Since day one of 2017, we’ve been waiting for one thing: the big showdown. The clash of the titans! The war for the crown! The game of thrones! But when we say that, we’ve meant Viñales and Marquez. Le Mans served up a slightly different duel.
It looked like Viñales would escape, then it looked like Rossi would, and in the end? Neither did. The two Yamahas went into the last lap locked together and not an unbitten fingernail was left in the garage, because they knew what Viñales later said in the Press Conference:
“I was waiting for the touch, because I know Valentino.”
Every fan knows Valentino, and every fan knows that – with some rare and high profile exceptions – the ‘Doctor’ comes out top in a duel. Even Maverick knew that as he proved it untrue.
- MotoGP - Jack Miller #43 - Pol Espargaro #44 - Danilo Petrucci #9 - Grand Prix du France - Le Mans - 2017 -
So what happened?
Rossi says he doesn’t know and, surprisingly, it was the rear that gave out – not the front. In a weekend punctuated by front end crashes – including one in the race that had seemed to be the headline for the French GP written by reigning champion Marc Marquez – that wasn’t the issue for the master, as he slid out and watched the apprentice cross the line. Rossi was pushing hard against the limit, but it was a different limit he crossed that sent him out.
Shock factor aside, it seems simply a mistake that has ended up more than costly, with the psychological advantage now swinging back to Viñales and the number 25 ahead in the Championship by quite some margin – but with a familiar name lurking in second. First, however, we must tackle the Frenchman.
It was an easy preconception going into Johann Zarco’s home race that the flamboyant, unique and yet reserved rookie could possibly overcook it. That preconception didn’t get much meddling when the Tech 3 rider took the lead early in the first lap, and Zarco said himself he also suffered ‘a flash from Qatar’, when he led for six laps and then crashed. But champions – Zarco has been one twice – tend to learn from their mistakes and the Frenchman did. Calm and serene in the mix at the front, the double Moto2 champion more than deserved his first podium – and gave us a great quote to sum up the majority of our thoughts watching the two Yamahas ahead begin the last lap:
“I thought something could happen, and something did.”
The French fans went insane for the Tech 3 rider in Le Mans, and they really do have a point. Another point – one that should make slightly scary reading for the rest of the paddock – is that Zarco really did learn some lessons. He rode that race like he’d lined up in Le Mans for a decade.
The man who “did a Zarco” in the French GP was actually the man who has hardly ever done that before – Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard shot up from thirteenth to seventh in the initial stages, and then knew he had to get through on Dovizioso and Crutchlow ahead of him to make an impression at the front. Dovi was neatly despatched on the brakes – no mean feat against the rider from Forli – and then Crutchlow made a small mistake and found himself unceremoniously biffed out the way by a Pedrosa on a serious charge.
After the win in Jerez, the podium was another impressive ride – and it took Pedrosa from “the rider who won this race and moved up a lot in the standings” to “the closest challenger to Maverick Viñales in the Championship”.
- Moto2 - SKY Racing Team VR46 - Francesco Bagnaia #42 - Le Mans - 2017 -
There were a host of other talking points in the French GP – Morbidelli striking on Lüthi territory, Bagnaia on fire after Jerez, Fenati sliding out – but one in the premier class was KTM. Saturday saw the Bulls both through to Q2 for the first time, and Sunday saw another double points finish - more than impressive in the Austrian factory’s fifth ever MotoGP™ weekend.
So after the dust settles and the shock of Le Mans wears off, there's one thing to remember:
The two men who had the most consistent showings in preseason testing are now 1-2 in the title fight after round five.
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