“I can’t stand defeat”

With such a successful career behind him, it’s not surprising that the Italian champion is still the best-paid rider in the paddock.

Text: Gema Lozano
Illustrations: Óscar Giménez

Valentino Rossi is one of those rare examples of a sportsperson who seems unaware of their own legendary status. His childlike appearance and laid back attitude on and off the circuit “hide” a 20-year career and a track record that marks him out as one of the best riders in motorcycling history. There are many, in fact, who would put him in first place on that exclusive shortlist, above names like Giacomo Agostini or Ángel Nieto.

Despite the titles, and having become an idol for hordes of “Rossistas” all over the world, at 38 years old the Italian rider is still in the paddock, wowing crowds with the same drive and ambition that he displayed back in his debut in 1996. Neither the prospect of competing against younger riders, nor racing with a less competitive bike than his greatest rivals — as sometimes has happened — have ever diluted his will to succeed. “I don’t accept losing, I can’t stand defeat,” he has said on more than one occasion.

The seven-time MotoGP champion showed his potential at an early age. With a father like Graziano Rossi, a motorcycle racer who reached premier Grand Prix class competition, it’s no surprise that Valentino felt drawn to motorsports from childhood. His first ventures, however, were in karting, where he became regional champion at barely 11 years of age. Graziano’s intention was for his son to continue racing in the four-wheel arena, although the impact on the family’s finances meant that Valentino was forced to settle for motorcycling. A decision determined by circumstance, but undoubtedly the right choice.

Valentino arrived to Grand Prix motorcycling at 17. He started out in 125cc with April AGV, the team with which he would win his first title the following season. Two years later, by this time in 250cc, Rossi was to take the world championship once again. In 2000 he moved up to the premier category, riding for Honda, finishing his debut season second place in the overall ranking. Just one year later, he took the championship title in this class, still known at that time as 500cc. He was to repeat the success one year later, by then MotoGP, and on five other occasions (three with Honda and two with Yamaha) through to 2009. Nine titles, seven in the highest cylinder class, which places him just one behind Giacomo Agostini. However, Rossi can boast more victories, podiums and fastest laps than Agostini, and currently leads all these rankings (along with a few more besides).

With such a successful career behind him, it’s logical that the Italian champion is still the best-paid rider in the paddock (ahead of more recent MotoGP winners). Of the 20 million euros he earns each year, over half comes from advertising contracts with brands such as Monster Energy, Movistar or Yamaha itself (the team he returned to in 2013 after two years with Ducati).

Rossi’s charisma and formidable personality are key to his excellent sporting results but have also brought him problems now and then. Disputes with other riders, and even with fans, have dotted his career. Yet he has always known how to alleviate these difficulties with that unique charm he’s so adept at showing on camera. And most of all, with the professionalism and ambition he demonstrates in the seat of a motorcycle.

 

The circuit’s Il Dottore

If you ask for Il Dottore in the paddock, they won’t send you to the circuit medical centre but to Valentino’s box. His nickname, as he has explained occasionally, traces back to the fact that his surname is one of the most common among Italian physicians. Some say that he even checked it out for himself in a phone directory before deciding to adopt the name. In 2015, when he was named Doctor Honoris Causa in Communication and Advertising by the university of his home city, Urbino, Rossi resorted to his trademark irony and declared: “Now they really can call me Doctor.”

 

Forever 46

He has been and, for many, will forever be Number 1 on a motorbike. But Rossi has always worn number 46. And everything seems to suggest that he’ll continue to do so. His fondness for this number is due to the fact that it was the same one worn by his father in the first race he won on the professional circuit. That was back in 1979, the year that his son Valentino was born. There’s another reason for his loyalty to number 46 too, and it was something that happened on the Suzuka circuit. Rossi was taking part in a race in which a wildcard competitor stood out from the crowd. His skill and aggressiveness surprised Valentino, but all he was able to discover was the rider’s nationality (Japanese) and number: 46.

 

The helmet king

It usually happens at the Italian Grand Prix. There, every year, Rossi launches a new helmet. Yet his headgear doesn’t just stand out for its design. Valentino uses his helmets as a means of communication, paying tribute to his idols (he has them too) or sending out a message to his fans. With his latest look Rossi joined the whole of Italy in celebrating the captain of AS Roma, Francesco Totti, on his retirement from professional football, and remembered his colleague and friend Nicky Hayden, recently killed when hit by a car while out cycling.

 

Rossi, in figures

Rossi’s charisma and formidable personality are key to his excellent sporting results.

as 500cc. He was to repeat the success one year later, by then MotoGP, and on five other occasions (three with Honda and two with Yamaha) through to 2009. Nine titles, seven in the highest cylinder class, which places him just one behind Giacomo Agostini. However, Rossi can boast more victories, podiums and fastest laps than Agostini, and currently leads all these rankings (along with a few more besides).
With such a successful career behind him, it’s not surprising that the Italian champion is still the best-paid rider in the paddock (ahead of more recent MotoGP winners).
Of the €20m he earns each year, over half comes from advertising contracts with brands such as Monster Energy, Movistar or Yamaha itself (the team he returned to in 2013 after two years with Ducati). Rossi’s charisma and formidable personality are key to his excellent sporting results but have also caused him trouble now and then. Disputes with other riders, and even with fans, have dotted his career. Yet he has always known how to alleviate these difficulties with that unique charm he’s so adept at showing on camera. And most of all, with the professionalism and ambition he demonstrates in the seat of a motorcycle.

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