Everyone can relate to the fact that it takes some bravery or lack of fear to go extra fast on a bike, but at the same time a rider that has no fear will not last long and won’t get very far in our sport. Of course the same applies on the street. As the saying goes, “it’s a fine line between pain and glory”.
For me it’s easy to admire sportspeople from any sport that dig deep and make themselves competitive when they are injured to a level where it shouldn’t really be possible. Everyone knows what its like to be injured, but to grit your teeth and make yourself get off the warm, comfortable sofa to put on your chosen sports gear and make yourself get back out there is a grueling mental test harder than anything else I’ve experienced. Its why I appreciate efforts like Kevin Schwantz’s great ride at the Assen 500 GP after he’d broken a bone in his hand / wrist in qualifying, or how Mick Doohan rode so soon after sustaining such horrific injuries. Pale, thin, weak, and still fast.
I rode with injuries a few times during my career. Probably the most difficult time was after Pier Franchesco Chilli lost the front early on the brakes at the end of the straight at the A1-Ring in Austria during a WSBK race. I was ahead of him, mid turn, knee on the ground at the end of the long straight. His bike hit mine with enough impact to lift me and my bike off the ground, but my leg was between them (its on Youtube). The impact put a deep cut in my right quadricep that bled internally enough to make my whole leg and my private parts go black! (but disappointingly not larger ;). My German team helped find me some excellent rehab treatment for the 10 days before I got back on the bike at the next race. I still remember the pain and effort it took to bend my leg enough (stretching the damaged quad muscle) to sit forward on the bike and put my toes on the footpeg (foot close to my backside). It took about 45 minutes and was horrific – teeth gritting, swearing and close to tears. If you want it enough you’ll do it. Most riders will. Once out on track it was impossible to move properly on the bike and I was close to giving up but as my body heated up it got easier; I achieved more movement in the injured area and the pain receded. By the time I got off the bike at the end of the session I felt positive about the upcoming race. Hours later, after my leg had cooled down and stiffened up, getting back on the bike the next time was as horrible.
The thing I learned about riding injured is that if I knew something was broken in my body and another crash would make it worse, it stopped me going as fast as I knew I could. With effort it’s possible to make yourself ride injured, but with some injuries I found it impossible to switch off my inbuilt self preservation and ride at a level I knew I could. I say some injuries because not all of them affected me the same way. Some didn’t effect my speed, others did. For the ones that did, when I rode very close to the limit, although I believed the race was more important, something in my head would not let me get really close to another crash, which is what riding on the limit is!
I believe this is the very same thing that lets some people get out there and ride fast in the first place, while others have too much self preservation to take the little leaps of faith it takes to enter a corner a fraction faster each time, until the tyres start letting go.
To ride at world championship level takes all a rider’s mind, body and self belief. To do this while suffering and knowing your body is broken is a level of commitment that I think is abnormal.
Remember Jorge Lorenzo at Assen? He flew home, got his collarbone plated and returned that very same weekend ready to race with the best boys in the world, and he raced at the sharp end of the field.
Mentally balancing the speed, risk/reward, pain/success to the level those very few guys can while injured, is truly awesome. Almost all the racers that make it to world championship have the huge mental strength and motivation it takes to put themselves through riding with serious injuries, but to do it and still be competitive at the front of a world championship race takes something only a very few are born with.
To me they are not only incredibly talented riders, they have something f*****g missing, LOL, and I admire them enormously.