The racing heart of Italy

ROME — A warm and fuzzy family tradition: My grandfather’s mum — on a rafting trip on the Adriatic — had met one of Italy’s motocross legends and married him. Her son, Pecco Bagnaia,…

The racing heart of Italy

ROME — A warm and fuzzy family tradition: My grandfather’s mum — on a rafting trip on the Adriatic — had met one of Italy’s motocross legends and married him. Her son, Pecco Bagnaia, took his own first love to be the world-class racing rider himself.

Italians are legendary motorbike road racers — the Italians’ secret weapon during the Tour de France’s rush of racing during June. From middle-aged weathered heroes, to racing teenagers — with motorbikes sometimes too small for their racing bikes, due to the size of cities and roads — there’s always a winner. In Italy, you name it, it runs deep — and a little beyond.

While Italian roads are suitable for motocross in many countries, perhaps their finest legacy may be in its reputation for straight-talking, hardened and easily angered Italians. Never much for formal ceremonies, that’s what sports like the MotoGP (Moto2) and Superbike are all about.

Our sport has a long history of fierce rivalry — especially between Italy and Spain. It culminated in what some experts say was the most spectacular crash of all time. In 1981 — as the MotoGP World Champion — Italian Michel D’Alessio crashed spectacularly coming out of the first corner of the San Marino Grand Prix in the red zone — meaning he hit the middle part of the track very hard and his entire bike went flying through the air. The forced tumble sent him flipping on his back, off the end of his bike, causing him to bleed profusely and break his neck. He was hit by an ambulance’s lorry and killed instantly. After extensive post-surgery rehabilitation, D’Alessio managed to get back on his bike one year later.

His MotoGP girlfriend, Daphne Provesti, was nearly killed herself while riding in Spain — but she fought back by walking down the track and suffering a fatal crash when her bike failed. Provesti ended up being in the media spotlight for her dramatic recovery and frequent posts of her progress on social media.

So what of the fast-rising Italian MotoGP star?

It’s hard to overestimate how big an impact a few years in the sport can have, especially in Italy. The sport is a hugely popular obsession for its participants and an important source of employment for those who work for the teams and manufacturers. Unlike in other countries, there is no NASCAR-style organized betting in Italy.

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