Four wheels bad. Or so some might think in an Orwellian way. But for me - someone who loves both - this time of year is fiendishly exciting.
MotoGP is just getting underway – the boys have been testing all winter and soon, soon we will see them in anger. The SuperBike Boys are already racing. Aussie Troy Bayliss has laid down some fairly serious markers but SuperBikes are kind of the Championship of bike racing. MotoGP is the Premier League and they haven’t quite started yet.
This year the boy Casey is definitely going to be the one to beat – he astounded us all last season. Going from Crash Casey to Smooth Casey was kind of quite hard to understand. It was like watching a moody teenager in a stormy family (Honda) grow into being a sensible grown-up in a calm home (Ducati).
How weird was that? The calm of Japan being replaced by what we normally think of as fiery Italy? But here’s a thing. Casey was a raw talent who couldn’t be brought into an old family. He found his niche with the small, almost privateer team that is Ducati. Somehow the characters meshed beautifully and the young gun took the fight to favourite Valentino Rossi and to the shock of the world, youth beat experience.
Casey played the season to perfection and even for an old Rossi fan like me, I loved his brio, his joie de vivre and his excellence. In the off season there has been a lot of talk about Rossi’s eye being off the ball because of his problems with the Italian tax authorities and stuff, but to Valle’s credit, he has said that last season he was beaten by the best.
Now as we get near to starting the season, Valle has sorted a deal with the authorities, he has a new tyre deal for his bike and we are soon to see who is fastest on the track.
So that will all happen soon. The next to happen soon will be the commencement of Formula 1.
Despite all the politics and rubbish that is involved in this sport, I am awaiting the start of the season with huge excited anticipation. March 16th is when it gets underway in anger in Melbourne. This year I have a special reason for setting my alarm clock and watching it live.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Melbourne and drove part of the Albert Park circuit as they were beginning to close off the roads and put up the circuit barriers. It was a great experience, even in a rather placid road car, to zoom past the pits and gun the engine up the straight. I will wake early – boil the kettle for a cup of tea and re-live my little minutes charging round that beautiful lakeside track.
Then next I will have to compare my pathetic road cycling between Hopeman and Elgin with the stages of the first season races for my real heroes: the boys in lycra. This is our last chance, as I see it, to prove that road/pro cycling is a proper clean and decent sport.
For us saddos, we have followed the demise of the Astana team this winter, we have seen more individuals have results from last year stripped from them due to either positive drug tests, or suspicions. We have seen T-Mobile withdraw their sponsorship.
At one point, this winter, it seemed that cycling would not recover. But then Jonathan Vaughters got it all going with Slipstream-Chipotle and even an old cynic like me got excited. He got David Millar (former drug-cheat and I hope that’s the last time I ever have to type that) to buy into his clean team. A team that said – we don’t want to win races, we want to take part and play nice.
JV has a long history with cycling and never ever a whisper of anything nasty so this is a team we can believe in. Not having ambitions to win is maybe not so much to believe in as there is so much talent stuffed into this new team. They’ve got Magnus Backstedt (maybe a Swede but he lives in Wales and actually has a Welsh accent!), Tom Danielson (so much promise), Julian Dean (NZ has never had a finer rider) and two fine Americans Christian Vandevelde and the explosive Dave Zabriskie.
They have made one mistake, this new and exciting team – who have already been invited to the Giro and will without doubt get an invite to Le Tour – they launched at the end of last year with a lovely Argyle strip. A complete first for any team but as we come close to the first big races, it seems they have reduced the Argyle to only the socks. Cowards!!
As a new team they will have to go head to head with some established guys who have also set themselves up as new and squeaky clean. The biggest of those is CSC. CSC is a pretty major player worldwide in computer stuff but there is some major damage from last year so well done the sponsors for hanging on. Bjarne Riis had to fess up to doping which could have been catastrophic but an in-house, UCI accepted doping programme has sort of cancelled that out. This year the spotlights are going to be on old Aussie Stuey O’Grady who had a really bad injury last year but if recovered could be stonking and the Schleck brothers. Strange how Luxembourg can deliver these international class sportsmen. It is of course, only about half the size of the Isle of Wight!
I could be ever so dull and give you a run down of all the teams in this year’s competition but I feel your pain already. Keep an eye on High Road – that’s where our young hero from last year Mark Cavendish is, and where Olympic certainty Bradley Wiggins is doing his training. Also watch Caisse d’Epargne – Alejandro Valverde is one of the most unknown of the “next great things”. In the last few years he has managed to injure himself at the most awkward of times so we still don’t know quite how far he can take his undoubted and very clean talent.
Four wheels to finish. Because despite the inexorable move in Formula 1 from talent to technology, I have hopes for this new season.
Yes, Ferrari will lead the pack and yes, McLaren will head up the followers and no, I don’t want Ferrari to win everything again. But this year they are so out in front that the interest will be in the chasing pack and there is interest.
My boys, Frank and Patrick at Team Willy, have hit the ground running and with Nico Rosberg they have a young driver who could pick up points, podiums and maybe wins. Toyota will be rubbish again, as will Honda (poor old Jenson – better luck next year), but Red Bull Racing may provide a surprise or two.
Force India will be the team to watch. Not for wins or podiums, maybe not even points, but they’ll punch above their weight and with Mike Gascoyne there, I doubt they’ll be short of a comment or two.
For the first time in years, it is really exciting this lead up into the motor-racing season. I can’t wait and I WILL get up at stupid o'clock for Melbourne. And I will, in an emotional way, remember about driving part of Albert Park. Maybe, if a dream or two comes true, I will get to cycle part of Le Tour as well this year.