What a weekend of sport we’ve just been treated too! In Manchester our guys and gals have continued to swim their hearts out – not landing any more golds, but plenty of silvers and bronzes including David Davies’s magnificent swim in the 1500 metres freestyle, which netted a silver and this in what must be the most gruelling of races. Specially when you’re not fit.
Yesterday also brought us the fun of Queen of the South doing the biz against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, but very much sshh about that as my entire village supports Eberdeen!
Today we had a vital win for Man U fans over the beautiful game of Arsenal, or perhaps that should be described as a win for pragmatic Fergie over philosopher Arsene. Don’t know enough of that to be a spokesperson, but I did enjoy my team winning. Keeps Liverpool in the hunt, keenly for that fourth spot above Everton.
But mostly today, I was watching the bikes. It hasn’t been a great opening few races – those fly-aways never really tell us much – and we were all waiting keenly for a return to Europe.
The boys were in Estoril, Portugal this weekend. This is a very tricky circuit. On the coast it is subject to weather vagaries and we had plenty of them. Friday was rubbish for riders such as James Toseland who had hoped to use the day to learn the track. It was too wet and cold to be of any use. Saturday qualifying stayed dry, but was all about Jorge Lorenzo.
He is just 20 years-old and already a double World Champion in 250cc bikes, and just destroyed the field. An early lap should have been wrecked by an encounter with Chris Vermuelen, but Gorgeous George still set a pole lap and then nibbled away for the next five minutes to set a pole by over half a second that no-one could get near.
Little Dani Pedrosa and The God Valle also made the front row, but with an uphill battle to face.
Come the race, the first lap was certainly the most exciting of this season, possibly one of the most exciting we’ve seen for a few seasons. The lead changed, and all through the field there were men losing places (Stoner, Toseland), and men gaining places (well Rossi, mainly).
On that first lap, it was all action with the three men we most keenly watch – Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. After last year you could be forgiven for wanting to keep an eye on Casey Stoner, but this weekend, the Ducati was well off the pace and actually, only Casey could ride it even vaguely competitively. There are big problems with the Desmocedici that it seems only Casey can ride around. We wait to see in later rounds how those problems get sorted – because they will.
Anyway, we were underway and before long it seemed as though proper order had been resumed. Rossi riding like a fiend in difficult conditions with rain spotting the cameras and the visors and no-one quite sure where the non-slippy bits of the track were. It was fun.
Nicky Hayden – a former World Champion – was dragging his Honda round very fast and got into fourth at one point before he lost it.
Rossi’s lead didn’t last for more than half the race – a big discussion to be had there about his choice of Bridgestone tyres – Lorenzo pulled a move on him that the master himself would have been proud of. It was a breath-drawing, brilliant, fair but tough overtake.
Not long after Pedrosa put a move on Valle, but this was different. I may well be biased, but Dani’s overtake was a result of having a better bike at the time, not pure skill. Lorenzo’s move was skill to die for!
When it came to the end, Lorenzo had the win, and the record for being the youngest ever GP rider to finish on the podium three times in a row. Valle retained his record of never not being off the Estoril podium – in nine years, and that includes five wins. Pedroso retains a joint lead of the championship with Lorenzo.
Stoner, despite his bike problems, fought his way back to sixth, and James Toseland, in his third ever outing on a MotoGP bike, on a track he’s never seen before, and coming off the back of serious bronchitis, took seventh to keep a grip on fifth place in the Championship. Which is amazing for a rookie in a satellite team. He is ahead of his far more experienced team-mate – the delightful Colin Edwards – and not so very far behind the factory Yamahas.
James’s performances in the two races prior to Estoril had already led his team to extend his contract for the whole of 2009 – an option they were not obliged to exercise until September this year. They must have a lot of faith in him. We know he is a fine bike rider – you don’t get to be a double-world champion in Superbikes without being a bit special, but to know how much faith Yamaha have in him, well, get your bets in now for a top three finish in 2009.
As far as this year is concerned – it’s wide open. Casey is not going to give in, and he will make that Ducati bike on the Bridgestones into a winner. Rossi never says die, and he wants another championship. Pedrosa is a miserable little sod but he wants to win and maybe if he won the whole thing he might even smile! Lorenzo is a joy and a pleasure – he has moved to London in order to learn to speak English better because he knows that the more he wins, the more the journalists want to talk to him.
Today was the best yet of the season. Normal service was not resumed in that Rossi didn’t win, but it was because the man best able to take over Rossi’s mantle as a full-on entertainer alongside utter skill, has won a race.
Move over Valle – welcome Jorge.
But I still want Valle to win lots and lots this year!!!