Of course it’s too much to expect anyone who is a fan of a sport to be a fan of all sports. But, perhaps naively, I like to think that a level of appreciation can be found by someone who enjoys watching one thing done brilliantly in watching anything being done brilliantly, even if it’s just the once.
Especially when it comes to true sporting genius; that wonderful, rare arrival of someone who moves the mark of greatness so far they immediately make everyone look a bit old, slow and lazy. Everyone loves that right? Does it matter if it’s Messi with his weird magnetic feet making some of the best defenders in the world look like hungover Sunday-leaguers? Or that it’s Ronnie O’Sullivan rocking up at a World Championship having barely picked up a cue in a year and dominating the tournament? Not for me.
In fact, really, the only thing better than seeing these people in their prime is witnessing genesis. Not because you can say ‘I spotted him years ago’ when people are talking about how incredible they are… ok, it’s a bit that. But mostly it’s experiencing that shock and awe; the unique feeling of knowing that you’re seeing someone starting their journey towards being declared the new GOAT.
And so I direct your attention to MotoGP, and the microscopic Spanish sensation, Marc Marquez who graduated to the top class this year straight into a works ride at Honda after a sensational journey through the lower formulae. It takes a while to get used to MotoGP. Everyone’s first season is a shaky one and it’s accepted that great deal of a rookie’s time will be spent flying through the air, tumbling through the gravel and hobbling out of A&E having destroyed several hundred thousand pounds worth of prototype motorcycle. It’s just part of the deal. Usually there’s at least a degree of respect for the old guard too.
Apparently that form book was never put on Marqeuz's required reading list.
The specialness was evident right from the start of the year with a front row qualification and a no-holds-barred battle with nine-time champion Valentino Rossi for second place in Qatar. At the second round in Texas, he put a tough one up the inside of Pedrosa to become the youngest ever winner of a motorcycle grand prix, then a fortnight later in Jerez there was ‘that’ move on reigning two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo on the last corner of the last lap to nick second place and take the championship lead.
But it was at last weekend’s race in the soaking wet of northern France, on the notoriously tricky tarmac of Le Mans, that we saw unequivocal confirmation of the genius of Marc Marquez.
By all accounts, riding a 240bhp racing motorcycle in the wet is ‘challenging’ and as the rain arrived on race day, everyone expected Marquez to have a bit of a nightmare. And so it was. An appalling start from pole dropped the number 93 back into the pack and into eighth place, and the honeymoon was over. The leading pack quickly dropped him and after a few laps he was eight seconds behind them. Then, on lap eight (a lot of eights here) it was as though he suddenly ‘got it’: “Oh, ok, THAT’S how you ride in the wet. I’ll just pop in a fastest lap of the race then.” Lap nine brought another fastest lap, and another and the to the front gap narrowed. With two circuits remaining he passed Dovi on the Ducati and started closing in on Cal Crutchlow – who was riding with a broken leg – in second.
And then we got the next sign of things to come. Marquez decided enough was enough, and settled for third. Standard form for a rookie is to throw it at the scenery in a ‘valour over discretion’ attempt at ultimate glory, but not Marquez. That’s one hell of a mature head on 20 year-old shoulders.
But here’s the best part. While Lorenzo and Pedrosa stroke their way to wins with silky smooth style and absolute economy of movement, Marquez is the definition of spectacular. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the idea of ‘getting one’s knee down’ but Marquez’s suit manufacturer Alpinestars has had to start fitting elbow sliders to his leathers so they don’t have to replace the arms after every race. He’s sideways into corners, flat on the deck through them, and sideways out of them. He doesn’t give a shit who anyone is: if they’re on the track they’re there to be humiliated.
Yes, he’s probably going to make MotoGP boring for the next few years, but he’ll do it in style. And, if you’re a sports fan, you owe it to yourself to see a future legend kicking the doors in.