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Rossi, Lorenzo reflect on Max Biaggi's retirement

8 November 2012

Valentino Rossi has given his reaction to the news that former MotoGP arch-rival Max Biaggi is to retire from racing, at the age of 41 and as the reigning double World Superbike Champion.

The on- and off-track rivalry between Rossi and fellow Italian Biaggi was the focal point for grand prix racing during the final years of 500cc and start of MotoGP.

Relations became less hostile when Sete Gibernau took over as Rossi's closest competitor from 2003 onwards, with Biaggi leaving grand prix under controversial circumstances at the end of 2005.

Biaggi, a four-time champion in the 250cc class, announced on Wednesday that he is bringing his career to a close in order to spend more time with his family.

"For me with Biaggi it was like a special relationship, because we were great, great rivals for a long period," began Rossi. "Fighting for the championship in 500cc and then in MotoGP. It was a very exciting fight with him.

"I think the year when we were more close was 2001 because it was the last season with the 500 two-strokes and everybody wanted to win that historic championship. The battle was very, very hard on the track and also off the track!

"Out of the track our relationship was not fantastic, but anyway he was a great rival for me.

"It is useless to speak about his retirement as another rider, because every rider knows the right moment to stop... Anyway it remains good memories and great battles together."

Max may not have beaten Rossi to the MotoGP title, but a Biaggi fan and friend by the name of Jorge Lorenzo is now the newly crowned double world champion in the premier-class.

"As you know I admire Biaggi a lot, because I think he is a special rider with a very pure technique. Very smooth. Maybe the smoothest I have ever seen," said Lorenzo, who was present to support Biaggi during his final WSBK appearance.

"I am very happy for him to win the Championship but more to retire. I had a chat with him and I think he made the right decision.

"He doubted to stay or not, but I told him 'leave in a perfect physical conditions because you never know what can happen. You have a wonderful life. You have money, everything. 41 years old is the right time to stop.'"

Rossi and Biaggi had sparred verbally as Rossi, eight years younger than Biaggi, worked his way up through the ranks, finally meeting head-to-head when Rossi joined the premier 500cc class in 2000.

Both won two races - Rossi for Honda, Biaggi for Yamaha - that year, but were beaten to the title by Kenny Roberts Jr (Suzuki).

The 2001 season was then dominated by the Rossi-Biaggi rivalry, with the gloves-off from round one - where Biaggi elbowed Rossi onto the grass along the straight-finish straight at Suzuka, for which he received a 'one fingered wave' from the #46 on his way to victory.

The pair later scuffled, behind closed doors, prior to the podium ceremony for round six at Catalunya, prompting a further warning from the FIM.

But the intense competition between the two Italians, combined with their contrasting stereotypes - Rossi the gifted, carefree youngster, famous for exuberant post-race celebrations and Biaggi the brooding 'Dark Knight' perfectionist - undoubtedly took MotoGP to new heights of popularity.

On paper, Biaggi and Yamaha were never able to mount a sustained title challenge to Rossi and Honda. Rossi broke free of Biaggi after nine rounds of the 2001 season, then dominated the start of the four-stroke MotoGP era.

After finishing runner-up to Rossi in 2001 and 2002, Biaggi switched to the satellite Honda Pons team for 2003 and 2004, the year Rossi made his victorious switch to a heavily redesigned Yamaha M1.

By then relations between Rossi had Biaggi had improved, largely due to Gibernau (Gresini Honda) replacing Biaggi as Rossi's closest competitor.

When Biaggi finally got his chance of a full factory Honda ride in 2005, he finished the year without a win for the first time as a grand prix rider. The fallout from a deteriorating relationship with Honda then left Biaggi without a ride for 2006, as HRC and others refused to supply machinery for the Roman.

Rossi certainly wasn't alone in clashing with Biaggi, but like most riders he acknowledged the #3's exceptional abilities. Rossi perhaps also realised that without Biaggi to beat, many of his own premier-class victories would have been of less significance.

"It's a shame that Biaggi can't be in MotoGP this year. He has been a great and strong rider," said Rossi at the start of 2006.

After a year on the side-lines Biaggi returned rejuvenated in the 2007 World Superbike Championship, winning his first race - just as he had in 500cc - and eventually claiming two titles with Aprilia, to add to his four 250cc crowns.

The latest Biaggi led the 500cc/MotoGP championship standings was round 11 of 14 during his debut 1998 season (with Honda) eventually won by Mick Doohan.

It was not lost on Biaggi that, while Rossi has struggled in recent seasons - without a MotoGP title since 2009 and winless since 2010 - Biaggi has recently enjoyed some of the most successful years of his career.

Biaggi won the 2012 WSBK title by just half-a-point from Kawasaki's Tom Sykes.

End.


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