerous passing manoeuvres (he and Lewis Hamilton would probably have found much to talk about at a dinner party), but this was what made him so exciting to watch, and had livened up a class that too often in recent years has descended into a procession. Or perhaps it was his infectious personality. He had a bright, engaging smile, an effervescent personality and an obvious love and enthusiasm for his sport.

A gangling young man with a huge shock of curly hair, at 183cm tall he stood out in the MotoGP paddock and looked like his bike was far too small for him, knees and elbows sticking out in a style that would best be described as gawky. He looked awkward on a bike, rather than at one with the machine. Appearances were, however, highly deceptive. After a highest placed finish of 2nd place at last week's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island a bright future lay ahead. Sadly, no more.

A special thought goes to Valentino Rossi. The two were close friends, with Vale seeming to take the older brother role, defending Marco against the occasional storm of criticism. For his bike to have been involved in the accident is too cruel. I'm not sure whether Marco's helmet had already come off when Vale ran into him, or whether it was this impact that removed it. I've only watched the incident once and have no desire to watch it again. Vale must be in deep despair tonight, and I wonder whether he will even want to continue in the sport. I hope he does.

I've been in a state of numb hurt all day. This death has cut me far deeper than any I've witnessed in the sport before. Farewell, Super Sic. The MotoGP paddock and the world of motorsport will be far sadder for your absence.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The return of motorsport – mimitig

It’s been a long hard winter for all of us, and for the MotoGP paddock it has not been the return to sport that they would have anticipated. At a rough count, about 90 percent of the paddock is Japanese and so this first race of the season, in the desert, is a tough debut.

Honda were hoping to open the 2011 season full of the joys of leading all the times in testing. New signing Casey Stoner went extremely well in winter testing and appeared to be pushing team-mate Dani Pedrosa to new performance highs. Yamaha were looking to a season of co-operation between last year’s Championship winner, Jorge Lorenzo and Rookie of the Year Ben Spies after a few seasons of dis-harmony between Ducati-defector Rossi and Gorgeous George. They never spoke.

Instead all teams assembled in Qatar with not only the Middle East and Arab nations in extreme chaos, but Japan in a state of national emergency. At any time of global crisis, it is hard to see sport as important, but when most of any sporting teams are as hard hit as the Japanese are right now, it feels wrong to sit down and watch. But they go on doing their day jobs, the mechanics, the technicians and riders so who are we, the paying public, to pretend that we are not interested?

Of course we are, and MotoGP really is the pinnacle of motorsport. Oh I know that a certain mr B Ecclestone would like to argue that Formula 1 is the premier sport, but in my humble opinion, he has lost the plot.

With the bikes, there is so much more difference that can be made by the riders and the team. It is not all about who gets it together at the start and spends the most money.

We saw that in the first round of 2011. It was a tremendously exciting race. There were places fought for all through the field, and at the front, we saw Lorenzo, on the unfancied Yamaha split the front-running Hondas. Yes, Casey Stoner did sprint off into the distance to win, but only after some severe battling with Lorenzo.

Pedrosa could not hang on to Jorge in the last few laps – an arm problem we discovered after the race though what sort of arm problem we do not know.

Rossi took the Ducati honours and given the problems they have had during the winter, it was a fairly good result.

Cal Crutchlow finished respectably – novice in MotoGP and hasn’t had any history in GP2 and missing a bit of his finger (from a crash a couple of days ago in free practice) – not a bad result.

For fans of the sport, it was a good opener. Jerez is next where differences in horsepower matters less.

But what I, a huge fan of the sport, am left thinking is why are we in the Middle East and what does a minute’s silence at the start of the race mean to the people of Japan?

It does become hard to care very much about the sport when so many people are suffering. It will be extremely interesting to watch what happens in MotoGP over the next few rounds of racing as the reality of Japan’s suffering takes effect. My hope is that the compassion that has been shown from the UK (and other nations) to Japan in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fall-out will continue.

Perhaps the mighty presence of the Japanese in the world of motorsport will help the people of their nation who are suffering such devastating consequences of both natural and man-made disasters. Perhaps it will do something to maintain their presence in the news media.

Motorsport very seldom makes the headlines of the print or broadcast media – for goodness sake with the World Cup going on in the Sub-continent, even cricket outranks motorsport! My hope for the next few weeks at the very least, is that some print columns are given up to the start of this season of bike-racing.

If only for this one reason – football did a minute’s silence in respect for Japan’s dead and missing – and they have maybe half a dozen Japanese players in the Premiership and Championship combined. For those involved with bikes – racing is in the blood of the Japanese: riders, mechanics, engineers and everyone. Japan = bikes = sport.

As I said at the start of this piece, about 90 percent of the motor bike racing paddock is Japanese. Factory teams Honda and Yamaha know that the next weeks, even months are going to be desperately hard for them as far as development and parts are concerned. And such is their commitment to the sport, that this is what they are talking about. Not wondering how friends and relatives are doing back in Japan, they are worried about whether they can do stuff to get their bikes going faster.

Admirable in their commitment, and if that’s the approach they are taking then the least we, as fans, can do, is support them and cheer them on.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sport Matters – mimitig

For the past week the sporting world has been obsessed by two affairs. One the usual of the Transfer Window – an example of how two disassociated words have become a phrase known even to not terribly keen football supporters such as I. The second is another two word phrase: “spot-fixing” – this time a phrase not known to keen cricket followers (I would suggest) unless they are part of the murky world of illegal betting.

Now here’s a thought – before we go on to discuss spot-fixing and the Pakistan cricket team in more detail – but having heard that it is possible to “spot-bet” on events during a football match eg will a player in a certain match kick a “long ball”, what are the chances of such bets being laid on what will and won’t happen in the transfer window?

I’m not a betting woman, and I don’t understand at all how these things are done, but it strikes me that with a bit of insider info, someone could make a pile on knowing if, say, Harry Redknapp was going to stick in a bid to Dynamo Moscow for a certain player in the last hour of the window.

Is that corrupt?

It’s not my place to judge the answer on that any more than it is my place to judge on what is happening now in the cricket. What is my place, my duty, my privilege and my right as a fan is to comment.

I choose to make my comment here at Pseuds. A place of convening for fans of all sorts of sports and a place that has been immensely important to me. I have been allowed to bimble on about my love of cycling and men in lycra for years. Some people have actively encouraged me and followed my writings with praise.

Some have been kind enough to tolerate my love of motorsport – especially the men in leather – and agreed that such as Rossi are sporting heroes to be taken to our bosom.

Occasionally when I have turned my keyboard to the successful exploits of our men and women in strange shark-suits in the pool, kind readers have enjoyed.

So it is here that I wish to write about the unpleasant things that are happening now. To coin a phrase, or rather to steal someone else’s words this is “The Curious Incident of the Spot-betting Fixer In the Night-time”.

I use that reference very knowingly. First, of course, I learned of the News of The World story on the radio on Saturday night, so that’s the night bit, but there is meaning in the “curious”. Not only, as I write is absolutely nothing proved against anyone but also the allegations that have been made do make episodes in the Pakistan cricket team’s history more curious.

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice as she fell down the rabbit hole and entered a world that was a mystery to her. I wonder if this might have been how 18-year-old Mohammed Amir (spelt Ameer in a horrid Daily Mail article) felt entering the Pakistani dressing room for the first time? Then, having an approach from a dodgy dealer, maybe threatening his family, does he have anyone to turn to? A dormouse? A mad hatter?

The only chap he knows is alright: Shahid Afridi has been dispatched (yes I do know about the bitten ball and the ballerina act) from the team because he’s too honest.

Amir may have spoken to no-one. Maybe he felt unable to or perhaps he tried. Perhaps he was surprised that a senior bowler, Mohammed Asif, his captain, Salman Butt and maybe others seemed to play outwith the Spirit of the Game.

It may be a long time before we get answers to these questions.

My feeling is that despite what we know, not just in this last week, but what we have either known or suspected in Pakistan cricket for many years, what we must do is help them.

Some of the very greatest heroes of the game have come from Pakistan and some of the most fire-crackingly wonderful play.

From what I read, the great Imran Khan is getting closer to being involved with a clean up. I would beg readers here: say expletive off to the Daily Mail and its owner’s racist attitude towards everything. Instead read Rob Smyth’s brilliant, emotional but sensible article here.

Then make your choice.

Abandon Pakistan cricket totally or support the ICC and the ECB trying to help them root out corruption and be the players we, as fans want to see playing around the world.

Pakistan cannot do this alone anymore than they can help their flood victims alone. But you know, and I know that if we can give, as we do, to the country, then we can make our feelings known to the PCB about the cricket.

I don’t have a disaster link for giving to the floods, but I do know that if you give to the Imran Khan then that is given.

So where do we go next: there is a man at the Filth of mail and I gather his comments are nasty – ho yeay that’s what I said.

Look ye, my friends. We are one with Rob and all of emotion. Play fair these times and don’t do racist crap

If you must love deceased then LF

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Champions league pretenders - Premcorrespondent

I hate Notting Hill Carnival. The rum is cheap. The music is loud. Even the roll-ups roll ups handed round taste rotten. And to top it all off I always wake up in bloody Glasgow without a penny and have to hitch a lift home.


Still, London was unavoidable this weekend. Old Medders invited me to his local for the Big Cup game. Tel’s a proud old git and drank eight pints for the eight goals he was convinced his Spurs would score. And that was in the first half. I had to repay the favour really and scored him a spare for their drubbing of Wigan.


Boy what a mistake. Drinking with their old boys is heavy going when they win. It never ends when they lose; and losing ignominiously to a dogged Wigan came as a hell of a shock. The Lilywhites looked like they didn’t care to work hard, the fans expected a walkover, and Wigan decided to impress their travelling minibus of fans by being better than the champions league hopefuls they were away to.


So… Good news for the Sky Blues then. But no. They ran out of ideas as quickly as their accountant runs out of zeros when working out the wage bill. Sunderland turned the game into an English style frenzy of directionless activity and the calm Italian style Mancini prefers gave way to lots of energy and no end product.


Of course there nearly was end product. Tevez, by far and away the best player in all of Manchestarabia, spooned an awful effort over from twelve yards out. He had enough time and space for a drunk 77-year-old Medwin to have scored. So a last gasp penalty made it a bad weekend for two of the sides battling for a top flight finish.


Liverpool did better. After two rough games that they should have done better in, the Reds finally recorded a win. It was only against West Brom, and it was a poor performance that barely deserved for either side to share the points, let alone take all three. But Torres was the difference and his volley at least made the top four aspirants level on four points somewhere around mid-table.


Further up are Aston Villa. Their early lead was held until the final whistle against an Everton side who look like relegation fodder. These were sides who should compete for a Uefa Cup spot. Presently the Villains have nabbed fourth place while Everton have joined Stoke as unexpected bottom three filler.


Of course Stoke have their own problems, but it would be harsh to judge them against their tough first three games. Chelsea away was a standard 2-0 home win that disappointed the Lions’ fans for dragging down their goal average. I do like a team with grit, but away to the champions? A team with several flouncing pansies who like to earn penalties? Nope, it was always going to be painful to watch. In truth the penalties were fair and the champions deserved their points.


The other relegation side right now is West Ham. They kidded themselves that their problem last year was a bright and promising Italian manager. Will they blame the dour and proven Israeli this time or finally accept most of their team is rubbish? Rooney’s goal drought was ended and the 3-0 score line says it all.


And in games some of us were too drunk or hung-over to notice, Arsenal laboured to an away win at Blackburn while Wolves v Newcastle, Fulham v Blackpool and Bolton v Birmingham were all score draws, so check your pools coupon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paying the penalty - Premcorrespondent


As I feared, the Tangerines could not build on their stunning first game with an away win at the Emirates. At 1-0 down I hoped to see how well Blackpool dug in. But then a man sent off made a farce of the test.


Not to take anything away from Arsenal you understand. Wallcott showed that there are few players more dangerous when given the ball in the middle of the opposition half. Begs the question why he plays on the wing. If the move to the middle worked for old Terry Henry, why not young Theo who looked unstoppable when he got the ball in a striker’s position.


Of course the real unstoppable force in the English League is Chelsea’s Didier Drogba. He inspired a six-nil win last weekend by scoring a hatrick. He inspired another this weekend without hitting the net. His command of the opposition half rivals that of Charlton and Greaves back in the day. He doesn’t even need to flounce around on the floor like a pansy when he’s firing like this.


Not that Wigan offered any opposition. They crumbled like freshly backed cookie again. Following four and six goal drubbings they must fear travelling to the scene of last season’s 9-1 debacle next week. The odds of a repeat are only long because the away goal seems implausible.


With all of that said, two top sides putting minnows to the sword on Saturday was somewhat outshone by a further 6-0 on Sunday. Aston Villa against Newcastle should never have been a classic. Newcastle’s aim this season is to finish 17th. Villa’s aim is to finish 7th.


What a delight then to see Houghton’s Magpies play like masters. Some questioned whether Chris could manage in the Premier League and suggested a bigger name should replace him. Hopefully this will silence such whispers; for a week or two at least.


Thankfully 6-0 is not the norm. Closer scores are more exciting; and none more so than Manchester United’s glorious late win at, oh wait, Fulham’s last gasp recovery at home.


Scholes showed that old boys can still rule the roost. His strike separated the sides before Davies equalised. That goal made the game frenetic. Fulham and Man U drove hard at each other and there were chances galore.


The breakthrough came with seven minutes to play. The corner flew in and Hangeland couldn’t help but turn it past his own keeper. Two minutes later and it was all over. A penalty that went against the spirit of the rules put United 3-1 up. Except it didn’t. With Giggs on the pitch, and Berbatov too, they let Nani strike it. And the keeper saved well.


And so it was game on. The United fans fell silent. The Fulham crowd rose and screamed and shouted for something, anything, to get them a well earned point. On the stroke of full time, a corner came across, Vidic lost Hangeland, and he made amends for the own goal his excellent performance hadn’t deserved.


Last minute excitement was the order of the day at Stoke too. Spurs took a depleted side to a ground where men have to be men to withstand the physical battering laid on. They coped well and were worthy winners, but Stoke could still feel aggrieved at losing. The ref, like most pundits and camera angles, couldn’t quite confirm that a 90th minute scrambled effort was cleared off the line, or from just behind it, triggering endless chatter in TV studios.


And in games few noticed, West Ham lost 3-1 to Bolton Wanderers, Everton drew with Wolves, Manchestarabia beat Liverpool, and West Brom beat Sunderland 1-0.


Which leaves one last honourable mention; that of Michael Oliver, the 25 year old referee who took charge of Birmingham v Blackburn. The result was the epitome of mid-table insignificance. But his handling of a tough match was surprisingly strong despite his inexperience. He didn’t even wimp out of awarding a perfectly just penalty.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh mister tangerine man... - Premcorrespondent


So much for a world cup that was more Jordi Cruyff than Johnan. Mismatched games, stars falling short of expectations and frustrating tactics made much of it interesting rather than thrilling.


And so to the Premier League. Or Premiership; whichever of the two they are calling the first division these days.


Off I went to Wigan to watch my once beloved Blackpool. Saturday night out there after a game; that’s something to savour. I hope modern top flight fans don't stick their noses up at the old town and instead enjoy some good old-fashioned fun. There’s nothing quite like boozing it up on the beach and eating greasy chips off the cold thighs of local trollops in the North West.


Oh to be young and in love with the legend of a club that gave us so much Stanley Matthews magic. Of course this game was in Wigan and my days of winning round free and easy floozies are long behind me. Especially after that incident with my third wife all those years ago. But it seems the good old days are back, if only for one great away match. A very comfortable 4-0 win was a tangerine masterclass of hard work and common sense football. Wigan should learn how to punt if they want to stay up again this year.


It was a weekend for lessons. Drogba decided repetition was the best way to make his points stick. He scored three while Chelsea got six. West Brom look like they’ll go down easier than Peter Crouch’s hooker did but at least they keep coming back and trying again in the hope they won’t flunk out this time.


Manchestarabia were taught a lesson too. They just about held out at 0-0 at White Hart Lane but they got away with a mauling from a side that looked as tasty as fry-up after a night on the sauce. Gomes could have stayed home for all the work he had to do. Unless they sign Lady Luck next, this sort of performance won’t deliver the trophies some Arab state bought the Sky Blues for.


Not that it was all bad for City. They did at least get lucky. Hart played very well too. And they did display some smart English grit, kicking the players who made them look like overpaid wannabes. Modric will be especially bruised today.


Arsenal learned the price they should charge Barca for their beloved captain this weekend. And that price is nothing. Zip. Just a simple thanks but no thanks. Liverpool are hardly a class act again yet, but were it not for a rare Reina screw-up Arsenal would have got the defeat their lack of creativity deserved.


Passing the ball about is nice and pretty but some one has to do something with it. If that man is Fabregas then without him they looked bereft. That said, 1-1 at Anfield may yet prove a good result if Hodgeson has his way with his team.


In the Midlands Villa coped very well with the unexpected loss of their gaffa. A walkover saw them score three against West Ham who have apparently not got over the arrival of Grant. Old Bobby would have turned in his grave at such shambolic defending as Petrov, Downing and the outgoing Milner scored all too easily.


Just down the road the two sides no one likes to play but everyone expects to beat gave the crowd a thrilling home win. Stoke fought back well from 2-0 down to 2-1 but couldn’t keep it going. In the end Wolves were determined and even ambitious, going close to a third and fourth late on.


And in the games no one much noticed, Everton lost away to Blackburn, Sunderland and Birmingham shared the points, and Bolton drew 0-0 with Fulham.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are we nearly there yet? – mimitig

Whilst this is a phrase that, for many of us, echoes the little voice of childhood as we sat in the back of Morris Travellers or Hillman Minxes as parents seemed to drive for ever to the north or west in search of holidays, it is surely what the legs (if they could speak) of the peloton are asking today.

Today being the second rest day of this year’s Tour de France, the answer is 525.5 killermetres and that is not a typo. Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett always say “killermetres” although the accepted pronunciation, as far as I can research, is actually “kill-om-eter”. There’s a subtle difference and tomorrow’s 174km truly will be killer metres for someone as the Tour ascends the Col du Tourmalet for the second time this year.

So far this year the Tour has taken in over 3000 km of its total distance of 3642 km (official figures – my sums have them riding 4004.9 km but then I’m using a solar powered calculator and we’ve had no sun for the last five days!).

The peloton has covered a starting Time Trial – flat, rainy and a bit dull, seven further flat stages that have given Mark Cavendish three sprint wins, some hilly and middle mountain finishes and three in the high mountains. Mark’s three wins have seen him equal and beat some of the best sprinters the world of cycling has ever seen – Erik Zabel and Mario Cipollini have 12 each – The Manx Missile has 13 in just three and a half Tours. For a man who was way out of form coming in to this year’s Tour, and losing the first two possibilities for lack of form, it is a remarkable turnaround. Sadly there has been controversy again. This year not for Mark’s own actions in a sprint, but for those of his lead-out man, Aussie Mark Renshaw. On the run in to Cav’s third victory in Bourg les Valence (Stage 11, Thurs July 15), as the sprint started to wind up, Garmin Transition’s Kiwi Julian Dean stuck the elbow into Renshaw. A very dangerous and unacceptable thing to do. In defence, Renshaw nudged his head against Dean’s arm. Should have ended there, but the red mist of sprinters had descended. Renshaw went on to head-butt Dean three more times and then, unforgiveably looked behind and seemed to deliberately close out Tyler Farrar (of Garmin). None of these actions had an impact on the finish so rightly Cav claimed it, but it was a rather unedifying episode of Tour sprinting. Renshaw was the only man punished – not just relegated (which would have been fair) but thrown off the Tour (totally unfair) and Dean – the man who started the who’s yer father in the first place was off scott free. As I say, unedifying all round really.

However, that is cycling and that is Le Tour – the commissars have the last say and they said it. Fortunately – for fans of cycling and Mark Cavendish – the Missile proved on Stage 13 that he can do it without Renshaw. On a day when watchers saw former drug-cheat Alexandre Vinokourov prove that you can do it with your own blood and win a stage (and I am not convinced, sorry), Mark led the charge to the line for second place, but first of the sprinters, and did it in style.

After this lot of ducking and diving, elbows and heads, we saw the Tour head into the really high mountains. This year the Alps were just a little tickler for the big days. One hundred years to celebrate of men on bikes versus desperate altitudes and weather – The Pyrennees. The stages that tour director Christian Prudhomme hoped would define this year’s race.

He has done well, that man. No momentous occasions in the Alps, all to play for in the Pyrennees and even better, all to play for in the final day in the Pyrennees. There are only really two men left in the GC – Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (though Denny Menchov and Sammy Sanchez could spring a surprise). It looks as though they will continue to go head to head up the Tourmalet. Neither has been able to lock down an advantage. Schleck maybe has looked stronger but then the mechanical problem with his chain on the 15th stage gave the lead and the Maillot Jaune (and the cuddly lion) to Contador. That little episode has lead to the Tour’s second big controversy – should Alberto have attacked under those circumstances? Tour protocol has an unwritten law that the Maillot Jaune is not attacked for a mechanical, but it is far more complicated this time. Denny and Sammy were already attacking and going to fight out their third and fourth. I don’t think Alberto did anything wrong. If Schleck comes out of the rest day strong, then he can make his attack before the final Time Trial. It’s up to him.

Of the other former favourites, there is both plenty and nothing to write. Bradley Wiggins has been totally honest – last year he came in with unexpected form and got fourth, this year his form has not been there. All he can hope for is a good finish in the final Time Trial.

Cadel Evans – with the Rainbow Jersey of World Champion on his shoulders – rode well early and proudly took Yellow. Then crumbled in what is becoming a rather Aussie way – maybe he and Ricky Ponting can share a beer of sadness together (88 all out when you win the toss – ho ho ho!).

Armstrong in his last ever Tour has been somewhat of a revelation – nice, journo-friendly, even a bit laughing. Once he knew all was gone he rode a fantastic breakaway on Stage 16 in to Pau. Gave his all and reminded us of why we respect him. The stage was won by Pierrick Fedrigo and he gave France their sixth Stage win of the Tour. I can’t remember the last time that happened and with French riders topping King of the Mountains as well.

Tomorrow we go out for the final day in the mountains. This day will certainly decide the Polka Dot Jersey, should also decide the overall winner. Unless something bizarre occurs, Andy Schleck will certainly win the White Jersey (and the stuffed yeti toy) and Alberto Contador will go into the final Time Trial knowing that he will be in Yellow in Paris.

After that we have two days more for Mark. A sprint finish is likely into Bordeaux and of course no matter if the Maillot Jaune is decided, there is the sprint on the Champs Elysees. Who can forget last year’s finish? Renshaw delivering Cav to the line so easily that it was a double Mark finish.

That won’t happen this year, but if Cav can get over the Tourmalet, he’ll fight to the finish. More to prove this year. My guess, and bet, if I were a betting woman, would be that Bernie Eisel will deliver Cav to the line in Paris.

Contador to win. Schleck second. Denny third.

Thor for the Green.

One of the French for KoM.

Cav on the Champs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

World Cup 2018 - cissethedog

This year’s World Cup has been ok, not great, not rubbish. But I suspect the long term trend is towards a blander, cagier ‘product’. This is not good.

These changes have four main objectives:
  • Feature a wider variety of playing styles
  • More coverage for smaller teams/players
  • Support the referees with technology, but not to burden them with any extra subjective decisions. Make some things simpler, give the attacking team more of the advantage
  • Encourage new approaches to the game

It also accepts the World Cup is set apart from the rest of the football calendar; there should be no problem with it having some unique rules.

Increase WC to 64 teams:

16 groups of four
Six games per group = 96 games in the group stage. Six matches played most days (2 on opening day, 4 on last day of the group stage), no problem with matches played concurrently.

Knockout rounds of 32 – 16 – 8 – 4
Draw for knockout stages comes only after group stage is finished; top teams are seeded (1-8) by the number of goals scored in group stage, top seed gets to chose which runner up it prefers. Seed 1 plays 8 in the next round (2v7, 3v6, 4-5).

Why: more teams, more good & bad, more opportunity for small countries to progress. May make it easier for ‘top’ teams to qualify, therefore allowing more time/scope to develop new systems. Group games can be played in smaller venues. Seeded draw makes for more TV drama, and rewards goalscoring

Group stage points:
1pt for draw, 2pt for win by more than one goal, 3pt for win by 2+ goals

Why: creates more risk/reward

Knockout stage:
Teams reduced by one man if drawing after 90mins. Opposition managers to choose which outfield player to be removed; reduced by a further player after first period of extra time. Then penalties

Why: creates more space, throws up new tactical options

To be used if the ball has crossed the line. Play to carry on as normal, but brought to a halt by 4th referee (off field, watching the video replay) if evidence says ball was in.

Offside: microchips in shoes (& ball) should be able to detect real-time position of players; player onside if his foot is behind the foot of the last man. Again, play until off-field ref says its off (should be <1 style="font-weight: bold;">Scrap the 6-yard box:
keeper takes kick from the line between his posts

Why: limits distance of these kicks

players can take from anywhere within 5 yards of where foul was committed – but no nearer the goal.

Why: may help create better shooting angle for attacking team

Throw-ins taken one handed:
Why: speeds it up, allows option of longer distance throws

Use a proper football
Official ball to in use, worldwide, for full season prior to event. Silly to have the event undermined like Jubilano 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

For the love of the game - ebren

An email, a mad dash home, a cross-town trek. Arriving late, padding up, waiting on the boundary, taking off the pads after a single delivery, fielding, losing, drinking. This week I have played four games of cricket, losing three.

There’s something horrible about losing a game of cricket. Eight times out of ten you can see it coming, sometimes for hours, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

Each delivery whispers “wicket” seductively in you ear, before dashing off to the boundary for some other batsman. You feel every run at the end, deep in your stomach. The ones hit 100 metres away and the one that flash two feet past your outstretched hands. Worse are the unplayable balls that remove no bails.

I’ve lost three times, for three different teams, in four days, spent eighty overs fielding, 21 ‘umpiring’ because I was already out, scored two runs and bowled no balls.

“Three overs to come, three batsmen waiting, four runs needed. Now we’ve got our boot on your throat we’re going to keep pushing down,” I said to the opposition captain on Thursday. Gallows humour is sometimes all you have.

I should point out now I’m not very good at cricket. I love the game, but I never really progressed after dropping the sport as a 13 year old. I kept watching, spending days on the sofa in front of Tests, picking apart one side of a ball completely while watching Nasser score 207 at Edgbaston. I’ve seen England play Twenty20, ODIs and a few days of Test cricket at the Oval in the last couple of years as well as watching Surrey.

But until recently my last bat was in a junior size and I’d never owned pads or gloves. That was about to change.

Approaching 20 years after I stopping playing, I was asked if I wanted a game after a drunken conversation with some colleagues. I might have over-reacted. I bought whites for less than the price of a football shirt after my first game, then a bat, then gloves, pads, a box, more pads (thigh ones this time) new whites and three, different, bags.

I found that missing cricket because I was playing football annoyed me. I stopped playing football. I joined a new team so I could play on the weekends – I’d been pulled in and was hooked.

But once that first flush of lust, the quickening of the pulse and shy smile at the thought of pulling on whites and picking up a bat, has passed the drudgery sets in.

On Wednesday and Thursday we’d posted paltry scores, then somehow hung on and not lost embarrassingly early. It was still a nice way to spend a summer’s evening after work, and my mercy-mission across the capital to help one team out was rewarded by free beers.

Saturday was different. A 40-over game lasting well into the evening, we’d exploded in the middle order and then faded in the end to post a competitive total of 205. We asphyxiated their openers, cutting off space and air with a tight field and a tighter line. After 17 overs they’d scored just 50 runs.

Then something horrible happened. A man, who’d rather be at the theatre, came in. Every ball, regardless of its quality, was thrashed. After the 21st over we had a drinks break, he retired himself to go to the west end, and the score was 117.

The spell was broken and as afternoon slipped into evening the odds of victory lengthened with the shadows.

I didn’t go out for a drink after the game, I was bone tired after 40 overs fielding, 21 standing and six batting, flogging myself chasing lost causes as balls reached the rope a meter or two ahead of me, bruised by a ball I didn’t catch and facing a long journey by public transport before I could get food and clean the sweat from my body.

But the next time I get that email, I’ll come running back. Because the bitter taste of defeat doesn’t normally last long. The moments do. Like the grin after seeing a debutant thrash a ball straight over the bowler’s head, someone had never held a bat until a few weeks earlier, and the cheers from the boundary after I signalled a six not a four.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When the Hell welcomes the Tour - mimitig

Cycling fans (are there any out there?) have been wondering when this year’s Tour de France would really kick off.

Le Grand Depart in Rotterdam was very low key for anyone who wasn’t actually there. Cancellara rode brilliantly to secure the Yellow Jersey through a time trial, again, but everyone else, except maybe David Millar, was way too cautious in the wet conditions and it was what Paul Sherwen would describe as a damp squid.

Day Two rolled out of Rotterdam into Belgium and – so, sorry chaps, can’t remember too much about it. Day three should have been great, with hills and cross winds, but that just didn’t happen. It was defined by horrid, slippy descents on narrow roads leading to half the field – and one motorbike-mounted cameraman - unintentionally dismounting, sometimes at speed.

Fabian, he of the yellow, decided it was all too much and neutralised the race: getting all the riders to effectively join in on a 'go slow' over the finish line. Well, all but one, a Frenchman, riding for a Belgian team, took a decisive lead 12 kilos in, then held it for 183 more as the riders crossed from his team’s country into his own.

Someone else was a little unimpressed by the go-slow: the God of Thundor, our Thor, seemed a bit pissed off by the strike and made his displeasure known afterwards in no uncertain terms, but there you go, that’s the Yellow Jersey.

But then the race hit the cobbles, the pave. Racing the roads of The Hell of the North – it is so surprising that so many top riders seem pissed off about this stage. The race route was published almost a year ago so there was plenty of time to practice and prepare. It didn’t work out that way. Chaos and crashes.

A young Canadian went off the front – for ages, then a chap whose name is Brut caught him. Behind there was both chaos and beautifully coordinated chasing.

Crashes galore - continuing the chaos of the first two stages. But fine chasing and excellent racing at the front.

The paves really did do for the peloton. I can’t remember a more exciting stage and let me take this opportunity to thank ITV4 for broadcasting stages live this year. I am guessing that this is their response to Sky. As in – hey buddies, we broadcast it all, we can decide whether to mention your name – if you’re good enough.

Well blimey, were Sky good enough today? I think so. My Welsh blood is rushing to my head and trying to make me sing all those songs because Geraint Thomas got second on the stage to big Thor and is actually second on the road. Damn close to the maillot jaune, and rose to the podium to pull on the white jersey of best young rider.

Lance is a couple of minutes down and, to be honest, I really don’t want to talk about him. Let Landis and the Wall Street Journal do their worst.

Brad is OK. Millar is not looking for a high GC so his third in the Prologue is good.

There is a long way to go in this tour but congrats to the organisers for a day of huge excitement.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rob Green lights up the bar - Margin

Watching football in a bar at 11:30am raises some questions. For a start, do you meet up with friends for breakfast before the game? We decided not to. But then do you drink throughout the proceedings? Those of you who know me best know there is only one answer to that, though we genuinely kidded ourselves otherwise for a short time.

Colin and I knew just one bar in San Francisco that we could definitely both find, and that was the one we got chatting in a couple of nights earlier. So all was well right?


We met outside the door at 10:30am. Outside the locked door. Foley’s on O’Farrell Street doesn’t open at that early hour and we had to find somewhere else quickly so we had time to settle in and pick our spot.

Fortunately Market Street has a big bright sports bar of the sort we just don’t have in England. There is neon everywhere. There is a big glass front that I fear would be smashed in most English towns. There are booths facing screens in every direction. The wonderfully friendly bar staff were chipper even as they worked an earlier shift than they would normally face. This sports bar knew the drill. It was open early, had garlic fries on the go, and offered us beer as we stepped through the door. We surprised them by ordering tea and orange juice.

I should stress that Colin is Irish and as such a USA fan temporarily. Obviously I see the world differently. But we figured that with no guarantee of a crowd we would at least provide antagonism enough for each other.

We took our seats at a table a few metres from a giant wall mounted screen. The orange juice and tea lasted about ten minutes and we had finished our first pints before England were one-nil up. As I said, the sports bar knew the drill better than us.

As we drank our first pints and watched Steve McManaman and Roberto Martinez talk about the game in store, we were joined by others. Colin’s girlfriend arrived after her short but impressively productive shopping trip. A couple of middle aged women had pulled up chairs alongside us all. And a German chap with a lot of hair had introduced himself and joked that the USA would win this one.

And so to the goal. The passing was excellent, the finish perfect, and around a third of the bar jumped up and cheered. There was noise, excitement, and a lot of England and English shirted strangers congratulating each other as though we’d been friends for years. It was not yet noon but this felt like watching the game at 8pm in a London boozer.

Or at least it would have done, but with England scoring, only a third of the bar erupted. We arrived early so hadn’t realised that it was now definitely standing room only. People stood around the bar watching small screens. More people still stood everywhere else facing all different directions to watch whichever screen was convenient.

And then came Rob Green’s mishap. Now this may have been calamitous for us English. It could have meant going on to lose a game we should have won. It may also be the effective end of his world cup. But it was also manna from heaven in Market Street. The assembled yanks and the handful of Irish taking in the game needed this. And so did us complacent English.

None of them expected to win. None of us expected them to win either; at least not after our opener. But that goal inspired hope. Suddenly every move forward triggered intakes of breath and cheers of “C’mon!”

At the other end there were yelps of “No!” every time England shot. And the other third of us behaved exactly the same in reverse.

The atmosphere grew until the last ten minutes when we all became resigned to the draw in front of us.

And when the game ended every American, local or otherwise, commented that that was the end of Green this world cup.

As far as they were concerned, Green was done for. The British press would tear him apart. There would be no mercy. He would be the scape goat and his career would now suffer.

They were of course all pleased with a draw, and commiserated me despite my sanguine take on the group stage. But all day long they continued to comment on our goalie and how unfair it was that he would be destroyed and hated for that one mistake.

And they were right. This was not a matter of insight but a simple matter of fact to Americans. Football isn’t special or specialist. It is just football and the assumption was that we all knew how such things worked. Especially us English with our horrible press.

Sadly for Rob Green, if they are wrong, it will only be because of timing. Had that been a knock-out game his best next move would be to cancel his ticket home. As it is he might hope that it will be long forgotten as he sits on the bench and lets another keeper try to do better.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pre-game nerves, Califnornia style - Margin

So as it turns out, California is different. Very different to New York in fact.


“I hate soccer” was the first thing I heard about the sport I love, and I heard it without solicitation.


The gruff and seemingly rather negative Mike who runs the hostel I’ve booked a room in hates the World Cup. It is everywhere apparently, and worse still the hostel will be showing it in its rather impressive mini cinema every day. I plan to watch it elsewhere but it is at least there as a back up plan.


Or I thought I’d be watching it elsewhere. But then I wasn’t so sure. A quick chat with adorable Alex, a pretty blonde Oakland girl, first thing on my first morning in the city made clear that football is not part of her world either.


Now as some of you know, Ebren and I are Oakland A’s fans. This surprised her as she assumed only Oaky locals know about their team. She even suggested I go see the Giants play as it is more central and means I won’t have to waste time in a dull part of town.


Football meanwhile: “Oh yeah, you guys get really violent about that don’t ya?” was pretty much all she knew of the subject. I reassured her that violent was the wrong word, just in case she got the wrong impression of us Brits. Aggressive would be more accurate.


Anyway, a quick wander around town and I wasn’t sure what Mike’s problem was. There are no signs up outside pubs. No one asked me about “the big game”. Frankly if football didn’t exist as a global phenomenon it seems the surface of San Francisco would change not one bit.


Fortunately the surface is superficial. The game is on. Not in the commercial money spinning way that New York has it. But sports bars will be showing games as a standard. The wide variety of supposedly Irish pubs will also have games on their screens.


One lad whose name I didn’t ask and he didn’t offer, was well up for the match tomorrow. His mate owns a bar in Presidio and they convinced him to open at 10am so they could all pile in there and enjoy while eating a barbeque breakfast. He’s confident the USA will win. I set him straight as best I could but his knowledge of the England team was pretty weak.


The same can not be said for the couple from Vancouver I met last night after my mini-date with a waitress from a downtown diner. Of course I didn’t talk football with her. That tends to kill dates in England and I had no intention of testing that aspect to Californian life right then.


The couple from Vancouver were from Ireland originally and were on holiday in California for a couple of weeks like me. She doesn’t like football, but he has forced her along to various games. We watched the basketball as the Celtics drew level in the series with the Lakers. Being Irish he wants England to lose. But he would happily see England win the world cup if France were humiliated along the way.


Along with that couple, I got chatting to a pleasant mother and daughter from Pennsylvania. The mother knew quite a bit about soccer and it turns out her husband was from Brooklyn. She was particularly keen to stress they were fans of Wayne Rooney, before moving on to other sports.


Eileen, her lovely daughter, had bought her out to California as she was on a business trip and it made for a nice treat. She however was not interested in sport. She knew there was a world cup, but had little to say about it.


Then the barman overheard us chatting and promised he’d be open early for the big game. So Colin from Vancouver and I will meet up at 10am for breakfast before supporting opposing sides.


Please god England don’t let me down!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Big Game - Margin

I landed in Brooklyn three days ago. Didn’t know anything about the place other than it was cheap, but it turns out where I stayed was a lot like Hackney Wick. A few fashionable arty types have taken over a couple of abandoned warehouses as workshops or opened coffee shops. But mostly it’s just poor, industrial, and untidy.

As you can imagine, I felt right at home. Except that I wasn’t at home. I was abroad. And I was abroad for good reason. I wanted to see the world cup start through the eyes of a nation that doesn’t really see football. Some people even warned me the games might not be on in pubs.

How wrong they were. The world cup is everywhere in New York. There are guys on the street corners of Manhattan selling knock off world cup shirts. There are signs outside pubs promising to show every game, with half price pitchers on offer for the duration. And the people, well I have to say, never have so many strangers asked me about one game that hasn’t happened yet.

Yep, there may be a world cup coming up, but the moment people heard I was English that tournament went out the window. It’s all about USA v England. Two guys even told me in no uncertain terms that they expect a 1950 style upset. I mocked them of course, safe in the knowledge it can’t come back to haunt me as they will never see me again.

This atmosphere all came as something of a surprise. But apparently we’ve got the Yanks all wrong. Or at least New Yorkers.

Take Andy, a Brooklyn barman at a pizzeria. He is waiting for the Premier league fixture list to come out so he can see when Everton have two home games in one week. That’s the week he’ll visit. Again. He does it every year and is sorely put out at the lack of UEFA Cup matches next season as he likes to see Europe by flying out to watch his Toffeemen play abroad.

So OK, one tough looking bar tender doesn’t make for much of a trend. But there was also a street protestor outside the New York Stock Exchange. Having checked in and visited Liberty Island, I was later asked about Rio Ferdinand by a guy doing a subversive art project. He had a picture he’d painted of some Treasury big shot, and people were signing the empty space around him with anti-establishment comments. I added “2+2=5 on Wall Street” and we quickly got back to talking injured defenders. Apparently we (England) had nothing to worry about so long as Rooney stayed fit.

There was also April and Bret. I met these two at a burger bar near Broadway before I checked into my place the first night I arrived. April was 19 and had to hope no one noticed as she drank her cocktail. Bret was a couple of years older. They wore black, had fashionable piercings, and looked like poster children for Camden Town.

April has a part in a play once a week in Manhattan. Bret is a sound engineer. In England these are the people who ignore football most of the time, if not all. Here they wanted to know their (USA) chances against us (England) and whether the buzz of activity around football bought on by the world cup is what life is like in England all the time. I told them it that was spot on and drank with them for five hours, before finding my place to stay.

Better still was a different kind of poster pin-up. (I apologise to female readers for the next couple of paragraphs)

Imagine being in a dive of a bar at around 1am in a distressed part of town. Then imagine a well endowed 24 girl playing pool in that bar. She’s got on a slinky figure hugging short dress that barely reaches down to the tops of her long beautiful legs. Her bright red hair is outshone only by the ruby lipstick and her overwhelming energetic but genuinely witty personality. Every guy there is trying to help her play her shot as she copes surprisingly well with her high heels and the seemingly large quantities of beer she’s had. It was like an FHM photo shoot.

Now be honest. What’s the best that could happen in real life? Maybe you get an entertaining glimpse of a little more than you should? You introduce yourself and get lost in the crowd of aspiring pool mentors? Or she hears your accent while you order a pint, and strikes up a conversation. And not just any conversation. She asked about the big game.

Yep, suddenly the bizarre cliché had me reaching for the nearest ring and going down on one knee. That just doesn’t happen in England. At least not to me. But in East Williamsburg dreams come true. It triggered a collective smoke outside and a big conversation about how playing abroad has made American players better able to compete for their country.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Except it isn’t. It nearly made me forget why I wanted to see the states during a world cup summer. I don’t want Americans to get football. I don’t want them to be like the English. I want to experience something different. And although it is different in some ways, if they all start liking it properly they might get good at it. And then the rest of us are screwed.

So after just three hours sleep and with my head and muscles crying out for mercy, I am now at the airport waiting to board a flight to California. Hopefully there are real Americans there who don’t know where England is on a map, think a football is pointy, and at best support Mexico or Nigeria from afar instead of the USA.

Wish me luck.

Monday, May 17, 2010

England can win – by mimitig

I’m not going to plunge into an explanation of that headline straight away – too much of a shock for our readers. Let’s ease our way into this unlikely situation.

So while club football is almost over – Chelsea have done the double and Dundee crushed the hopes of the Highlands beating Ross County 3-0 in the Scottish Cup - and with at least a few weeks to go before the Football World Cup takes over the airwaves, we have a little, tiny, wee window in which to play our traditional summer sports.

My favourites are well-known to Pseuds and today I will set aside my affinity with leather and lycra and, for your delectation, will concentrate on men in pyjamas.

In March and April we were treated to the joys of the Indian Premier League. For the first time this was live on terrestrial telly. Every day we had matches to watch. Sometimes only one, but mostly double-headers – all live from the various grounds in India – and presented by a wondrously diverse set of broadcasters.

From the utterly gorgeous but totally biased fan Mandira Bedi (and this link does not do her justice!) to the not-at-all gorgeous but unbiased and expert Simon Hughes – no, not THAT one, I mean former county cricketer and Channel 4 analyst (I await comments here …)

The glory of the IPL was that for many of us, it was the first time we had been able to watch live cricket on the telly since 2005 and although the involvement of many international players could have made for allegiances, it was not so. It was just great to get the chance to see all these players performing on a big stage. I found myself supporting a team which had Jaques Kallis in it, for goodness sake. And I relished the opportunity to watch some of the Aussies live prior to another Ashes year.

Just a few short weeks after the tournament ended, cricketers descended upon the Caribbean for the ICC World Twenty20 Tournament. And there’s the first thing. We got used to this form of the game being T20 in India. More letters once we’re back in “official land”.

Anyway, everyone was there – all the big teams plus a few spares like Ireland and Afghanistan. They didn’t last long, though it was very good to see the cricket family enlarging.

Group matches were played out and then the Super Eights. The West Indies, hosting the even, got knocked out then, as did India and very surprisingly England didn’t. The semi-finals lined up with England v Sri Lanka (early favourites) and Australia v Pakistan (holders).

England won their semi rather comfortably – slightly scary for fans. We’re not used to doing things properly.

Australia v Pakistan was a very different match. Australia expected to win with ease but the right Pakistan turned up and posted a top total of 191. Equalling the totals set earlier in the competition by England and Australia.

The men from the sub-continent gave the antipodeans a hard task. At first it seemed as though Pakistan were in control, so it went on for 18 overs. They were winning, it looked to be a glorious win for the “homeless” international side. But then Mike Hussey cut loose and in the final over he broke the collective heart of a nation and Australia scraped a win. Rabbits and hats were the words.

This meant that the holders, Pakistan, were out and perennial losers, England, would face Australia in the final.

Interesting now – the Twenty20 World Title is the only one the Australians have never won and England – well they haven’t won anything at World level for, well ever really.

Battle was joined on Sunday. England, in the body of Collingwood, won the toss and put the Aussies in to bat. A bold move, I would have thought as England’s long-term record in chasing in the short version of the game has not been great. It started very well indeed. Ryan Sidebottom got Watson with his third ball and after three overs, the Aussies were 10 for three.

A fine start indeed. And just the sort of start to set England nerves jangling and England teeth tearing at nails.

There was no way that we could start with a flourish and keep it going, but we did. Restricted the Aussies to 147. This was gettable. For a good team. On a good day.

The second innings started – I was just home from work and so naturally England lost an early wicket. Talk about fate, luck, and omens. This was the first time in a limited overs tournament that my team had any chance, and I lost the first wicket.

Stepping away a bit, ie not sending emails to the OBO and pretending not to listen to TMS, I subliminally learned that England were creeping up to a good total. Possibly a winning position.

With my nerves in a sectionable state, I did rejoin live coverage – cursing the commentators who kept banging on about how England couldn’t lose this. Fraught does not begin to describe the emotions I and many England fans were feeling.

Until the final over it was hard not to have a horrid feeling that it could all go so hideously wrong, but it didn’t.

Despite losing the wickets of Lumb, Keiswetter and Pietersen, England did win and captain St Paul Collingwood hit the winning runs – a fitting end.

Colly has not been in good form for this tournament with the bat but he has been a fine captain. England have deserved this win. Their first in an International Tournament for, well, not in my memory. A superb win, clinical is the best way to describe it. It wasn’t done with flair and luck, it was done with hard yakka and superb execution.

To my astonishment, our achievement has left me with nothing more to say.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MotoGP Strikes again – mimitig

11 April 2010 – the start of the new MotoGP season. So important to the BBC (who trailed the opening F1 race for weeks) that it was relegated to Freeview only on BBC3.

What a shame and what an opportunity missed by the broadcasters because while the opening race of F1 was a drone fest, the first race of MotoGP2010 was a belter.

Last season saw the man widely accepted as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Valentino Rossi, winning his ninth World Championship, and he has indubitably stamped his not inconsiderable personality all over the last decade of motorcycle racing.

Indeed some younger fans may not even remember a time when Rossi did not top the headlines at every single race meeting. Younger fans may even have thought that the old man might have retired at the end of 2009 due to the plethora of young talent that has been making an impact in the sport.

Such young fans would do well to remember that the old man is only 31 years old.

So hello the new season. Hello not a lot of news about pre-season testing making it to the papers or broadcast media. Hello the Losail circuit in the desert of Qatar.

Welcome to the night race.

Last year was quite literally a wash-out. With only four days of rain a year, the bikes copped the lot and had to run the race on the Monday. Stoner won it. Again. Stoner, in fact, has won the last three races and was bidding for a fourth win with a great pole lap. Everyone hoped for a dry race and that’s how it started. Stoner on pole, ahead of Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

Nerves got edgy before the start – wondering if weird desert weather would intervene again but everything got off well. No rain, no problems, but some started better than others. Rossi got a blinder as did little Dani Pedrosa. Casey, pole-sitter and odds-on winner, took a couple of laps to take the lead but put some ace moves on and was breezing it. Then, as commentator Charlie Cox would have said (if he’d thought about it) – “he needs that like a third armpit” – as Stoner folded the front end on a sandy line and chucked it into the gravel trap.

Guess who was waiting to pick up the pieces. Yup. The GOAT.

Rossi rode the next laps like a demonstration. He had a lot of high-speed chasing going on – Dovizioso was dangerous. The Honda horsepower on the straight a constant threat. Nicky Hayden doing his best to keep Ducati honour alive and in the later stages, Rossi’s team mate Gorgeous George putting in the most amazing performance.

For the last five laps it was a performance of preservation of tyres and fuel par excellence by Signor Dottore – only after the race finished did we know how close to the bone Rossi’s strategy was (he ran out of fuel on the warm-down lap).

It was though, a five lap sprint of derring-do for George. Stuck behind Hayden and Dovizioso lap after lap he had to be brave. And was he brave! He is suffering with a broken hand but who would know it as he toughed it out – last of the late brakers to take them both – on a circuit notoriously hard for overtaking.

George gave Yamaha the season opening one-two that they could have only dreamed of pre-season and poor Nicky (it’s always poor Nicky) lost out by 1000ths of a second to Dovizioso because the Honda has the grunt in a straight line.

If Stoner hadn’t have crashed out, it might have been a done deal for Ducati to win, but this is MotoGP and as Charlie says “the one thing that is predictable in this sport, is the unpredictable”.

All is to play for. One race, one winner. Rossi.

In two weeks we will convene in Japan, at Motegi – a track with so much history and atmosphere one can almost smell the leather and rubber now.

I just hope that the broadcasters will find it easier and more pleasurable to publicise the bike racing. Obviously this weekend, we were up against Tiger Woods and his first public golf outing since his personal life meltdown. Well that’s as may be and I’m sure they got lots of viewing public but I can’t help but be rather happy that in MotoGP we don’t get those kinds of headlines.

With bike racing, what you get is fine and exciting on track racing and pretty much bugger all for the front pages.

Watch and enjoy and, honestly, if anyone thinks that Rossi is too old to do this, well, just think again!

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